Dongbei guo bao rou, which could be mistaken as Cantonese sweet and sour pork, is the signature dish of Harbin in China's northeast. 'Dongbei' means northeast and 'guo bau rou' means crispy sweet and sour pork', aka, my favourite dish.
But even though it looks like the Cantonese version, it tastes different. The pork is sliced thicker and the meat is crispy, since it's deep fried twice. The meat is usually accompanied by ginger, spring onion and carrot.
"Guo bao rou is the signature dish of Harbin in China's northeast. It's also my favourite food."
This dish is can be slightly healthier than the Cantonese version because it's not as sweet.
While it's easy to talk about this dish, it can be pretty hard to cook. My mum and I have had lots of trouble cooking it because some recipes can be confusing. Also, you need to keep monitoring how sweet it is.
To make it, you need to put large, thinly sliced pork in potato-starch batter then deep fry each slice twice. After that, you need to lightly coat the slices in a sweet and sour sauce made from freshly prepared sugar syrup and vinegar that's flavoured with thinly sliced ginger and chopped garlic. Although I am not a fan of ginger, I can never reject it in this dish. The ginger becomes sweet and also provides a spicy hit.
Deep frying twice can be challenging. You have to flip both parts of each pork slice gently and make sure each turns golden. You need to cook both sides of the meat at the same temperature; otherwise, the pork pieces will be different colours.
Whenever I bite into crispy meat, my memories of childhood come back. I can't stop thinking about my grandparents when I have this dish. They used to cook it for my birthday every year. The pork meat was costly at that time and we couldn't afford to cook it every month.
"Whenever I bite the crispy meat, my memories of childhood come back."
The meat was always so crunchy and juicy, and we felt satisfied.
The best thing about this dish now is that my family are more comfortable cooking it on our own now.
Follow our recipe below to taste the northeastern Chinese experience at home.
Crispy sweet and sour pork (dongbei guo bao rou)
- 450 g sliced pork loin (cut into chunks)
- 1 tbsp minced ginger or a few chopped thin-sliced ginger and carrot
- 2 garlic pieces, chopped
- 1 tbsp soy sauces
- 1 tbsp cooking wine
- ½ tsp salt
- 2-5 cups water
- ½ cup sugar (less sugar - this is the difference from Cantonese sweet and sour pork)
- 1 cup vinegar and syrup
- 2 cups potato starch
- A few chopped coriander and spring onion as garnish
- Oil or duck fat for frying
- Marinate with soy sauce, cooking wine, a little bit of salt and water for 2 hours or overnight.
- In a medium bowl (large enough to fit all ingredients), dissolve the potato starch in 1½ cups of water, and stir until completely dissolved. Set aside for 15 minutes, or until the potato starch has completely settled at the bottom.
- Prepare the sauce by mixing the sugar, vinegar, syrup and salt together. Stir to dissolve, and set aside.
- Take the potato starch, and slowly drain out the majority of the water, leaving behind the potato starch paste. Add the pork slices to the bowl, and use your hands to ensure the pork is completely coated in the wet potato starch (make sure starch on both sides of sliced pork). Add water at a time if the mixture is too dry.
- Prepare the oil for frying in a deep pot or wok, heating it from slow to medium, otherwise, the pork will overcook.
- Carefully lower the pork pieces, one at a time, into the oil, leaving space in between each, as they tend to stick together. Fry each batch for 2 minutes, transferring the fried pork to a wire rack to drain.
- When the pork has been fried once, bring the heat down, and fry the pork again in batches for about 30 seconds each batch (make sure to flip and deep fry both sides of the meat, and fry twice for the best results).
- Quickly transfer the deep-fried pork to a plate. Start to cook the ginger and garlic briefly.
- Add the sauce, turn up the heat, and cook for about 2-3 minutes until the sauce has almost disappeared.
- Add the carrot, coriander and spring onion and put the pork back to the pan.
- Stir quickly so there is a thin layer of sauce coating each piece of pork.
- Serve and enjoy when the meat is hot.