Taiwanese pork chop rice bian dang (lunch box).  

Craving ‘pai gu fan’, the elusive Taiwanese street food in the Triangle

Amongst the pantheon of top Southern comfort foods, I have my favorites: collard greens, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese.

But, when I get my deep-rooted food cravings, ones that hark back to my Asian heritage, I long for different sorts of dishes—foods like mapo tofu and Taiwanese beef noodle soup.

One of the dishes that I’ve pined for hardcore recently is a Taiwanese dish called pai gu fan. Translated from Mandarin to English, it’s known as pork chop rice.

Imagine a juicy, bone-in pork chop battered and then deep-fried to a dark golden crisp (not unlike the German schnitzel) served over a mound of soft, steamed rice with sour, pickled vegetables and a hard-boiled egg. That’s basically what pai gu fan is.

The dish has humble roots as a Taiwanese street food and is still quite popular to serve as a part of a bian dang, Taiwan’s version of a Japanese bento box or lunch box meal. Making pai gu fan at home is not particularly difficult, though I find it hard to master the crispiness of the mottled crust on the outside without a decent heating source (gas stove) and wok.

The preparation to make pai gu fan starts with marinating bone-in pork chops with an amalgamation of shaoxing rice wine, five spice powder, soy sauce, sugar, garlic, salt and pepper. After marinating, the bone-in chops are dredged in potato starch and deep-fried until crispy on the outside. The chops are then served with your choice of pickled vegetables and a Taiwanese hard-boiled tea egg.

Some recipes call for using boneless pork chops, but those are no fun. Half the fun is suckling off the little juicy fried pork bits from the bone–not to mention the bone helps to keep the pork meat more juicy. In the Triangle area, finding pai gu fan is not an easy task, but The Joy Luck Club café inside Grand Asia Market in Cary does offer a version for $7.95. It’s a heaping Styrofoam box full of food for the price too.

In Joy Luck Club’s version, you’ll get a sizable fried bone-in chop, sliced up for your convenience, served over heaping mounds of rice with the hard-boiled egg and pickled vegetables. You can even add another vegetable from their buffet. I usually spring for the sautéed bok choy as a complement to all the meat. Don’t expect friendly service at The Joy Luck Club, just good food. And for me, that’s usually enough.


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