It’s been some time since I’ve had the mental space to feel philosophical about food; which actually says something, or rather a lot of things about our recent pattern of life: eat because you must fill your stomach, cook because we have to and MSG is baaaaad, live another day because well, that’s what we gotta do….

Not. Or at least, this is what this pot of rib stew spoke “aloud” to me in all of its poetic savoury grandeur: we don’t live life because “we have to” but because “we want to”. We are meant for much more. Nothing is routine or a drudgery unless we choose to make it so. That choice and our very intricate human will to cast aside our dodgy attitudes of just being and existing and transform us into people becoming.

Over time and with consistency, we need to “braise” our hearts and attitudes with the right ingredients and the right temperature to extract the best out from ourselves. That routine-ness is not burdensome, but a process that makes it worthwhile to press on. It will yield something treasured and delightful. While subjected to the slow pressures of life, we must be careful not to fall out of the discipline and joy of thanksgiving, contentment and into the confines of a routine, average meal, or worse, an ordinary, banal existence where we become dull to wonder. That’s some brewed thoughts today from a pot of braise and from a little less ordinary housewife.

Braised Ribs with Radish (adapted from

2 pounds of pork spare ribs
1 large white radish chopped to chunks
4 ounces of ginger, peeled and cut into thick slices
6 cloves of garlic, peel and smashed
Vegetable oil

2 pieces of dried red chili – seeds removed
2 pieces of star anise
One whole nutmeg
One piece of dried orange peel, soaked in hot water and softened
2 tablespoons of Chu Hou sauce (Chu Hou sauce,柱侯醬) Amoy/ Lee Kum Kee brands
One tablespoon of wine
2 tablespoons of soy sauce
2 tablespoons of oyster sauce

One piece of rock sugar, about the size of an egg
4 cups of hot water

Garnish: Sesame oil and chopped spring onions

1. In a Dutch oven, earthenware pot,
brown the meat on all sides in oil.

To braise the meat:
2. Heat some oil (medium heat) in an earthenware pot or dutch oven. Add the ginger and garlic and fry for a minute.
3. Add the ingredients A, including the water used for soaking the orange peel. Stir everything together and cook the paste for a minute or two.
4. Add the ribs and radish pieces and stir it into the sauce.Add the rock sugar and hot water. Stir to thin the sauce.
Bring the sauce to a boil and then turn the heat down to the lowest setting. The rock sugar will be a hard lump. It will dissolve slowly during the cooking to sweeten the sauce.
Cover the pot to braise the ribs for an hour.
5. Check the pot from time to time. Add more water if needed. Cook until the ribs are tender. If the sauce is too thin, remove the meat and boil the sauce down. Or make a paste using a tablespoon of cornstarch and cold water. Add to the sauce, stir to cook until the sauce has thickened.
To serve: Add a splash of sesame oil and garnish with chopped green onions.

Lessons for a pot of braise