Auntie Ruby's Tau Yu Bak (Braised Pork in Soy Sauce)

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Updating this old post and added some pics. I have written another post with a simplified recipe here

I have grown accustomed to her taste

Tau Yew Bak! Tow You Bak! Toyu Bak! (Oh dear, how do you anglicize or 'engli-pinyin' this?)

This dish has been blogged and 'reciped' to death. It can be found in just about any Nonya (almost synonymous with Singaporean) cookbook out there.

So why another one?

If you can recall, a few posts ago, I told you back then that my late mum is one of the main reasons for this food-blog. I would like to blog everything she cooked, even fried egg, if possible :). And her TYB was one of the first dishes I missed when I solo-journeyed to NUS to begin life here as a student.

That felt just like...yesterday. (I hear groans...)

On many an evening, sitting by the side of yon hostel room window, overlooking a verdant meadow (more like a patch of grass in the concrete jungle of NUS), revising my chemistry notes on an empty stomach and not anticipating my hostel dinner, I gaze out of the windows and dreamt of my princess mum's TYB: chunky pieces of pork with hard boiled eggs swirling about in the thick dark garlicky peppery sauce, accompanied by her sambal belachan.

Not surprisingly, as soon as I had a kitchen of my own, I tried making this dish.

The way my Mum made it. The way I like it.

Remember how the food critic, Anton Ego, was won over by the Ratatouille dish in the show of the same name? The rat got to him. How? Childhood memories. Comfort food. Food that brings you an improved sense of well-being or satisfaction because it belongs to the category of the simple and familiar. So, to some guy out there hoping to win a girl's heart (and vice versa), find out what her comfort childhood food is. Then cook it. Well, just hope it is not roti prata.

To me, and I suspect to many locals, TYB is home-cooked comfort food at its best.

So, what is the best TYB out there? It exists only in your gastronomical memories. There is such a thing as a good TYB recipe. But any claims to it being 'the best' is simply just a reflection on what we have grown accustomed to. And you have your Mum to thank for it.

Alright, it is time to stop meandering (occupational hazard). Let's move on to the recipe that my Mum used countless times to grow this boy of hers.
Auntie Ruby's Tau Yew Bak recipe

white peppercorn, pounded coarsely
star aniseed
cinnamon stick
sugar (or rock sugar)
3 tablespoon
1 teaspoon

3 teaspoon or equivalent
1.   Heat up the oil pot in a pot in small-medium flame.
2.   Toss in the spices and peppercorn and fry for about 2 mins to release the oils and flavours.
3.   Add sugar
pork belly (skin on) in 2x4 cm pieces
garlic, lightly bruised
thick (dark) soy sauce
light soy sauce
water (optional)
1 kilo

10 cloves (as in photo)
3 teaspoons
5 teaspoons
4.   When the sugar has dissolved,add garlic and dark sauce.
5.   Add the pork and stir to caramelize.
6.   Add the light soy sauce and stir. Lower flame, cover pot. and simmer for about 30-45 mins or till pork is tender to your liking.
7.   Stir occasionally and you may have to add some water to prevent bottom burning.  
hard boiled eggs
tau kwa (bean curd)
4 pieces (quartered)
7.   Mid way through, add the hard boiled eggs (whole) and tau kwa.
chopped coriander leaves
sambal belachan
a few stalks
8.   Serve garnished with coriander leaves and sambal belachan.

TYB on the way. Note the barely visible water level
    Eggs and Taw Kwa added
    Further Tips

