Chinese Truck Drivers’ Sweet and Sour Pork with Pineapple.

Sweet and Sour Pork (14 of 15)Over many years, I have suffered the recommendation of traveling companions who insist that “If it’s got trucks outside, it must be good.” Nobody knows the roadside cafe as well as the Heroes of the Highway, talking on their CB radios and tooting their air horns as they roll 18 wheels of hunger into another greasy spoon. I don’t have any truck with truck drivers. Nor do I have any amongst my inner circle of besties. But, I do imagine (yes, imagine only) that gourmet dining is top of the list when it comes to fuelling the man as well as the 40 footer. 

How often have I heard it said (also over many years) “It must be good if they eat here themselves.” This of course spoken about Chinese people eating in Chinese restaurants. I have a number of Chinese friends and I have enjoyed excellent, authentic Chinese food in restaurants when I was the only westerner on the premises. Now, those were great meals!

These musings got me thinking “Wow, what must the food be like at Chinese truck stops?” It must be awesome. That got me to cook one of the most popular Chinese dishes in these Western parts. Sweet and Sour Pork with Pineapple was originally brought into the west by Chinese oxen drivers bringing pineapples, peppers and pigs along the Spicy Road. 

Really truthful side note on the Spicy Road: The Spicy Road is a route from Peking to Dublin along which Chinese truckers now bring all sorts of tasty treats to the Oriental supermarkets and restaurants of our capital city. The route has been in use for over five thousand years. The recipe is even mentioned in the Book of Kells (down the back just after the bit on how to give a monk a haircut), now on display in Trinity College, Dublin. There are a number of truck stops along the road and each serves its own version. Mine is a regional variation to suit our jaded Western palate.

Never, ever buy sauce in a bottle. Make your own!

Never, ever buy sauce in a bottle. Make your own!

Ingredients – enough for six people

  • 500 grammes or so of pork shoulder, cubed
  • Peppers – red, yellow and green
  • Onions – 2 white, 1 red
  • A pineapple
  • Half a tablespoon of fresh ginger

Sweet & Sour Sauce

  • tablespoons of cider vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons of soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato puree
  • 4 tablespoons of freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3 tablespoons of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of corn flour diluted in 5 tablespoons of water

The Batter

  • 2 tablespoons of self-raising flour
  • 2 tablespoons of corn flour (corn starch)
  • An egg
  • Water to thin it out
  • Flour to dust the pork

First, heat the oven to about 150ºC and warm a plate along with your serving bowls. Slice the vegetables and ginger.

The onions and peppers should be cut chunky. The ginger nice and small.

The onions and peppers should be cut chunky. The ginger nice and small.

Next, chop the pork and make the batter. The pork needs to be in bite sized cubes.

There is very little to making the batter. Just mix up the ingredients.

There is very little to making the batter. Just mix up the ingredients.

Combine all the sauce ingredients. They will look pretty uninviting at this stage.

What a disgusting looking sludge. Stay with it. It gets a lot better.

What a disgusting looking sludge. Stay with it. It gets a lot better.

Dust the pork in the flour. Add it to the batter.

You're not going to eat that! Are you? ... You are.

You’re not going to eat that! Are you? … You are.

Slice the pineapple into bite sized pieces. Heat a few tablespoons of sunflower oil in a wok until just below smoking point. Add the pork pieces a few at a time and cook until they are nice and golden.

Don't be tempted to eat them straight out of the oil. You will get burned!

Don’t be tempted to eat them straight out of the oil. You will get burned!

Side note on cooking in oil. The three biggest mistakes people make when cooking with oil are as follows:

  1. Using the wrong oil.
  2. Cooking at too low a temperature.
  3. Cooking at too high a temperature.

When deep-frying (or shallow-frying) never, ever, use olive oil. It smokes at too low a temperature and will add a noxious element to your food. Use sunflower oil or peanut oil.  

Get the temperature right. If the oil is not crackling slightly in the wok, it is too cool. If it is smoking, it’s too hot. Use a thermometer or your judgement (or both). You want it at about 190ºC. That’s hot. Don’t put your pinkies in there. Trust me on this.

Put some kitchen paper on the warmed plate in the oven. Transfer the cooked pork to the plate in the oven. Keep at this until it is all cooked. Pour off the oil and wipe the wok with kitchen paper. Add a bit more oil and fry the onions and ginger.

Get the onions softened first. They take a bit longer than the peppers.

Get the onions softened first. They take a bit longer than the peppers.

A soon as the onions start to soften, add the peppers.

Some of the lovely colour in this dish comes from the peppers.

Some of the lovely colour in this dish comes from the peppers.

