A Nonya Family Recipe – Babi Pongteh

Today is a very special day for a friend of mine, Cheryl Tan from my convent school days… I’ve known her since I was 7! She has since morphed into an extraordinary writer, food blogger and cook and today she launches her first book : A Tiger in the Kitchen – A Memoir of Food and Family. It’s been an incredible journey for her and an inspiration to me! Check it out! http://www.amazon.com/Tiger-Kitchen-Memoir-Food-Family/dp/1401341284/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1293069855&sr=8-1

In honour of the book launch, Cheryl had asked me if I would contribute a family recipe on my blog, together with a community of food bloggers. I was flattered to even be asked! But then came the other problem… what do I write about? To be honest, most of the recipes I love and use time and time again, are not really anything handed down from my grandma to my mom to me… My mom is not that great a cook to be honest and the closest thing to a family recipe that I sorta picked up from her is my favourite Oxtail Stew. But even that has been massively changed by me over the years AND I’ve already blogged about it.

Then I had a brainwave! A nice Nonya recipe will do the trick. I’ve learned versions of it through the years from my dear cousin, Maddy (who incidentally taught me 70% of my culinary skills), memories of it from my Aunt Monica, whiffs of it at my grandma’s… So I did a little research and here’s a mish-mash of a few recipes/memories that resulted in a Babi Pongteh recipe with a beautifully glossy thick sweet yet tangy sauce.

Babi Pongteh – A Sweet-Tangy Sticky Version

Babi Pongteh is best made with belly pork with its strips of fat inbetween the layers of meat. But I’ve never been a big fan of pork skin or fats so I prefer to use a 40/60 combination of belly pork and a tenderloin or “dark meat” cut (in Singapore we call it “Twee Bak”). For me it gives the dish the nice fattiness and flavouring it needs with the nice bits of meat that I will eat!

Like all Nonya recipes, almost every family has their own version of Babi Pongteh. Some have it more salty, more watery, less tangy, less sweet… I like it with a stew-like consistency with a tangy caramelised sweetness, generously ladled over steaming white rice. Pretty much heaven :-)

Sometimes when I have the time, I will marinate the pork pieces for a few hours with the sweet/dark/light soy sauce mixture (instead of just adding it to the stew).


500-700g Pork (cut depends on your preference but the traditional cut is the belly pork)

To be processed or chopped finely together
  • 20 shallots
  • Half a whole clove of garlic

4 tablespoons of fermented soy beans “taucheo” - I like to use the ones with dates for extra sweetness if I can find it

1 tablespoon dark high grade thick soy sauce
1/2 tablespoon light soy sauce
2 teaspoon corriander powder
1/2 tablespoon of sugar (or it can be substituted with thick sweet black soy sauce)
1 large tablespoon of tamarind pulp mixed with 1/2 cup water and strained
1-2 potatoes sliced length-wise

To give you an idea of the sweet soy sauce and the fermented soy bean paste I used:


Heat some oil in the pot and fry the chopped shallots and garlic till it starts to look limp then add the fermented soy beans (mashed up/pounded).

Continue to fry the paste mixture until it starts to change to a darker tone. Be careful to keep stirring it so as to prevent it from burning (and that can happen the moment you turn your back!)

Once it changes colour, add the pieces of meat to it and brown the pork on all sides as you continue stirring it about in the pot….

…. Coating the meat evenly with the mixture.

When the pork is seared nicely on the outside, add the corriander powder and sugar (if not using the sweet soy sauce as a marinate) and once well mixed, add the tamarind juice.

Add enough water to just cover the meat and throw in the potatoes.

Bring the pot to a rolling boil and then let it simmer 3/4 covered for about 30-45mins and all the meat is tender.

By this time, the sugar and potato would have helped caramelised and thicken the stew.

If it looks a bit too watery still, take the lid off and let it simmer for another 15mins uncovered.

Turn off the heat and let it cool down and thicken up some more for another 10-15mins.

Dish it up into a large serving bowl, top it with fresh chopped green chillies (to add some heat and to help cut through the richness of the dish) and serve with steamed white rice.

It’s pretty darn awesome!

5 comments for “A Nonya Family Recipe – Babi Pongteh

  1. February 9, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    The color of that babi pongteh looks amazing! I’ve always wanted to learn how to make this dish — thanks for sharing, Del! And thanks so much for the kind words and the support. You are too sweet! Big hugs, girl…xx

  2. February 11, 2011 at 2:10 am

    I love pork belly! Thanks for the recipe. So nice that Cheryl inspired all of us to share these.

  3. Josephine Wong
    December 16, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    This dish look super delicious going to cook it for pot luck this xmas :-P cheers Josephine

  4. Al
    February 20, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    Thanks for sharing. Looks absolutely delicious. I learned that using Gula Melaka instead of plain old sugar makes a marked difference somehow. Also, adding Cinnamon sticks add to the flavour, for those who prefer that touch.

    Love the topping of green chillies. Brilliant!

  5. Nancy
    September 3, 2013 at 9:14 pm

    Hi I’m Nancy, thanks for sharing your recipe. But I would like to ask
    what is tamarind pulp. I can only find tamarind powder in NTUC. So, where I buy it from?

    Thanks alot.

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