Ready To Pig Out!
As you’ve surely noticed over the past few years in the foodie world, pork belly is hot, hot, hot — and still sizzling! Even our most beloved thin slices of this cut of the hog, aka bacon, have taken a bit of a backseat to thicker, juicier and “fattier” presentations of pork belly. You’ll see it on nearly every modern restaurant menu — in fact, just the other week, my mom and I had the pleasure of dining at Fleet-wood’s on Front Street, rocker Mick Fleetwood’s uber cool restaurant in Lahaina, and a Bourbon-glazed Pork Belly was our favorite dish of the night.
As trendy as pork belly may be, we mustn’t forget that a slew of cultures here in Hawaii have been mastering pork belly specialties for generations. Many of us have loved growing up munching on Chinese-style roasted pork belly, crispy Filipino renditions and grilled shabu shabu slices of this flavorful meat at yakiniku restaurants. There’s a whole world of established pork-belly perfection on this island, and it’s our job to feverishly devour it.
3660 ON THE RISE
For Lydell Leong, chef de cuisine at 3660 on the Rise, pork belly has always been part of the picture.
“I’ve always been a fan of pork belly, or belly pork, however you like to call it. Even growing up, my family would cook with it,” he says.
Nowadays at the restaurant — which renowned chef Russell Siu leads with a talent for creating Euro-Island-cuisine magic — Leong enjoys putting a new spin on his old favorite. “It’s not a new cut, but we’re trying to find different ways to utilize it,” he adds.
Kurobuta Pork Two Ways ($32), for instance, does just that. Using fine Kurobuta meat — the “Kobe” of pork varieties — the chef offers two delicious cuts in one mouthwatering entree. You’ll swoon over pork belly that’s braised in bacon, garlic, pork stock and Sherry, chilled and then finished in the deep fryer. “It’s quickly fried, just so the outside gets a little crispy and seals in the existing moisture,” says Leong.
The flavor pairings really stand out here, as the pork belly is served on an applewood smoked bacon and Tillamook cheddar cheese biscuit, while enhanced natural jus and braising liquid pile more layers of goodness onto the plate. And to top it all off, pickled Kahuku corn and Maui onion relish with a pop of jalapeno brings balance and lightens up the pork. To die for.
On the other side of the plate, save room for heavenly bone-in pork loin accented with fried garlic and scallion rice.
Leong showcases Crispy Five Spice Kurobuta Pork Belly ($8.50) on the appetizer menu as well. This fun, Chinese-inspired favorite is basically a pork belly sandwich in a puffy steamed white bun, but there’s nothing basic about the preparation. The tender, succulent meat is seasoned with shoyu and five spice salt, among other adornments, and it’s coupled with an “Asian slaw” with hoisin vinaigrette and a nostalgic touch of fried shrimp chips.
3660 on the Rise
3660 Waialae Ave., Kaimuki
MAX’S OF MANILA
Without a doubt, one of the best things about pork belly is that crispy, crackling skin you get from frying it just right. You’ll find that ideal crunch at Max’s of Manila, where true to Filipino form, plenty of pork belly dishes abound.
When asked what makes this piece of pork so popular in Filipino cooking, general manager Maly San Luis explains, “Pork belly is the prime cut of meat … It is also the most flavorful.”
Taste it for yourself in Lechon Kawali ($13.95). San Luis shares that lechon is a whole pig that has been roasted in a pit, while kawali means frying pan. “So, Lechon Kawali is a fried version of the roast pork. However, we prepare it exclusively with the most tender and juicy cut — the belly.” The dish is made with the skin on as well, so the outside is crispy but the meat remains tender.
Bicol Express ($14.95) offers another chance to enjoy the Lechon Kawali meat, as it’s topped with a slightly spicy coconut sauce prepared with traditional shrimp paste.
San Luis also recommends Inihaw Na Liempo ($12.75), a popular pupu of grilled pork belly in a soy-based marinade. “It is served with a chili vinegar garlic sauce,” says San Luis.
She adds that you can enjoy these eats and more at Max’s of Manila’s two Oahu locations: Costco Iwilei Complex (open daily, 10:30 a.m.-9 p.m.) and Waipahu Shopping Plaza (Monday-Thursday, 11a.m.-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m.-9 p.m.).
Max’s of Manila
Costco Iwilei Complex
801 Dillingham Blvd., Honolulu
Waipahu Shopping Plaza
94-300 Farrington Hwy., Waipahu