Guo Bao Rou


Guo Bao Rou is an incredibly delicious sweet and sour pork dish that originated in Harbin, a DongBei *Northeast) China city.

In Changchun, where our school is located, no restaurant dinner is complete without a platter of guobaorou.

Zheng Xingwen (郑兴文), the private chef for the highest officials in the Harbin government, first whipped up the dish in the early 20th century. Zheng’s technique was simple. He quickly stir-fried the pork in a hot wok, then poured a salty and thick sauce onto the pork so the meat absorbed its flavors, giving the dish its original name – guobaorou (锅爆肉, stir-fried pork in the wok). At the time, the Harbin government often welcomed Russian guests, but the original recipe was a bit too heavy for their tastes, so Zheng remodeled the dish by introducing its now distinctive sweet and sour flavor. The Russians were delighted, and much like the Ye He kung fu students 100 years later, ordered the dish every time they visited. However, the foreign guests had problems when they tried to pronouce the dish in Chinese, leading its name to morph to its current form, guobaorou (锅包肉).

Before the Xi’an Incident (1936), the northeastern provinces were administrated by Zhang Xueliang’s (张学良) family, and dishes cooked up for top Harbin government officials were kept a closely guarded secret.

Guobaorou was unanimously voted one of the chef’s most delicious dishes, triggering the spread of its fame across the country and beyond. After Japan occupied Heilongjiang Province, Zhang Xueliang began to lose his grip on northeast China, and his government’s secret recipes gradually began to seep out of Harbin and into the wider world. During a process akin to Chinese whispers, guobaorou was slightly altered as it traveled, with cooks in Liaoning Province adding tomato sauce as the final step, and other regional flourishes emerging according to taste.

Attribution: The World of Chinese


About Ken Hayes, M.Ed.