From chef, Carol Selva Rajah 


Tau Yew Bak or  "Pork in Soy Sauce"

This is a recipe that is common to any South East Asian country. Basically it is a double cooked pork dish that appears sometimes on its own, and sometimes with tofu with different touches, and it differs slightly when it appears in each country. In Cambodia it is cooked with kapee, a shrimp paste; in Thailand , it is slow-cooked with spices, cooled and flash fried in a lime and sugar  based sauce that gives it a  sticky sour-sweet  taste with a lovely aroma. Originally this double cooked pork dish originated in China and was taken to Malaysia and Singapore by the migrants leaving from the pearl Rover area close to Canton. Pork may not be pleasing to everyone but in South East Asia it is popular.


1 tbsp rice bran oil

1 kg pork ribs,  and 1/ kg pork neck cubed same size as ribs 

6 cloves garlic, chopped

2 tbsp black bean paste

¼ cup sweet caramelised soy sauce

2 tbsp chilli paste

2 cm ginger, sliced

2 star anise, pounded or broken into pieces

1 tbsp Chinese black vinegar or red wine vinegar.

2 to 3cups stock from bacon bones

2 tbsp shaved palm sugar or 1 tbsp raw sugar

Salt and pepper to taste


Slice the ribs and meat into cubes.  Blanch the meat in boiling waterto remove the strong meaty flavours.  Drain well, rub with some soy sauce. Heat oil, sauté garlic and black bean paste until aromatic. Add pork ribs and fry on medium heat until golden brown, do not allow meat to stick to the pot.  Add the stock to the meat and cook for at least 20 minutes on very low heat. 

Add soy sauce, chilli paste, ginger, star anise, wine vinegar and stock, cook on medium heat to simmer until pork is almost falling off the bone. Add palm sugar and balance with salt and pepper and/or chilli paste and ginger and sugar.

The meat can be reduced down to a thick flavourful dish. It should taste hot, sweet, sour and salty - the building blocks of food flavours in Asian cuisine. The smoky flavours of the pork will come through  and the cooked pork  with those herbs added will have aglorious aroma.     

Serve hot with steamed white rice and crisp slices of cucumber.

The story behind the recipe

"This is called Tau Yew Bak but a friend called it my lethal weapon as I once invited someone to dinner when  a group of us needed a favour. Our guest kept on eating and sweating it out through the meal. He agreed to our requests and the dish was re-named "lethal weapon".  I learnt this recipe from my Chinese nanny who looked after me and cooked for the household. I was closest to her and learnt to cook from her. She brought this recipe from China, but her recipe was simply cooked in water, no chilli and not cooked for as long. Once in Malaysia, the nanny started to improvise, using Malaysian ingredients like chilli and wine vinegar and a clearer oil and better meat.  

This is a dish cooked at Chinese New Year as part of the New Year’s Eve celebrations when the family gets together for a meal and for altar worship of the people long gone. If there is a family altar, a tiny dish of the pork is also added to the food and placed on the altar where the Gods may ingest the food in spirit. All the food for the new year is cooked before the new year.  I ate this dish often with my family especially at Chinese New Year.  I am not Chinese but in a multicultural country one is invited to each of the festivals where food is always laid out for guests. The table was often round so that everyone could share. As a personal touch, I have added the bacon bone stock for that smoky aroma and taste and cooked the pork with more chilli, then added herbs to garnish. Kaffir lime leaves make a lovely aromatic garnish. We had a lime tree and a kaffir lime tree in Malaysia and many chilli beds,  but here I have just started growing a kaffir lime plant."

- Carol Selva Rajah