Growing up as a young lad in my family's restaurant always brings back good memories of tasty food. Late in the evenings as the restaurant began to wind down, my mum would always scoop a bowl of rice and side of freshly made sweet and sour pork, with crunchy sweet pineapple and pepper pieces, smothering my rice with that decadent sticky red sauce. My fascination towards this dish would always boggle the mind of my mum, not understanding that the dish she created with a long line of beloved followers would lead us to a family secret that would engulf the South African market with a mysterious addiction for all Chinese establishments to place as the top dish on the menu.
Now much older, wiser and better equipped in the kitchen, I look back into my past in search of what the essence of true sweet & sour should be, could be, can be. As I researched into many other Chinese dishes which play on the tangy sweet flavours leads back to the origins of the dish itself to a simple rock sugar and rice vinegar stewed with pork belly, finished off on a blazing wok, combining the charred hints of seared onions, ginger, scallions, dried chilli peppers and cilantro. This infusion of taste enlightenment was recreated in all different regions of China with some ingredients varying from province and availability during seasons.
What we know as Sweet & Sour today, can be traced back to the early settlements of mostly Southern Chinese, brought to work the railroads and mines in Western America. As these migrant workers attempted to bring back most or partial memory of their home dishes from what little ingredients they had available, came to be born a simple dish of vinegar, ketchup, sugar and touch of preciously kept soy sauce. As more crowds grew in the city of San Francisco, more and more Chinese immigrants took to this new bold flavour, which resembled something familiar yet strangely different in many ways. Today this has to be the greatest export of American Chinese cuisine knowledge that world has experienced.
Much of what we try to recreate in Obento, are the truly defining moments a person can have when eating a historically miss mash of ingredients, into something which is authentic to the time period its original inventors would have been afforded, blended with our modern touch ingredients which still make this dish quintessentially a Chinatown Favourite.