Char Siew is not a hawker food that I often eat and I usually come across it when it is served as a side or a ‘filler’ in the menus of roast meat stalls. I haven’t came across many good Char Siew stalls ( perhaps because I was not really looking for any) but I recently visited a Char siew stall, Roast Paradise, that has made it into my books. It only sells quality Malaysian-style Char siew. In other words, there’s no roast duck or roast chicken to distract you from the main star, ROAST PORK!
Randall (left) and Kai (right)
Just for some background, Roast Paradise is run by two young men, Randall and Kai, who used to work in the nightlife industry and wanted a fresh start in life. They ventured in the hawker business because of their love for good food and went to Malaysia on a foodhunt for their next big thing. Finally settling on Char Siew, they found a Malaysian Char Siew master to teach them the secret ways of good Char Siew. Randall and Kai even scoped out their competition by trying 400 different stalls-worth of Char Siew in Singapore! BEAT THAT!
Anyway hawker life was difficult at first because they were young and Singaporeans usually don’t trust hawkers without wrinkles ( don’t try to deny it ~) So their solution? Hard work. Because hard work gives people wrinkles. Trust me. But seriously, for 6 days a week, Randall and Kai start at 630 am preparing the meat and keep working throughout the day to pump out two batches of fresh Char Siew, once in the morning and once in the afternoon. This way their customers who visit later in the day will never have to settle for that lonely stale piece of Char Siew that has been hanging on the hook since morning. A+ for work ethic! Needless to say they have won over a loyal following. Nowadays customers even drop by just to say hi ☺ Kai also commented that he is very touched by all the support his customers have given him and working in F&B represents all the Friends & Bonds he has made. Slightly cringe-worthy…but still touching! All hail roast meat for bringing people together!
NOW moving on to the main meat of the post, the Roast Paradise Char Siew! Eating Malaysian-style Char Siew was a first for me ( apologies for my limited CharSiewpedia) and I realised it was quite different from the Singaporean version we often see with wanton noodles. Instead of a reddish color, the meat is a glossy yet slightly charred caramel brown that makes it completely drool-worthy… and mildly seductive. Just saying. I mean my plate of Char siew was definitely beckoning me to eat it.
To achieve this, Randall and Kai bast the meat in a secret brown sauce multiple times during its roasting to give it a robust sweet-savoury flavour faintly reminiscent of Bak Kwa. Roast paradise also roasts its meat over a charcoal fire which, unlike gas flames, cooks more unpredictably and unevenly thus giving the Char Siew more crunch and char in certain parts. The charcoal also gives a faint smokey flavour that deepens the flavour of the meat. (In my own personal and biased opinion, charcoal owns gas any day just ‘cuz it looks more old-school)
But roasting with charcoal is mucho tedious, according to Randall and Kai, because the heat is uneven and consequently the Char Siew requires constant supervision if not it would end up Chao Ta (i.e burnt black) instead of Char Siew. Apparently they have even completely incinerated a batch of Char Siew before! However, I think the effort is well worth the result because Roast paradise’s Char Siew has that crispy caramelised exterior that lovingly wraps the rich and tender interior to prevent it from drying out. << Can’t believe I’m just describing meat.
Their Char Siew is also particularly tender because they only use pork belly meat while other shops often use shoulder meat which is tougher and less fatty. Unfortunately for you, me and Roast Paradise…Using pork belly also means a lot of the initial weight of the meat is lost as the fats are melted away so their Char Siew gets more expensive as it becomes more delicious :’(.
They roast their meat for 3 hours, which is longer than most stalls, to melt the pork belly fat into the meat which keeps the meat rich and moist. After 3 hours we get a crispy caramelised skin over a thin layer of buttery, melt-in-your-mouth fat which is perched on top of tender and moist meat. POETRY! This is way better to the chunks of undercooked, rubbery fat that I sometimes get when meat is cooked too quickly.
To top it all off their Char Siew is served with either chicken rice or mee pok noodles with a side of soup. In my opinion, I felt the rice was a better accompaniment as the noodles were abit too oily for my liking.
For the health-conscious people out there, the stall also sells lean cuts of Char Siew (naturally more popular with the ladies) as well as fatty cuts ( which I have raved about for 4 paragraphs). The fatty cuts are of course a crowd favourite but I would have to pay homage to the lean meat as well. Admittedly, the lean meat was tougher BUT not dry and the Bak Kwa flavor was more pronounced throughout the meat. In my honest opinion, if calories were a currency, your calories would be well spent on a portion of that fatty Char Siew.
Speaking about portions…because I know everyone enjoys getting the most bang for their buck. The portion of Char Siew is not huge. BUT DO NOT WORRY the world is not going to end because of smaller portion size. There was definitely enough to leave me satiated and not overwhelmed by the richness of the fatty meat. At the end of the day, it is a choice of quality over quantity and I personally feel it is well worth the money.
Anyway, welcome Foodies! I’m back from my two year hiatus and with a food partner now 🙂 I have her to thank for writing this post 😉
Opening Hours: 11am to 8pm