By Liana Fang
Special to Frolic Hawaii
I live and work in Chinatown, so I have tried a lot of roast pork. You’d think I’d be tired of it, since I’m surrounded by Chinese restaurants, but the crunchy, crackling skin has always fascinated me and is what makes the creme de la creme of roast pork.
I’ve always had my own preferences, but when I was asked to commit to a Top 5 in writing, I had to be sure, so three of my friends and I bought Chinese roast pork from our list of favorites and did a side-by-side taste test. We were all very surprised with some of the results! A couple of places that used to be our best picks, didn’t even make the list. We also found that there was a big difference in places that cared about the presentation of their pork, and those that did not. The places that had fairly uniform cubes of meat and neatly laid them in their containers also cared about good seasoning and consistent cooking. It was actually kind of a letdown to open a container and find a messy pile of uneven meat, and with soggy skin!
Price was not a consideration, but we found the price per pound was all over the place.
You may challenge my picks, but I challenge you to do what we did and eat roast pork from several places side-by-side. That’s a lot of leftover meat, but do what I do and make roast pork fried rice!
No. 5: Char Siu House
$12 per pound
I appreciate the crispy skin, but this was saltier than the others in my top five. It still had good flavor, though, and very aromatic. The meat to fat ratio is good, so it’s not too fatty. I enjoy taking each bite and hearing the crackling crunchy skin.
1134 Maunakea St. • Chinatown • 536-1588
No. 4: Nam Fong
$12.75 per pound
The roast pork is flavorful and tender but the skin wasn't as crispy and crunchy as I thought it would be. I have to say, though, the meat has a nice, deep, rich flavor, almost like bacon. This one is perfect for making roast pork fried rice. Just on flavor alone, I can see why a lot of people in town like this one best.
1029 Maunakea St. • Chinatown • 599-5244
No. 3: Roast Duck Kitchen
$12.50 per pound
This place has a line out the door every day, and I can see why. The skin of their roast pork wowed me, as it was one of the few places that could get it perfectly light and crunchy without being greasy. The meat was consistently moist but was a bit saltier for my taste buds; I can see why local people like it. Most local palates like food that offer a little more salt and sugar. Don’t get me wrong, it’s good! Just a bit saltier than I am used to. This was also definitely a place that presented their product well.
Aiea Shopping Center • 99-115 Aiea Hts. Dr. • Aiea • 486-0005
No. 2: Fong's Meat Market
$11 per pound
For $11 per pound, Fong’s delivers a very consistent product. You'll be amazed at how juicy and tender the roast pork is, and it’s not too oily and not too salty. The skin on the roast pork had a nice crunch to it, overall it had the perfect amount of saltiness to it.
Oahu Market • 145 N. King St. • Chinatown • 536-6307
No. 1: Chun's Meat Market
$9.95 per pound
Chun's Meat Market never fails me. They’re the only market that sells different cuts of roast pork such as belly, shoulder, loin and you have the option of choosing bone or boneless roast pork depending on availability. Most places sell the belly, but that’s the fattiest part of the pig. If you are more health conscious, you can buy the pork loin. But here’s an insider tip: The shoulder has the best balance of meat and fat. So if you have a choice, go for the shoulder. I’m all about consistency, flavor and tenderness of pork, and last but not least crispy crackling skin!
157 N. King St. • Chinatown • 533-0577
Disclaimer: Chun’s happens to be owned by my boyfriend’s family, but this was my go-to spot before I even met him. And my tasting partner Melissa Chang was surprised to find that Chun's is also her new number one. To be honest, there was at least one place that we tried that is owned by my friends, and after our side-by-side tasting, I was sad to say they didn’t even make the list.