Stewed pork belly with preserved vegetables

Stewed pork belly with preserved vegetables

The “suan cai (
酸菜),” “fu cai (福菜),” and “mei gan cai (梅乾菜),” used in Hakka dishes are actually all made with the same vegetable — mustard greens! Mustard greens are a common vegetable of the cabbage family in Taiwan, and in the Hakka language, they are called “tai coi (大菜)”. According to the Hakka custom, mustard greens are usually served for Lunar New Year’s dinner. In Hakka areas outside southern Taiwan, mustard greens are also known as "chang nian cai (長年菜)," which literally means “long year vegetable” in Mandarin. Because the leaves of mustard are long and large, they generally symbolize longevity.

The frugal Hakkas in Taiwan, due to their migration history and their difficult living environment in the past, have developed a pickled food culture, such as pickling to preserve perishable vegetables and mixing pickled vegetables with meat. After the mustard greens harvest, people use the traditional pickling method to make three different types of Hakka pickled vegetables according to different extent of fermentation, sun drying, and air drying. Here are instructions on how you can make the vegetables.

1. Suan cai, or pickled vegetables 

The fresh mustard greens of the whole plant are softened after one to three days of exposure in the sun. They are laid out in alternating layers of vegetables and salt, and stone is placed on the top layer to press the water out of the vegetables. It is then finally sealed. After about one to two weeks of pickling, the vegetables continue to lose water due to the function of the salt, and are fermented in the broth, producing a sour taste, and becoming Hakka sauerkraut.

2. Fu cai, or preserved vegetables

To make fu cai, put the prepared Hakka sauerkraut in the sun and air dry it. Before the vegetables are completely depleted of water, tear them into strips and stuff them into a bottle, then invert it, let the water flow out, and finally seal it and let it stand upright. After about four to six months of fermentation, you will make a dish that is even more flavored than Hakka pickled vegetables. Since the container is flipped during the production process, and this is called “fu” (meaning overturn/upside down) in the Hakka language, the dish is called “fu cai,” but a different “fu” is generally used, the auspicious homophonic “fu” character which means happiness or fortunate.  (Note: fu cai is not as sour as suan cai, but is more flavored,  with lingering charm.)

3. Mei gan cai (in the Hakka language, it is called dried pickled vegetables)

This kind of pickled vegetable is made by taking the fu cai halfway through the fermentation process, when it has been sun-dried and air-dried, but before it has been sealed in the urn, and putting it through further sun-drying and air-drying until there is almost no water in it, and then bundling it into a bunch. This makes the vegetable more aromatic with a special flavor and makes it more durable as a “preserved dried vegetables.” Taiwanese traditional Hakka villages refer to these vegetables as “salty dry vegetables,” and because the salted and dried mustard greens tastes sweet, sour and delicious, many people associate them with dried “plums.” That is why “mei gan cai” means “plum dried vegetables” in Mandarin, but actually the vegetables do not have any dried plums or plum flavor. Despite this, they can whip up one’s appetite like plums can.

With a bunch of mustard greens, a handful of salt, and a period of time, Hakka people have created the cultural wisdom and distinctive flavor from the hardship in the past.

Stewed pork belly with preserved vegetables


Pork 100g

Mei gan cai 50g

Garlic cloves 10g

Soy sauce 10g

Rock sugar 10g

Shaoxing wine 10g

Cooking method:

1. Soak mei gan cai in water for half hour, and then wash them.

1. After the pork is dipped into the soy sauce and fried, add the seasonings of soy sauce, rock sugar, and Shaoxing wine and simmer until the meat is soft and easy to pick up.

2. Boil the mei gan cai for 30 minutes and take them out of the pot. Then pour the vegetables into the pan of cooked pork, roll them together and put into the steamer and steam for 30 minutes, then remove the tray.