Add the shiitake mushrooms to a bowl of water and place a small plate on top to submerge them. Soak for 30 minutes then squeeze out the water. Discard the soaking liquid and set aside the mushrooms.
Using a food processor or stick blender, blend the shallots, 4 of the garlic cloves and bean paste until smooth.
Heat the oil in a wok or casserole pan over a moderate heat until hot. Add the cinnamon stick and then the shallot paste and fry for 5 minutes until the raw onion smell is gone.
Add the pork and remaining 4 garlic cloves (whole) and fry for 1-2 minutes before adding the soy sauce and sugar. Stir well and fry for a further 3-4 minutes.
Add the mushrooms to the pan and pour in the water. Bring to a simmer and then reduce the heat to low. Cover the pan and simmer for 60 minutes.
Remove the lid and turn up the heat to medium/high. Let the sauce bubble for 30 minutes to reduce the sauce. Stir frequently to avoid sticking.
Remove from the heat and serve!
Alternative serving suggestions
Instead of Shiitake mushrooms, try chunks of potatoes or turnip. Add in the last 30 minutes of cooking (for potatoes) or 20 minutes (for turnip) to ensure they're cooked through.
Try sliced lotus root or bamboo shoots (added near the end of cooking)
Experiment with other Chinese/Malay ingredients to enhance and change the flavour ingredients like cloves, dried tangerine/orange peel, star anise and 5-spice powder will all bring a new personality to the dish.
The stems of dried mushrooms can become a little tough, even when reconstituted, so I'll often remove them and discard.
Fermented soy bean paste is eaten in Chinese, Japanese and Korean cuisine, so search all sections of the store if you can't find right away.
Babi Pongteh works splendidly with noodles. Stir some of the sauce through some freshly boiled egg noodles.