The Origin Of China's Dongpo Pork May Have Come Down To A Chess Match

At a Chinese restaurant, you savor succulent pork belly that melts tenderly with each bite while a slightly sweet yet richly savory sauce blends seamlessly with the pork belly's luxurious fat. This beautiful dish is Dongpo pork (or Dong Po rou, 東坡肉), legendary for its taste and nifty origin story. 

According to one legend, the origin of China's Dongpo pork may have stemmed from a chess match. Several tales narrate the dish's inception, but there's one commonality: esteemed Chinese poet, writer, and ancient foodie Su Dongpo, who was a prominent figure during the Song Dynasty in Hangzhou. In one rendition, Dongpo engrossed himself in a Chinese chess game with a friend. So captivating was their duel that Dongpo forgot about the pork he was stewing. When the chess game concluded, Dongpo and his friend discovered the stewed pork was now overcooked, yet still surprisingly tender, super flavorful, and even better than they had expected.

But, that isn't the only explanation behind the dish. In another version of the tale, Dongpo received gifts of pork and rice wine for helping to save the city dam in Hangzhou, where severe flooding plagued the city for 77 days. Instead of keeping all the gifts for himself, Dongpo used them to make stewed pork and gifted the dishes back to all of the citizens across Hangzhou.

Making Dongpo pork at home is easy but requires patience

Now that you've learned all about the legends behind Dongpo pork, you're probably itching to make it yourself. Making Dongpo pork at home might seem daunting given its rich history and layers of flavors. However, you can recreate this culinary masterpiece with just the right ingredients and some patience.

To start, you'll need a quality cut of pork belly — the hero of this dish. For the marinade, gather essential ingredients like Shaoxing wine or michiu, rock sugar, soy sauce (light and dark), ginger, star anise, and monosodium glutamate (MSG). Begin by searing the pork belly in a hot wok until golden brown, then mix it with the marinade ingredients and enough water to submerge all of the pork. Simmer covered over low heat. Remember, the key is a slow and steady cooking process, allowing the flavors to meld and the pork to braise beautifully and achieve its signature tenderness.

As the Dongpo pork's aroma fills your home, think of Su Dongpo's accidental discovery while you recreate a legend in your kitchen! So, the next time you're engrossed in a chess game with a friend (or any long game, like Monopoly), consider having some Dongpo pork stewing in the background. When either of you declare checkmate, you'll have a delectable dish ready to savor!