One of the classic dishes of the Han people, sweet and sour pork is included in Zhejiang cuisine, Shandong cuisine, Sichuan cuisine, and Cantonese cuisine, of which the Shandong-cuisine style is much more popular than the others.
The legend goes that the first emperor of ancient China, Qin Shihuang of the Qin Dynasty (221–207 B.C.), preferred sweet and sour dishes, and even held a cooking competition to select the best cook from the commoners to satisfy his taste for food. An old woman, serving sweet and sour pork, stood head and shoulders above the other competitors, and, therefore, she was selected as an imperial cook.
Emperor Qin Shihuang loved her sweet and sour pork so much that he promised to reward the old woman. To his surprise, the old woman wanted neither gold nor silver, but instead she asked a promotion for her son in the army. Emperor Qin Shihuang promoted her son as he promised. And since then sweet and sour pork has been famous among the Han people, passed down from one generation to another.
The main ingredients of sweet and sour pork are pork tenderloin (though any cut seems to be used nowadays in the cheaper restaurants, sweet and sour ribs being a popular variant) and egg white, and the condiments mainly include salt, vinegar, cooking wine, starch, tomatoes, sugar, and coriander.
1. Slice the tenderloin into strips, and marinate with a pinch of salt and one spoon of cooking wine.
2. In a bowl mix two spoons of vinegar, three spoons of sugar, a pinch of salt, starch, and water; and stir the starchy sauce.
3. Add more water, starch, and an egg white, then stir them together.
4. Pour oil into a wok and heat to 190°C (375°F) for deep-frying, and add the pork mixture.
5. Fish out all the fried pork when it becomes golden, and drain the oil back into the wok.
6. Put tomato sauce in the wok and continue to heat the oil until the sauce is fully immersed in it.
7. Pour in the prepared starchy sauce.
8. As the starchy sauce turns red and thick, add the pork, and stir quickly, before removing from the heat.
9. Serve on a plate.
The tenderloin is the tenderest cut of pork, very rich in protein, fat, and some trace elements, such as calcium, phosphorus, thiamin (vitamin B1), iron, and niacin (vitamin B3). The hemoglobin in the tenderloin can allay anemia. Much more effectively absorbed by humans than iron in vegetables, it's favored by the Chinese people (for whom anemia is more prevalent than in the West).