Eating pork floss for the first time doesn’t feel like a meal. It feels like a rite of passage.
I remember the first time I saw “pork floss” (肉鬆 ròusōng) printed on a menu. Being fairly fresh off the plane at the time, my palate was naïve, and I reacted like any newcomer to China might.
“Pork floss?” I scoffed. Clearly this was just a mistranslation and a repulsive one at that. No such food could possibly exist. After all, the idea behind restaurants is fairly straightforward: sell tasty things in exchange for money. Who in their right mind would ever hand over hard-earned cash for a product called “pork floss”? It doesn’t exactly beg to be purchased.
But I did anyway.
For the sake of cultural immersion, I decided to forego the bacon and, with a quivering finger, indicated that I wanted the pork floss. The danbing (蛋饼) street vendor merely nodded his acknowledgement. No explanation was offered. No waivers were signed. I was doing this.
My taste buds were already cringing in anticipation.
The vendor assembled the ingredients with practiced care and finished with a flourish, squirting an inward spiraling ring of ketchup onto the fried, Taiwanese crepe. When he handed over the danbing, still steaming, I got a close-up look at a food that I had not known to exist only minutes before: the brown, cotton-candy-like substance that is pork floss.
I told myself, “If this is anything like tearing off a band-aid, I better just take a monster bite and swallow it down.”
And I did. But not before chewing much more thoughtfully than expected.
The pork floss didn’t bring the Hulk Hogan-style, flavor smack down that I had braced myself for. Far from actively disliking it, I found it perfectly edible – subtly sweet, delightfully salty and, yes, even a little porky. It dissolved on my tongue, but the sensation was transient, fleeting like a lost dream. You want to take another bite, but at the same time, you don’t want to take another bite.
That, in a sense, is what defines pork floss.
Also known in English as meat floss, meat wool and pork sung (take your pick), pork floss hails from Fujian Province. The process of making it is best described as a metamorphosis, wherein a cheap cut of pork is transformed into something that has much more in common with a certain pink carnival food.
First, the pork is stewed in a sweet, soy sauce concoction to the point of extreme tenderness. The meat is then teased apart, strained and put in an oven to dry. Afterward, it is seasoned and dry-cooked in a wok while enduring further beating and mashing, no doubt in an attempt to pound out all memories of its past life as a solid piece of meat.
This brutal, final step can take as long as an hour according to this pork floss recipe (yes, you can make it yourself), but you’ll be able to replenish the protein in those sore arm muscles soon enough. Try pork floss over plain rice or in a fried sandwich with cheese. If you find yourself unable to channel a Fujian chef, buy it by the jar and use it however you prefer.
But when taking that first bite, remember this: Just chew. Don’t think.
For Chinese meat that’s a little less funny looking, try their version of jerky.