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Replicate the delicious zi char classic of pork ribs and bittergourd in black bean sauce in your own kitchen. To get that full-on flavour, it is best to deep-fry the ribs and bittergourd.

Which cut of pork should you use in this dish? Ask your butcher for a portion of the spare ribs which the Amercians refer to as St Louis-style cut. It is the flatter portion of a rack of spare ribs with the sternum bone, the cartilage and rib tips removed.

In Mandarin, it is called ‘nan pai’ which literally translates to “southern ribs”. For easier cooking, cut the ribs into bite sized pieces before cooking them.


  • 700 g pork ribs (cut into 5-cm pieces)
  • 1 bittergourd
  • 2 dried chillies
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 30 g ginger, sliced
  • 2 tbsps fermented black beans, rinsed
  • 3 tbsps oyster sauce
  • 1 tbsp light soy sauce
  • 1 tsp dark soya sauce
  • Dash of pepper
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 900 ml water
  • 1 tbsp cornflour
  • 1 tbsp potato starch
  • 2 tbsp water
  • 4 tbsps cooking oil
  • Cooking oil for deep frying


  • 3 drops of Chinese rose wine
  • 2 tbsps Chinese rice wine
  • 1 flat tbsp cornflour

Marinate the pork ribs for an hour before deep frying.


Soak dried chilli in hot water until softened. Rinse and set aside.


Halve the bittergourd lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Slice the bittergourd into thick pieces.


Deep-fry the bittergourd briefly in the same oil and set aside.


Heat 4 tbsps of oil in a wok or deep-frying pan. Fry the ginger for a minute. Add the garlic and fry until fragrant. Add the fermented black beans.


Place deep-fried ribs in the wok. Pour in the 900 ml of water and add the dried chillies.


Add the oyster sauce, light soy sauce, dark soy sauce, sugar and bring to a boil.


Cover and cook over medium-low heat for an hour until the pork ribs are tender. Add pepper. Add the bittergourd and simmer for 2 mins.


Mix 2 tbsps of water with the cornflour and potato starch. Slowly stir the flour mixture into the gravy.


Bring to a simmering boil and serve hot.

ABOUT THE CHEF: Hedy Khoo is the columnist for The New Paper’s HED CHEF which features Asian cuisine and recipes. You can follow Hedy on her Instagram account @hedchefhedykhoo for more of her culinary adventures.

Text & recipe: Hedy Khoo / Photo: The New Paper

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