In search of the perfect barbecue

Courtesy of Allrecipes

I love Chinese food. Most of it. Especially the sticky, red-glazed spareribs. How do they make those?

We have a local restaurant that has an especially good version. I’ve tried duplicating but haven’t been successful. I found something new to try. It’s a sauce (?) called char siu.

I tried all our local grocery stores that have extensive Asian sections, but I couldn’t find it. I tried Amazon. What’s with them these days. All the versions were expensive. I could buy a six-pack if I cash in my pension. They don’t like to sell single jars. Or packets.

My last choice was to go to an Asian market. We have two in the area. I always feel awkward going into an ethnic market. Out of place awkward. It’s staffed by people who don’t speak English well and my Chinese (or Greek or Korean) is non-existent. Before I went, I pulled up the pronunciation on-line because I knew I couldn’t to it phonetically. I practiced for five minutes but had no confidence that what I was saying in any way resembled the voice in my computer.

How hard could this be?

I went into the store. I was struck by two things. One is the stink. OMG! It smelled like decaying seafood. Do they all smell like this? Yikes!

Second, it was freezing. I’m not talking 68 degrees cold. I’m talking more like 50 to 55  degrees maybe. I saw two staff people. Both were wearing their winter coats and had gloves with the fingertips cut off so they could work the cash register.

At first I attempted to locate it myself. They had an area that was all sauces and seasonings. Surely, it was there. I couldn’t read most of the stuff. It was all Chinese characters. I needed help.

I went to the register and got in back of another poor soul who couldn’t pronounce what she wanted. The cashier gave up and told the woman to get a picture. When Google pulled it up on her cell phone, the cashier laughed as the product was right in back of the customer.

I’m up next. I ask for it using my best Chinese (which is non-existent). I see “deer in the headlights” look from cashier. I repeat at least ten times moving the accent around. Nope. Then I try to explain what it is. Barbecue sauce. For pork. Makes it red and sticky. Sort of sweet.

Something struck pay dirt. She laughed and said something that didn’t sound anything like my product phonetically. I said sure. I was game for just about anything by this time as long as it wasn’t seafood.

She went to the area I had spent 15 minutes searching and pulled it out. Yep, in small print it had the English words.

It is now in my pantry awaiting experimentation. By the way, it was less than half the price of Amazon’s cost. It was well worth the shallow breathing and shivering to get. If the place smells that badly in the winter, perhaps I should buy a supply before summer comes. If it works.

I love me a good barbecue! If a good story goes with it, so much the better!

57 thoughts on “In search of the perfect barbecue

  1. I love that electric red BBQ sauce stuff they put on ribs too in Chinese restaurants….so good. I agree about Asian food markets being full of interesting things and unusual aromas. I survived living two years on top of a mountain in Taiwan and trust me you don’t want to know what those aromas are. LOL Anyway, hope the sauce you got was JUST what you were looking for. Just thinking about those ribs makes me want to suggest to my husband that we go out to our fave Chinese restaurant for dinner tonight! LOL

    Hugs, Pam

    Liked by 1 person

  2. We used to go to the local Asian market to get exotic fruits for our sugar gliders. It was a bit disorienting, but on the whole it was fun. I’m glad you finally found what you were looking for!

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  3. Interesting and you really were determined to get that sauce! I’ve never had ribs in that sweet red sauce at a Chinese restaurant. I was only in a Chinese restaurant a couple of times and don’t recall what I ate. My mom used to make Chop Suey all the time. I had to buy a dust cover for my battery trickle charger. It pulled off and the battery place did not sell them. The unhelpful customer service rep at the Battery Tender place said “get it from Amazon” … I had to buy a package of 15! And they are not an exact fit for the original – most of them don’t fit properly at all. Grrrr.

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    • Except for the occasional stir rice or fried rice, I prefer to get Chinese takeout rather than cook it. I don’t have all the spices and don’t want to stock up on them as I’d rarely use them. The place locally that has the best sticky ribs often overcooks them which makes them dry and that spurred me to try to recreate. There are some foods that fare best as take-out.

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  4. I hope you’ll report back on whether this product satisfies or you need to try again. I am not very adventurous with foods, and I have to admit I feel a little intimidated in some of our local international markets. I ought to probably be willing to ask more questions. You set a good example, Kate! I hope it helps you create the bbq you’re hoping for. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hope it works too and like you, I rarely go into ethnic markets. We have a big Syrian population here with a good grocery store. Much nicer and cleaner then the Asian one I visited, yet I rarely go there. It’s a great place for fresh pita and anything middle east.

