It is key to emotional health, I think, to understand that most things in life will turn out pretty badly. Things will come too early or too late. People will be maddening ciphers, their motivations inscrutable, their signals garbled, their best intentions catastrophic. We must convince ourselves of the ubiquity of unsuccess, so that when we happen upon a place like Char, every now and then, it feels all the better.
(Note: Now that I have your agreement on this, you will not mind that I was unable to take a picture of the char siew at Char. I know, I know. Such is life!)
I’ve heard about Char a while now, from friends and their friends who spoke in hyperbolic terms of the char siew. But they also told me it was ‘modern’. That, and a look at the location, curbed my enthusiasm. Great, I think. I’ll be eating lovely char siew in some half-arsed imitation warehouse.
The Singapore Met Service forecasted that February would be dry and windy, but they only got the second one right. Every day there’s been either great towers of clouds looming past, or out-and-out thunderstorms. It’s not exactly going out weather, in other words. But who needs going out when you can have stew?
Or maybe I can claim the shiny patina of Korean-ness and call this a jjigae instead. It’s got all the basic components of Korean cooking, all the bright colours and pungent aromas – kimchi, garlic shoots, leeks. Into this mix goes the hefty flavour of rendered, charred, golden roast pork (sio bak).
Be warned: this is not first date food. This is only for when you already know it’s real.
You know, now that I think of it, there’s something the very friendly front-of-house said as I paid the bill which sounds a bit ominous. When I asked her if Let’s Meat Up was a new place, she beamed. ‘It opened one month ago. Our only outlet!’
No one says that last bit if there aren’t plans afoot to change it.
So that raises a question: seeing as Singapore’s food scene has got more chains than your average BDSM dungeon, how much should a new arrival be welcomed? On the plus side, Let’s Meat Up is aimed at a new niche for fast-ish food, namely robatayaki. That said, I have seen robatayaki restaurants, and the place looks nothing like one. The name robatayaki means ‘grilling around the stove edge’, but the standard elements – the open grill, ingredients all laid out – are missing. Which means there’s only the food to go on.
As we all know, if we’ve been paying attention in science class, it was Louis Pasteur who proved that food spoils due to bacteria from outside (rather than spontaneously sprouting bacteria). And he proved it so elegantly – a sterilised flask of broth, isolated from the outside by a swan-necked tube. Bacteria can’t get in – therefore the broth stays fresh.
It’s a very fitting experiment for a Frenchman, too, because French cuisine has been utilising this technique of preservation for centuries. Their tradition of meat-based wizardry, as practiced in the charcuterie, relies on this method for some of France’s most famous dishes, submerging meat in fat that then forms a solid seal against bacteria. Confit de canard is one such dish, and so are rillettes.
They’re basically the French cousins of pulled pork – the same dry-heat low-and-slow process, teasing pork into flavourful fibres, but with an added dose of smoothness in the use of lard. And it’s easy to make too.
To make this recipe I’ve used an oven, but you can probably do it over low heat on a stove as well – experiment and tell me how it goes!