Bakkwa, also known as rougan, is a Chinese saltysweet dried meat product similar to jerky. It originated from the Fujian province in China where it is considered a Hokkien delicacy.
Bakkwa is made with a meat preservation and preparation technique originating from China. The general method for production have remained virtually unchanged throughout the centuries, but the techniques have been gradually improved. It is traditionally made of pork, beef, or mutton, which is prepared with spices, sugar, salt and soy sauce, while dried on racks at around 50 to 60 °C (122 to 140 °F).
Nowadays, products with a softer texture, lighter color and less sugar are preferred. The bakkwa products with the higher water content, thus having softer texture and lower sugar content are generally known as the shafu type of bakkwa. Nevertheless, shafu can have similar shelf life as other types of bakkwa. The meat is most commonly served plain and in square-shaped slices in the form of flat thin sheets.
Bakkwa is immensely popular in Singapore and Malaysia where it is usually eaten during Chinese New Year. When Chinese immigrants brought this delicacy over to Singapore and Malaysia, it began to take on local characteristics. A notable example lies in the preparation of bakkwa, where the meat once still being air-dried is instead grilled over charcoal. This imparts a smokier flavor to the meat. The Singaporean and Malaysian versions of bakkwa are also sweeter than its mainland China counterpart with many different variations adapted to suit the local palate such as chilli bakkwa.
1.Lim Chee Guan
Established in 1938 and right now Lim Chee Guan is the undisputed most famous bak kwa in Singapore. The popular consensus (from the queues) also supports the view that Lim Chee Guan’s bak kwa is the most delicious in Singapore. Lim Chee Guan’s signature is their sliced pork bak kwa, and they do not sell the minced meat version. However, their sliced pork bak kwa is so soft and tender that it is actually softer and easier on the teeth than most minced meat bak kwa elsewhere. Their bak kwa is the most fragrant with the perfect balance of the sweetness and the barbecued taste.
2. Kim Joo Guan
Kim Joo Guan was founded in 1977 and since then, they have been supplying bak kwa to the famous Lim Chee Guan. They are the wholesale kings and they also supply their bak kwa to five other retail brands. Kim Joo Guan reopened their competing bak kwa retail business in 2009. Kim Joo Guan’s signature is their ‘gourmet traditional pork slice‘, and it tastes very similar to Lim Chee Guan’s super fragrant and delicious sliced pork bak kwa. However the bak kwa here is slightly tougher than Lim Chee Guan’s, which goes down to the differences in preparation. Nonetheless, if you would rather queue for 40 minutes instead of one hour plus, do consider grabbing your annual fix at Kim Joo Guan.
3.Kim Hwa Guan
Kim Hwa Guan was founded around 50 years ago and we have heard incredible rave reviews about this longstanding bak kwa establishment. At their stall, you could see two coal grills with the workers diligently grilling stack after stack of bak kwa. As you queue outside their stall you can observe the entire bak kwa preparation process, from the marinating to the grilling to the cooling down and the final magical touches. Their signature is the ‘square minced pork‘ and it is slightly thinner than the typical minced meat bak kwa. Unfortunately, they limit orders to 1kg per person.
4.Bee Cheng Hiang
Bee Cheng Hiang needs no introduction. It is the largest and most commercialised bak kwa in the world. They have 262 outlets across 9 countries! I personally grew up on loads of Bee Cheng Hiang bak kwa, and this probably set the standard for me. Perhaps due to their prevalence, they have become so common to the extent that their bak kwa no longer tastes outstanding and they have become the baseline for which other more outstanding bak kwa is judged. Also, with the large amount of outlets there is the inevitable issue with consistency. Nonetheless, if you are okay with mass produced bak kwa that tastes decently nice and you don’t want to make the trip all the way down to Chinatown for your fix, Bee Cheng Hiang is a good choice. Their signature bak kwa is the sliced pork.
5.Kim Hock Guan
Established in 1905, Kim Hock Guan is the oldest bak kwa store in Singapore. They have a rich heritage and a story that stretches back more than 120 years! As they say, they do not use minced meat that they only use ‘sliced lean meat of pork hind’. Their signature is the ‘traditional BBQ sliced pork‘. For our taste test we found that their bak kwa had a delicious fragrance however it was slightly less than what we expected and the serving that we got was slightly on the tough side as well. We have no doubt that Kim Hock Guan serves delicious bak kwa as per our past experience but with the increased volume there may be some risk with consistency.