XiShi Bakkwa (西施肉干）.
I have known this father-and-daughter team for quite a few years already and I have been ordering their bakkwas for quite a number of years too.
Their quality has always been good and because of the fact that I get straight from the factory, the pricing is naturally lower then the commercialised names out there.
Frankly, I don't see it any inferior to the better known names like Bee Cheng Hiang and Lim Chee Guan bakkwas. At their price point, I say they are tops in the value-for-money category.
I did, however, got into trouble during Chinese New Year two years ago when I recommended them to my friends only to have that particular year's batch turning out pretty bad.
What happened was that there was an incident that year where somebody in the factory forgot to close the refrigerator door one evening, resulting in their entire pork inventory gone bad overnight. Their usual pork stock comes from Brazil but under the sudden circumstances, they could only get pork from an untested source in China at such short notice. The end product, as anyone could guess, turned out less than satisfactory.
I got a shitload of stick from my friends who bought it and weren't happy with them. Everyone bitched about having to go through the hassle of getting replacement bakkwas so close to the New Year.
Well, it is all water under the bridge now and XiShi Bakkwa has bounced back since then. Granted that I have lost some friends' faith in my recommendation, I made up with recommendations to new friends who are happy with the bakkwas, post-disaster era.
These couple of years, XiShi Bakkwas has been experimenting with new flavours in order to differentiate themselves from the market competition as well as find ways to boost sales.
I bought a few kinds this year and below are my reviews on them:
1. Sliced Pork & Minced Pork
These are the regular staples where the minced version is softer and less chewy then the sliced one. I find these year's batch a tad sweeter than last year. Given that I am someone who do not have a sweet tooth, I prefer it a little bit less sweet.
These also come in spicy and original flavours.
2. Mushroom Pork
This has got to be my family's favourite as by the time I got back to Singapore, it was all finished. I didn't have a chance at all. Going by my family's testimony, this one is a winner.
3. Sesame & Sea Weed Chicken
If you hold the thin slice of bakkwa against the light, you would be able to see strands of sea weed dotted by black sesame seeds. The tastes of the sea weed and sesame are very subtle due to the over powering of the bakkwa's original taste. As such, you need to have a very sensitive palate, like me, to be able to savour the additional ingredients.
4. BBQ Duck
I didn't like this for a few reasons. First of all, there is the "duck smell" which didn't go too well with me as far as bakkwas are supposed to be. The Hokkiens called it "bar wu" (B.O.).
Second problem was the texture of the fowl meat which felt "tannic" or again, as the Hokkiens say, "siap siap".
Lastly, is that I am a purist when it comes to bakkwas. It has to be pork and nothing else. Still, I understand XiShi Bakkwa's rationale when it comes to dabbling with chicken and duck. With a separate Halal-certified production facility, they can introduce their products (Halal, of course) to our Muslim brothers and sisters.
5. Monascus Rice Pork
Monascus, I am sure, is an unfamiliar word to most people. XiShi Bakkwa wrote it as 红曲 while I am more familiar with 红麹. I believe both refers to the same thing just that the former is the modern simplified way of writing it.
Monascus is fairly common in Fujian cuisine and I guess people will ring a bell when I mention 红糟鸡, 红糟酒, 绍兴酒, etc.
It is recorded in TCM that monascus has health benefits of lowering blood pressure, blood lipids as well as blood glucose. However, in this modern day and age of food production, I feel that monascus is used, here in the bakkwa as well, for flavouring and colouring purposes only.
Too sum it all up, value-for-money is definitely the edge that XiShi Bakkwa has over the competition. While my mom said that Lim Chee Guan is still better, I simply ask to compare their respective price.
Bee Cheng Hiang? XiShi Bakkwa, in my opinion, is better in both taste and price over their over-commercialised counterpart. I love Bee Cheng Hiang's hay bee hiam mini spring rolls though but I digress.
Note: I do have to say up front that both XiShi Bakkwa's towkay and daughter are my friends. While this is not an advertorial, I do get extra chao tar bits from the daughter.
XiShi Bakkwa 西施肉干
Cecilia Minced & Dried Pork Food Trading
Blk 15, Woodlands Loop, #02-37, Singapore 73832
Tel: +65 6756 6696
Fax: +65 6752 1502
p.s. So if 西施 is Cecilia hor, then I supposed we have Yvonne 杨玉环, Diane 貂蝉 and Wendy 王昭君?
Image Credit: http://www.xishibakkwa.com