When the peppers start to soften, add the sauce. It will look pretty unappealing at this stage. Just as you trust the menu in a restaurant full of Chinese people, trust me with this.Sweet and Sour Pork (10 of 15)

Add the pineapple and stir.

No, it is not too much pineapple. You can feed six with this lot.

No, it is not too much pineapple. You can feed six with this lot.

By this stage, the sauce will start to become translucent and lovely aromas will fill the kitchen. Next, take the pork out of the oven and stir until it is partly coated in sauce.

This really looks lovely. Chinese truckers are a lucky lot.

This really looks lovely. Chinese truckers are a lucky lot.

Serve this over steamed rice.

There aren't many more tasty dishes than this.

There aren’t many more tasty dishes than this, except along the Spicy Road.

If you happen to doubt my story on the origins of the food, cook the dish. It will mellow your doubt and make you feel good that such things can actually be true. Honest.

Final note on Chinese people in Chinese restaurants: If an Oriental restaurant packed with Chinese diners gives us confidence, why, oh why does a restaurant full of Irish people not inspire to the same degree?  I’m only asking! 

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  • Over the years I’ve learned to trust you in all things food. But the, The Legend of the Spicy Road” sounds like one of those “never let the truth get in the way of a good story” Irish-isms.

    I can only hope that after a few more years living here I’m half as good a storyteller.

    Thanks for another fun read, and enticing recipe.

    • Every word of it is gospel. Would I lie to you?
      Thanks for the kind comments.
      Best,
      Conor

  • Too funny! I’m often surprised how delicious westernized Chinese food can be, especially when done well and after so many years of “please, please, please give me that secret authentic menu.”

    • There is a lot to be said for the authentic menu. The problem tends to arise when the restaurant lacks authenticity. Good Oriental food is great, even when softened for our tired palates.

    • I LIVE FOR SECRET MENUS

  • Wow, this looks so delicious!

    • This was a very tasty one. Lots of fruit and veg in there too. Though, I wouldn’t claim it as low cal. High energy, that’s how to promote it!

      • You are correct. Chinese food has so many calories. Everybody who wants to eat healthy, should eat the fruits and veggies without the “Chinese”! Personally, I still don`t care: it`s delicious 🙂

  • Reblogged this on My Meals are on Wheels.

  • I believe there was a reference to the Spicy Road in the memoirs of Mark O’Polo. Congratulations, you have achieved the impossible and made me want to actually eat pineapple in a savoury dish.

    • Fresh pineapple is delightful in this. The sour element of the sauce (tomato and cider) provide a lovely counterpoint. O’Polo was the Irishman who invented horse sports, BTW.

  • For some reason, I never thought that there were 18 wheelers in Ireland.
    I am a dumb American.

    • Yinz, you need to come over here and see them for yourself. However, we don’t have anything on the scale of the thing in ’18 Wheels of Justice’. One of the most awful TV shows ever broadcast. Awful, yet strangely magnetic…

  • My son would love this dish. You seem to be a source of good chinese recipes from scratch for me. Crazy, isn’t it? 🙂

    • Not really Virginia. I am like a modern version of the Spicy Road. I link you out there in the West with China and all things Oriental.

  • I think because ‘generally’ speaking we Irish are not critical enough Conor – that is of course of gross generalisation but its the reason we have McD’s, Supermacs, KFC etc,etc splattered along the Marque street of this nation. Would the French, Italian or Spanish stand for that?

    • The Slow Food Movement was the Italian answer to McD’s and the likes invading the country. I saw what was meant to be a joke that the reason the UK and America have high obesity rates isn’t because they eat more fats/carbs than the Europeans or Asians but because they speak English. I think there is some truth in that, we have taken on far more Americanisms than our Italian/French/Spanish counterparts as we are much more influenced by them through language and seem to lose our national identity much more readily.

      • There is a reality too about our food culture. We really have not had much of one to shout about. Our greatest natural resource (fish) became the enemy through the catholic church enforcing the no meat on Friday rule. Our peasant past meant that not many enjoyed meat or any real variety too often. Sad to see the growth of overweight, overmedicated and over here, if you will pardon my paraphrasing..

        • Yeah agreed but in saying that all of my favourite Italian/French recipes were only conceived out of poverty. I guess our position on the planet didn’t help as our lack of warmth meant that flavourful, fresh vegetables were an impossibility until recently. It’s a pity that we were so willing to lose what meat dishes we did have, people are just too good for offal these days.

          • Thankfully, not all of us. I am hankering after some lamb’s liver. That might be the basis of a post.

          • Me too, my butchers have fresh lamb heart on a Wednesday, highlight of my week 🙂

      • Interesting point about the language And one you now have me subscribing to….dame shame!