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  5. I can’t wait to hear if the sauce is as good as restaurants make it. I love beef with broccoli and just made a crock pot version that was better than when I get it from the Chinese restaurant.

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  6. Good luck. Hubby loves Chinese food but sadly can now longer tolerate it until we can get his digestion issues sorted! First on the list will then be crispy seaweed, sweet and sour chicken, chicken fried rice, and bbq spare ribs!

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  7. Hi, Kate – I’m glad that you found the Char Siu sauce at a resonable price. If you ever feel like making your own Char Siu sauce/marinade – here is a fairly reliable recipe:
    ▢¼ cup hoisin sauce
    ▢¼ cup water
    ▢2 tablespoons brandy (or dark rum or bourbon)
    ▢2 tablespoons honey
    ▢2 tablespoons soy sauce
    ▢1 tablespoon toasted sesame oil
    ▢1 tablespoon hot sauce such as Tabasco
    ▢½ tablespoon ground/powdered ginger
    ▢½ tablespoon ground/powdered onion
    ▢¼ tablespoon ground/powdered garlic
    ▢¼ tablespoon five spice powder

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  8. I love ribs but they have never loved me! They also feel like a lot of work for hardly anything to eat. Kind of like eating crab legs which I love and they love me back. I am going to be waiting for the blog of the cooking of your ribs… char siu! It popped right up on google!

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  9. If you like it, save the jar and go back in and stock up.

    If it’s not as good as the restaurant’s sauce . . . ask (beg/plead/bribe) the restaurant to sell you some of the sauce they use. Maybe you can buy a gallon and stash it in your freezer.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I was thinking of that for a long time. The staff has really poor English skills so it would be a challenge. Love the sauce but they overcook the ribs sometimes making them dry. That’s why I’d like to make them myself. My ribs are fall off the bone tender and not all crusty and dry.

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  10. I hope your sauce is what you were looking for! I love going to ethnic grocery stores. My first job was in one – working in my dad’s Dutch deli and grocery store! Yeah, the smell in some of them is off-putting. I think it is the durian fruit LOL! My cousin describes this fruit as “smells like hell, tastes like heaven”. So far I haven’t tried it so I have to take his word for it.

    Deb

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  11. One of my late friends (and there are too many late friends now) was into Asian foods, having lived in Japan for several years. I would go on shopping expeditions with her all over the city. She read all the labels and would explain how to use the various sauces and spices. I don’t do that anymore but there’s an Indian market that I’ve walked past for years and keep threatening to go inside! “One of these days…”

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    • I’m not as big a fan of Indian food as I am of Asian, Greek and Italian. I’m picky with Thai food too. Some is too hot or spicy for me but when I lived in NJ there was a wonderful Thai restaurant that was perfect. Fish sauce wasn’t too overwhelming (one of my beefs with SE Asian food).

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  12. When I worked downtown, I often went to an Asian market a several blocks from my office. It was a cultural cornucopia that completed fascinated me especially once I became addicted to bean curd (Inari) and pickled ginger. I soon discovered a lot of people were likewise addicted to the Inari and had to resort going early or reserving some over the phone. When I discovered I could buy gallon sized jugs of the ginger there I was at least comforted when they were out of the Inari (which was frequently). I would put that stuff on LOTS of dishes-soooo tasty. My taste buds are tingling just thinking about those days. Hope the sauce is everything you’re hoping for. Screw Amazon.

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  13. I like Chinese food as well, but I’m finding that the local joints’ quality I don’t like so much. I’ve been spoiled by a Japanese steakhouse in my old neighborhood. I’ve been looking online for recipes, but I’m not yet willing to invest in sauces and spices I may never use again if it turns out I don’t like the recipe. But yours was a win-win situation… you got the sauce (you think, for now) that you wanted and you got a great story to share with us!

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  14. LOL, this is why Andy loves the Chinese markets like 99 Ranch. So cheap! He likes to take Baby D who enjoys seeing the seafood swim around as well. Although, I’ve never smelled anything liked what you are describing at any Asian market out here.

    Good job trying out something new and having an adventure. Andy doesn’t usually do ribs, but he does like them, I’ll have to ask about the sauce.

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