Babi Asam Belimbing
This is one of my favorite dishes to cook. The sauce is so flavourful, one would probably find it too salty to be eaten on its own. But I can down two plates of rice just with it and nothing else. It is usually cooked with regular tamarind, but when the belimbing trees are fruiting wildly in my estate, we turn to these sourish morsels instead for the job, for a salivating-worthy plate of Babi Asam Belimbing.
The ingredients are incredibly simple to get, except for the belimbing that is. Trees are harder to find now in Singapore but just the other day, I spotted one whole row of no less than 10 young trees planted along a road I frequent. Looking very promising!
The “babi” component in this dish must be babi sam cham aka pork belly. It doesn’t have to be full-fledge fatty but it must have a good fat to meat ratio for it to be yummy. Same thing with Babi Chichalok. We’d tried it with loin, shoulder butt etc which the more health conscious may turn to but they just don’t work for me. Pork belly is still the way to go…
There is a “missing ingredient” in the photo by the way, one which I feel is really important but I was too lazy to go out and get it. Green chilies…. and yes you will be wondering, “Can’t it be the red ones?” No siree, must be the green ones…. for me at least. Don’t ask me why but it had always been the green ones for us. Much the same theory as you won’t use red chilies for pickling or make achar.
The “asam” component usually comes from asam jawa which is essentially tamarind pulp. But whenever the belimbing trees are fruiting, we would use what we could petek instead. There are two forms of buah belimbing. To the Malays, these are called belimbing buluh while “buah belimbing” to them generally refers to the starfruit, a closely related species by the way. The green form is more commonly seen, which led to some folks wondering if the yellow form is the ripen “morph” of the green ones. The answer is no. They are in fact two different varieties, produced by two different belimbing trees. This is evident by observing the “buah putek“, which are the tiny juvenile fruits of the yellow form, which are also yellow from the point they developed from the pollinated flower, dispelling the notion of a colour change taking place upon ripening. Now you know…
Which ones work better in dishes? Well I don’t find any differences in taste or texture from using either forms. To me, they are just as sour, just as crunchy when fresh and thus just as good in whichever dish they are used in, be it Ikan Gerang Asam, or Sambal Jantong Pisang, Sambal Udang Belimbing, or in this case, Babi Asam Belimbing… Others may defer in preference of course, so it is up for one to really experience them side by side to know how different they are, which in my case, there is simply none.
The cooking process is fairly fast, especially when the babi sam cham is already mostly cooked by boiling it in water. Don’t waste the boiling water by the way, I’d used it as the stock base for the Kuah Hee Pio I’d cooked on the same day as well. Nothing gets wasted. That said, if you already have a good piece of babi sam cham lying around not knowing what to do with it, apart from cooking pongteh or sek bak, babi chinchalok, you can give this dish a try. Can’t find belimbing? Fret not. Just change to tamarind pulp instead. Just as good.
The amount of liquids is up to individual preference. Some prefer it more pekat, when the sauce is reduced down to become uber concentrated and one gets hit by the avalanche of flavours packed with every bite. Some others may prefer more sauce to drizzle over rice. I am in for the former! The combination of taucheo, belimbing is really quite unique. Ada asin, ada asam… some sugar is added at the very end to accentuate the flavour profile of the dish, together with the green chilies, I guarantee you, dua pinggan nasik pon tak chukop!
Babi Asam Belimbing Recipe
300g Pork Belly, boiled in water until almost cooked, cut into 1/3 cm thick slices
6-8 pieces belimbing, halved with stalk end removed
1 large bombay onion, peeled and cut into chunks
2 green chilies, sliced but seeds left intact
4 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 generous tbsp taucheo, mashed to form paste
1-2 tbsp granulated sugar, depending on preference for sweetness
1-2 tsp dark soy sauce, for colour
A generous dash of pepper
Water as needed
2 tbsp cooking oil
To a heated wok, add cooking oil and pan fry mashed taucheo until fragrant.
Add onion chunks and stir fry until translucent and soft.
Add pork belly slices and dark soy sauce stir fry until slightly brown.
Add minced garlic and stir fry until aromatic.
Add belimbing, green chilies and enough water to cover the ingredients.
Stir to mix everything well and cover. Simmer under medium-low heat for 15-20 min until pork belly is tender.
Remove lid, turn up the flame to medium high and stir continuously to reduce the sauce to the desired consistency.
Adjust taste with sugar and add pepper at the stage.
Dish up and serve with steaming hot rice and other dishes.