Bakkwa was created as a way to preserve meat in Southern China. When the Chinese migrated to Singapore, they continued the technique. Meat is marinated with spices, sugar, salt, and soy sauce, then air-dried and smoked. The texture is mostly chewy but more tender than other beef jerky, lightly glazed, with a delicious charcoal flavor. The flavor has a sweet, almost candy-like edge to it, but not overly so. Minced meat versions spread into flat, thin sheets and then cut into squares are often more tender than sliced bakkwa.
Stick with the pork
Kim Hua Guan Bakkwa Shop
Bakkwa is not cheap. The average price is about $21 per pound. Word is that this price gets even higher at Chinese New Year, when bakkwa is in high demand and often given as a gift, particularly the bite-sized lucky coin shapes (known as "golden coins"). But the steep price doesn't stop customers from queuing for hours. (Savvy businessmen here in Singapore.)
Many bakkwa shops have a huge display of dried fare, ranging from pork to prawn, such as at Lim Chee Guan. I'd set out to try the basic pork, but was lured into picking up some chicken, fish, and bacon as well. The verdict? Stick with pork. The sweet candied bacon was a winner, but the fish and chicken doesn't offer much flavor beyond sweet and smoke.
Sliced Bakkwa Scraps
The sliced bakkwa scraps at Kim Joo Guan had the best texture of all of them, and with ample charcoal flavor. Meaty and just chewy enough, the diminutive size leaves more room for plentiful charring and is perfect for one-hand snacking.
Kim Hua Guan at People's Park Complex
On a tip from a local blogger, I set out to find Kim Hua Guan, tucked back within the food stalls in People's Park Complex. This stuff is the real-deal—you'll watch them grill it on-site. The limited menu proves that they stick to a few offerings, but do them right. My order of minced bakkwa flavored with spicy chili was still warm and toasty, and had a good balance of heat, sugar, and salt. As with most vendors, they'll seal the bag for you to keep the bakkwa fresh (a challenge in hot and humid Southeast Asia).
The Bakkwa Burger
We also tried the "bakkwa burger" at New Eastern Jerky Cafe. Though listed as a burger, it was really more of an egg sandwich. A soft bun filled with a fried egg, slices of bakkwa, lettuce, tomato, and pork floss (more on that here). Any meat flavor got lost in the rest of the sandwich and the bakkwa tasted sickeningly sweet against everything else. In the future, maybe stick with the jerky straight-up.