    Good TYB basically means:
    1. the meat is well caramelized (cooking technique), 
    2. fragrant (spices and sauce) and 
    3. has a good firm bite (don't overcook or overheat).
    • As pork will shrink, cut into larger pieces.
    • Set the fire on as low as possible when simmering and after the initial caramelizing phase. Too much heat will cause the meat to shrink and the juice to ooze out. The main thing is don't overcook the meat. The pork should not be falling apart. Taste the meat during the final phase. It should be firm to the bite. Adjust the taste if you need to.  
    • The Tau Yew (soy sauce) you use does matter. For the light soy sauce, don't use the cheap salty ones. (I used sauces given by a good friend whose Dad owns the factory which makes it, no kidding -'Kicap Hang Cheong'.) For the dark sauce, you have to used the thicker version. But discussing the different types of sauces will increase the word-count of this post significantly and complicate this recipe. So, maybe I will reserve it for some future post. (I have since blogged info on sauces here).
      Mirror mirror on the wall...
      Which is the darkest of them all?
    • Garlic - smash some but leave some whole. If some of the garlic pieces have not dissolved away, they are a bonus to the dish for garlic lovers. And garlic skin is flavorful, especially after the soya sauce hotbath  - suck first, then chew them up!  
    • Hard boiled eggs: to prevent it's surface from looking like moon craters, peel it when it is still warm. And if you need instructions on how to make perfect hard-boiled eggs, believe it or not, it is serious business for some. Go here.
    • You can also add soaked dry Chinese mushrooms (which will change the taste considerably). Or add chestnuts, which my Mum-in-law normally does.
    • You can also use Twee Bak (Pork 'butt' as in shoulder) instead of belly.
    A stand alone dish
    The end result of the TYB which I am accustomed to is of the dry variety, with the pork well caramelised. 

    Enjoy it with sambal belachan and of course, a steaming bowl of rice. And yes, the eggs. This is another one of those 'stand alone' dishes, if you prefer.

    Remember to give thanks before you tuck in. Be thankful that here in relatively security-free Singapore, we can enjoy simple dishes like this and take comfort in them. Indeed, every meal is an occasion for thanksgiving, especially one which involves Toyu Bak, Tau You Bak, Told You Back, Tau Yew Bak.

    Ed: I have made it many times since I posed this, including large parties. Enjoy the photos...
    Dinner is served, with this amazing sambal made by
    a member of St Hilda's church
    Bon Appetit!
    Nicely plated

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    1. I eat this with hand (fingers). Mixing the sambal belachan, rice and the sauce...with one piece of TYB, get it all into my mouth. The way I like it, with my hand.

    2. For some reason most food taste better when eaten with our hands...:)

    3. hi terry,
      i tried this recipe for my family dinner before we left for our sabbatical. We loved it!! added tau kwa and mushrooms.... sedap!! even our gals loved it and wanted third round! Actually, overnight is even better!

    4. Hi Jambu. What a nice pseudo name!

      Glad you tried it and I am sure you will improve on it. Mushrooms can add another dimension to the dish, esp if braised well.

    5. Dear Pastor+ Canon Terry,
      Thank you for this recipe. My son Shaun loves Tau Yew Bak. He kept saying mine not as good as Richard's mum :(.... but my mum in law does not have a recipe, every step and amount of ingredient used is "aga aga" amount... I will try yours ONE DAY when I'm up to it :) Rgds, Janet Yong

    6. I am not a Hokkien and although I have heard of this dish, never really paid much attention to it. After trying out several "braised pork" recipes, which were nice but not great, it lacked a kind of "oopmh" that I have tasted before. I decided to google more and found your recipe here.

      It is really AMAZING! Just made it for dinner tonight and the flavours of fried cinnamon and start anise were fab and went into the pork very nicely. I did, however almost burnt the pot as I was checking out the recipe, chatting online and cooking at the same time (the fire alarm nearly went off) - washed the claypot and start all over again. It didn't disappoint. Great recipe and great tip to dry-fry the spices!

    7. I have tried the recipe. It is super delicious!

    8. Stumbled upon your website. Love the way you post your recipes ! Keep it up

    9. Dear Cannon,

      I saw the old version of the tau yew bak where you had a photograph of the pork being pan fried. Can you send me that version at


    10. Hi,
      Have you tried to sous vide tau yu bak or kong ba? If you have, any tips to share?

      1. I have not done it yet but it should work very well using SV.

    11. Hello TFC,
      I found your blog by accident,through finding a mean recipe of tau yew bak.
      As you mentioned in your blog, this is comfort food. And this is going to be a dish i'm going to attempt cooking for my family this chinese new year, and hopefully win over the tummy of my boyfriend. He's a big big fan of tau yew bak.

      Your mum will be so proud of your detailed documentation of her dishes. :)

    12. Made this for dinner yesterday and it really hit the spot here in lausanne with me and my partner, can't wait to have the extras for lunch today. Thank you! Also make your char siu all the time! Yummy factor of 100.