Japanese braised pork belly- and some notes about comfort food


This is a special pork dish. While I struggled to swallow that our wedding was four years ago, I’m also grappling with the fact that it’s been four years since I wrote this about one of our favourite Japanese restaurants in Sydney.

March 2008

When you get the wind knocked out of you, you turn to what you know. In the week that we scattered my mother-in-law’s ashes, we returned to Wasavie three times.

The Italians have a term for comfort eating- it translates to eating white; welcome to risotto bianca, mashed potato, gnocchi with cheese.

For us, the brief was things that tasted clean, which could be washed down with a cold, dry rose and preferably eaten somewhere where you’re greeted with a smile and can glimpse the sea if you stand on your tippy toes.

Wasavie is tucked away down Heeley st in Paddington- conveniently right next to the bottle shop at five ways, a stroll from great galleries and  away from the madding crowds of Oxford St on a Saturday….

Seasoned visitors will point in the direction of the sushi and sashimi omakase plate- whatever is great that day, freshly carved, just for you. The Hiramasa farmed kingfish and salmon belly are always what I get to first.  Happy friends to accompany are slices of eggplant, that have been smothered in sweetened white miso paste and grilled until they’re bubbling into submission. If there are two -three of you, order one serving- it’s pretty rich. But if there are any more in the party, you’ll regret not ordering another.

But you’re going to have to make sure you’ve left room for the bukatini. It’s two pieces of pork belly, both about the size of a deck of cards. It’s slow cooked in a master stock of ginger, star anise, soy, and enough brown sugar to make you swoon. It’s got enough of the cooking liquid puddling around the flesh to keep it moist. It’s served with a mound of hot english mustard on top that blows out the your nostrils just enough to remind you you’re still alive.

It goes so well with the organic brown rice they serve as a side that you’ll wonder why anyone would ever want to eat white.

Three visits in a week, three pork bellies later, we were almost ready to face the world again- but more than that- we’ve been reminded while it’s the big things that throw you together, it’s the little things that make you the gladdest to be here.

We’d never got a chance to take the Hungry One’s mother to Wasavie, despite the fact they lived just around the corner. 

I’m think she would have loved it too. 

In those strange days I remember pulling at threads of pork belly and counting grains of rice on my plate in curious meditation.

In four years I have never once made this pork dish at home. Lots of time, too many trials and a few tribulations have passed since then.

Last week as I was walking home, I felt a stirring for it. I went to the Ginger Pig and bought pork belly. I plucked the star anise from the top of the spice cupboard. I went in search of sake.

And on a strange Thursday, when I had particularly talented photographer, her assistant and a make up artist coming to the flat to take pictures for a magazine piece about what we’ve squeezed into those intervening years I made it.

In between smiling awkwardly and pulling at my top, I was stirring the pork. I splashed a little bit of the sauce on my orange shirt. It made me look a little soiled, but feel a bit more like me.

I now know this is a dish that needs to be brought into high rotation- and not just for when you need an extra dose of comfort on your plate.

It’s simple to make. It fills the house with the most welcoming of smells. It has a rare balance of sweet and rich against the aggression of mustard.

Because belly is also a cheap cut, it’s good for skinny times.

Here are some more reasons you should make it. It’s a great dish to double to feed a crowd. For a welcoming feast start with some edamame sprinkled with brown rice tea salt (just empty out a brown rice tea tea bag and combine it with some sea salt. Sprinkle over steamed edamame). Serve the pork with brocollini stems and brown rice. To close the meal you could do much worse than a small bowl of this coconut, lime and ginger tapioca with lychees.

This is a special, celebratory dish. Even if it’s just for two of you, busy being grateful for the littlest of things.

Japanese braised pork belly

Serves 4

1 tablespoon peanut or vegetable oil
600 grams pork belly/1 lb pork belly, cut into pieces thesize of playing cards
1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 garlic cloves, grated
4 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup sake
16 stems of brocollini
Brown rice (400 grams)
Hot English mustard
Black sesame seeds
1. In a Dutch oven or pot, add the oil and brown the porkbelly on all sides until it starts to turn golden brown, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic and sautee for around 20 seconds.

2. Add the sugar to the pork, ginger and garlic and stir. Turn the pork sothat it gets coated by the caramelizing sugar, being careful to not let thesugar scorch.

3. Add the star anise, soy and sake then enough water to the pot to cover the pork.

4. Bring the liquid to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 2 or more hours, until the liquid has become syrupy and the pork easily pulls apart.  
5. Serve the pork over brown rice with steamed brocollini (I add the brocollini to the rice in the last 45 seconds of cooking and let it steam over the top).

6. Add a good teaspoon of hot english mustard to each serving and top with black or toasted sesame seeds.

  1. This is the kind of dish I love. I have every ingredient in my house except the pork belly, and it is not a cut I often see here. What do you think I could substitute it with?
    p.s. hope you don't mind me explaining this, but mangiare in bianco is not acutally comfort food, it how Italians eat when they are unwell: an upset stomach, gastritis or when you are in the hospital for example. It is called white because the food is supposed to be very light and bland, with no sauces or spices. Usually it would be something like pastina in brodo (chicken broth with tiny past in it), pasta or rice seasoned with just butter or oil and little Parmesan. Or things like boiled chicken or chicken paillard.

  2. I am so incredibly happy you've posted this recipe and can't wait to give it a run as autumn settles in here. I miss the Wasavie of those days 4 years ago, not to mention the joy of living around the corner from somewhere that buzzed like Five Ways does! xx

  3. I can definitely relate to this as comfort food.

  4. Ah pork belly – nothing better to have in your belly. And happy 4 year anniversary. As you say it must have been a good time of year to get married!

  5. It is simmering as we speak. Something special for my man on valentines day.

  6. And omg so yummy and even better the next day. Will be making this again thanks.

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