I guess all of the Filipinos out there probably know what Humba is, but how about Hong Ma have you heard about this dish? Well if not, then in a gist it was the predecessor of humba which in turn was derived from the Chinese red braised pork belly. Hong Ma was the transition dish basically when the Chinese red braised pork belly was being introduced by the Hokkien immigrants in the Philippines during the mid-19th century. During those days the Red Braised Pork Belly brought by the Chinese was cooked with rice wine, ginger, chillies and five-spice powder, star anise, along with light and dark soy sauces but as time progresses certain ingredients were dropped due their availability, so ingredients like the two types of soy sauces, chillies and five spice powder was omitted and this gave birth to the version that was later known as Hong Ma, it was staple during those times with the Chinese immigrants. Many years later the locals learned how to cook this and once again it was modified adding vinegar, banana flowers, pineapples and/or fermented black beans on the ingredients list and then Humba was born.
Of all three versions several ingredients remain and it’s the most important element of all three dishes, the pork belly and soy sauce. Cooking process is mostly by braising giving that silky-smooth texture from the pork fat when it is served. Hong Ma usually is paired with Cuapao a type of Lotus Leaf steamed bun, but it is not restricted to it, in fact this goes perfectly well with a simple steam jasmine rice or a simple stir-fried noodle.
In a heavy-duty zip lock bag mix all marinade ingredients together, place pork, press to remove the air then seal. Let it marinate overnight.
Remove pork from zip lock, drain thoroughly, wipe it with paper towel to fully dry, set it aside. Reserve the marinating liquid.
In a wok heat peanut oil in very high heat, once it start to smoke place the pork belly skin side down then sear until golden brown. Remove pork belly from wok then set it aside.
Using the same wok, lower the heat add more oil if needed then sauté garlic, shallots and mushrooms until it caramelises.
Place the pork belly back in, skin side up. Pour the reserved marinade and water. Add in the star anise and brown sugar, bring to a boil then cover wok. Simmer in very low heat for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until pork is very tender. Check liquid levels once in a while making sure it does not dry out, add water if needed.
Remove pork from the wok, let it cool down then slice into 1 cm thick pieces.
Strain the braising liquid into a saucepan, separate the mushrooms, add this to the saucepan then simmer in low heat, add diluted cornstarch to thicken sauce.
Adjust taste with soy sauce and sugar to your liking. Turn heat off.
Place pork sliced in a plate, pour sauce on top then garnished with spring onions. Serve.