This is a list of Sydney's best pork dishes. If you're wondering why bacon, ham, chorizo, salami and other smallgoods don't get a mention it's because they can be viewed as food groups in themselves – lists for another time, perhaps. For the most part we're talking pig in its purer form – before any brining, curing and hanging takes place.
Barbecue pork belly – Papi Chulo
American barbecue is so hot right now. A surge of smoky-pit popularity over the past few years in America has trickled Down Under with a number of joints around the country having some slow-cooked fun. Papi Chulo is leading the charge in Sydney along with Petersham's Oxford Tavern where at weekends you can grab barbecued ribs, sausage, chicken, beef brisket, and, on a recent visit, turkey.
At Papi Chulo, chef Patrick Friesen cures free-range pork belly overnight with salt, brown sugar, black pepper and maple syrup. It's then smoked for two and a half hours over oak and cherry woodchips before making it to the plate. The barbecue sauce can remain untouched; there's enough good stuff going on already.
22-23 Manly Wharf, Manly, 02 9240 3000, merivale.com.au/papichulo
Xiao long bao – Din Tai Fung
All other dumplings bao down. What began in 1974 as a modest dumpling store in Taiwan now has restaurants from Hong Kong to the US, including five in Sydney with a sixth branch to open at Chippendale's Central Park site in early May.
The drawcard is these broth-filled bad boys, forever burning the mouths of uninitiated diners. Each dumpling is steamed for three minutes, melting the interior porky jelly into a broth before landing on the table a few seconds later. Put one in a spoon, pierce with a chopstick, release some soup, and consume at once.
Level 1, World Square, 644 George Street, Sydney, 02 9264 6010. Also at Chatswood, The Star, Westfield Sydney and North Sydney
Pork pie – The Stinking Bishops
In the snacking world, a slice of pork pie in Britain is to a Tim Tam in the Antipodes. You don't see too many pork pies in Sydney outside of the Patchett's ones at David Jones and gourmet delis. So credit then to The Stinking Bishops cheesemonger in Enmore, where its a permanent menu item.
Pork pie is eaten cold and if not for the lardy pastry it might as well be called pork terrine. Chef Keiran Day at The Stinking Bishops serves the pie with a spiced dollop of stewed apple, apricot and carrot plus the liquid the pork hocks were cooked in – only simmered down with white wine and solidified to jelly. The opposite of what happens at Din Tai Fung, really.
63-71 Enmore Rd, Enmore, 0401 919 624, thestinkingbishops.com
Banh mi – Marrickville Pork Roll
The first time I had a Vietnamese pork roll I was blown away by how something so cheap could taste so good. It was from the hot bread shop at Newtown Station. I was dating a girl who lived in St Peters and based on such intel I'm placing this as circa 2003. In 2014 I am still amazed at how you can grab such a satisfying feed with such little shrapnel.
Unlike longnecks and bus fares, the banh mi is a $5-or-under item relatively untouched by inflation. If you're paying more than five bucks, there'd want to be some damn fine French pate on that crusty roll. Marrickville Pork Roll sells theirs for $4.50. Unlike pork rolls at lesser places, which can be a slimy affair of watery cucumber and luncheon-meat strips, these ones have a real crunch. Thick fingers of pickled radish and cucumber mix it with carrot, Vietnamese devon and bits'n'pieces of barbecue pork. Best consumed strolling down Illawarra Road or back in the car so you can confetti the seats with flakes of crust.
236A Illawarra Rd, Marrickville, 0420 966 368
Crisp pig's tail – Swine and Co
It's rare you'll be served a cute little spiral when ordering pig's tail but it's usually something at least recognisable as belonging to the backend of a pig at one point. Not so with Swine and Co. Chef Bobby Taylor dices the tail, flattens each piece and turns up the heat until each one is a triangular shard of crackle and flesh. Grapes, pickled mushrooms and dandelion leaves are higgled and piggled onto the plate along with a bit of pine nut puree and pistachio dust. It's a lovely textured dish that paves the way for beechwood roasted suckling pig later on.
16 O'Connell St, Sydney, 02 9009 0990, swineandco.com.au
Whole sucking pig – Four in Hand
“There is no flavour comparable," wrote Charles Lamb in 1822, “to that of the crisp, tawny, well-watched, not over-roasted, crackling." Chuck isn't talking about a grown porker either, but a “tender suckling – under a moon old”.
You won't get a better roast pig experience in Sydney than the one at Irish chef Colin Fassnidge's Four in Hand. With 48 hours' notice and a minimum of 10 people, you can get a whole pig served with a small degree of pomp as it's carved in front of you. Accompanying sides include leeks, Dutch carrots and colcannon (a super-creamy mashed potato laced with cavolo nero or another in-season leafy green). I ordered the pig for a birthday in the restaurant's private room a couple of years ago and an awesome, boozy lunch was had.
Four in Hand Restaurant reopens on Saturday, May 10 after renovations to the dining room. Sister restaurant 4Fourteen will still do you a great roast pork with glazed parsnip, prunes and house bacon in the meantime.
105 Sutherland St, Paddington, 02 9362 1999, fourinhand.com.au
Steamed pork buns – Bao Dao Taiwanese Kitchen
The Momofuku Seiobo steamed pork buns get a lot of (deserved) attention but north of the bridge these guys are slowly developing a cult following of their own. Both Tarocashed nine-to-fivers and Taiwanese locals cram into the tiny room for braised pieces of pork belly enveloped in softly steamed buns. They're the kind of thing that should never be allowed at eating competitions because they go down way too easily (and taste better than a frankfurt dipped in water). Pickled mustard, coriander and sugared peanuts round out flavour and texture.
8/376 Victoria Ave, Chatswood, 02 9419 6290, baodao.com.au
Pork sausage – Green Peppercorn
There's never been a shortage of excellent food in Fairfield. Tona Inthavong's Green Peppercorn continues the trend with the Thai/Lao diner taking out best new restaurant in the 2013 Good Food Under $30 Guide. The Lao sausages (a tougher-time staple from when the Inthavongs emigrated to Australia) are chargrilled on the outside and soft and herby within. With the spicy “Mum's Special Sauce” for dipping purposes this is a GP you want to visit.
1-3 Hamilton Rd, Fairfield, 02 9724 7842, greenpeppercorn.com.au
Tonkotsu ramen – Ryo's Noodles
The line-ups at this cash-only, no-frills noodle box are testament that this is Sydney's best ramen (although Gumshara at Chinatown's Eating World puts up a strong fight).
Number 1 on the fluoro orange menu is the tonkotsu with noodles, roast pork, shallots and sesame seeds. Tonkotsu – not to be confused with the deep fried pork cutlet known as tonkatsu – is a real stick-to-yer-ribs soup made from boiling down pork marrow bones until they're a sea of milky collagen.
The roast pork and other toppings are completely secondary. This is all about clarity of broth and bite of noodle.
125 Falcon St, Crows Nest, 02 9955 0225
Char sui – B.B.Q. King
And here's one sure to divide opinion even more than ramen . . .
Since 1970 B.B.Q. King has been facilitating late-night hookups and fashion shoots for TAFE students drawn to its Chinese kitsch. It also does very good barbecue pork.
Char siu means "fork roasted" and that's literally what happens: pork is put on a fork, then it's roasted. Before this ceremony takes place a marinade is applied of five spice, soy, hoisin sauce and red fermented bean curd. It's a sticky, red, juicy delight that demands a good lashing of Tsingtao beer – especially at 2am.
18 Goulburn St, Haymarket, 02 9267 2586
What gets your vote for Sydney's best pork dish? Jump on the comments and share your tips.