    • Sadly, the French seem to be diving right in. It is an incredible contradiction to see KFC and McD drive ins in the same towns where the weekly market is the centrepiece of culinary activity. It’s like trying to hold the tide back with a fork.

      • Arse to McDs. I was in Lece earlier in the year and along with Ostuni and Locorotundo they successfully blocked these chains setting up.

  • This is a favorite at Chinese restaurants here, too. It looks great Conor, and you are a great storyteller with a big imagination 😉 You raise some very valid points about deep frying and the use of oil. I like the orange juice in the sauce and would like to add just a touch of chilli in some shape or form to the sauce.

    • A touch of chilli would be no bad thing. Though, there is no mention of it in the recipe section of the Book of Kells.

  • P.S. I don’t know about Irish, but when an American (who I do not know to be a gourmet) recommends a restaurant, I tend to stay away from said restaurant as that is usually an indication of quantity being more important than quality.

    • Nice Stefan. You have just insulted a large number of people. Or is that a number of large people?

  • One of the things I miss most having moved to my 9 x 4 mile island home is the availability of really good Asian food. This looks very doable. Thanks again Conor. And best to you at the Blog Awards on Thurs. Xx

  • I’ve never believed that truck drivers have a special insight on quality food, more that they were interested in large servings, served promptly. This is not to malign truck drivers (the Husband drives a 26 metre (85ft) B-Double fuel tanker), it’s more an understanding of their priorities and needs. But I am a great believer in eating Chinese where I see many Chinese faces eating, and Indian where I see huge extended Indian families tucking in. If this was good enough for Mark O’Polo, and the monks of Kells, it’s good enough for the Husband, who will probably want to thank you on his knees if (when) I make it…

    • You are so pragmatic Kate. In truth, in France, the Les Routiers are truck stops that always seem to manage quality and quantity at a great price. Here in Ireland and in the UK, they seem to always miss two of the three. Do cook it. He will thank you, I promise.

      • I did, and he did, and there are leftovers for my lunch tomorrow! Thank you for a great recipe!

        • Excellent Kate. I love it when a plan comes together.

  • Just fantastic, Conor. I haven’t cooked or eaten Chinese food for quite a long time…Vietnamese sometimes, but Chinese is not very good here…..I must make this:)

    • Do give it a whirl Roger. I find myself really wolfing this stuff in the same way I did as a younger chap. I’m not so sure that behaviour is good for me. Tasty all the same.

  • I’m practically teary of eye, Conor. I used to feel so empty. But now your essential guide to delicious pork offers me the opportunity to batter things. You cannot know what it means to one who needs to batter things on an almost daily basis.

    • Surely you will be going on the batter tomorrow night, what with all your looming awards!

      • That’s the sort of talk which can crash a republic, Conor. I will be on the batter tomorrow night, expecting nothing, and hoping for even less… on another note, though, what time will you be there?

        • Plans laid now as you know. I’ll be the one with a tear stained face, wine bottle in each pocket of his suit, asleep in the corner, while the youth of today dance the night away on a drug fuelled high.

          • Damn it, that’s my job. But okay.

  • Would you believe that I’ve never had sweet and sour pork. Your dish looks colorful and I’m sure is very tasty, I’ll definitely have to give it a try. You mentioned that the recipe serves 6…how many truckers would you imagine?

    • That would be one, or perhaps, two at a stretch Karen.

  • Sooo, according to my limited knowledge of Chinese immigration to the United States, most of them went East to get here from China. So if I made this dish, am I eating East of Spicy Road or West of it? Inquiring minds…? Sorry my mind boggles with the geography of all this! (Nonetheless, this is something I would make, for sure.)

    • I guess I should also notate that I am on the Pacific Northwest side of the US.

    • Kathryn, Why oh why do you have to make my life so complicated? If only you were to subscribe to the theory of the flat earth, this would not arise. I blame the education system. Stop confusing me and get on with cooking this dish!

  • Looks fantastic and love your recipe Conor. Very inspiring to see you cooking up such elaborate asian dishes. Great photo’s too. Oh, and your President is here in our fine city today… (Seattle)

  • Hahaa. I like the history lesson embedded in this post! Spicy road indeed! I am not a great lover of Chinese food, but that’s possibly because I’ve never eaten at Chinese restaurants where there are a great number of ‘locals’ present! I love spice but those gluggy, onion and MSG laden sauces? Ick. Your sweet and sour looks delicious though Conor. If I was a truckie (as we Australians call them) I’d stop at your house!

  • I made this on Sunday and it was wonderful – thank you for the recipe. Sunday night is turning into Conor Bofin night at our house!

    • Excellent. You are welcome to come over to ours and cook for me too!

      • I was kind of hoping you might come over to ours and cook for me 🙂

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