For health reasons, processed meats full of fats, poor quality cuts, various animal parts, artificial flavourings, preservatives and other additives have not touched my plate for a long time. So when the Singapore government banned the import of processed meat products from two China brands, Maling and Narcissus, last August, it didn’t bother me (though it affected enough Singaporeans to generate a slew of new reports, cries of desperation from a Sunday Times columnist, and plenty of angry noises on the internet). I was even rather glad that the spam-loving members of my family would no longer be able to indulge their unhealthy desires.
The fact that the ban might actually be a blessing in disguise was further emphasised when I read a story in the Sunday Times a few days ago that the six branches of Xin Wang Hong Kong Cafes in Singapore have started making their own luncheon meat, spicy diced pork and stewed pork ribs to replace Maling products.
To make luncheon meat, minced pork is mixed with egg white, oyster sauce, flour and other seasonings, packed into metal cans and steamed for an hour. Then it’s sliced and pan-fried. The result tastes close to the real thing, but with a firmer bite.
Some customers, like sales executive Carol Lai, 26, prefer it to the canned version. She says: ‘It’s less salty than the original. You can actually taste the pork, and it doesn’t taste so processed.’
Who knows what seasonings go into the ‘homemade’ version – definitely MSG would be my guess, but it’s probably still better than the factory-made Maling product, and with less preservatives.
As regular readers of my blog will know, one of my interests is how to produce common food products at home, rather than relying on mass-produced commercial items. Bread, salted eggs and soya bean milk are some basic foods which I make at home, and I’ve also been fascinated by the process of making soya sauce and tofu. And now I’m inspired to try out homemade luncheon meat too (with minimal seasonings for me, of course)!
Sadly, good things don’t last:
Photographer Matthew Tan, 46, says: ‘The taste is not bad, but frankly I prefer the original, which has more fat and is softer on the inside.’
This is one reason why the cafes will go back to Maling’s luncheon meat and Narcissus stewed pork ribs once the suspension is lifted. Another is that these pork products are laborious to make.
Mr Yong says: ‘Cooks have to come in two hours earlier every day to prepare them, and the manpower could be used to prepare other dishes instead. Costs have also increased by about 15 per cent, as we use fresh pork to make them. More importantly, Singaporeans grew up with Maling and Narcissus, so we’d still use these brands.’
Never mind, ‘homemade’ luncheon meat or not, I won’t be eating at any Xin Wang Hong Kong Cafes anyway. There would still be far too many ingredients likely to cause nasty food reactions for me. See this list of food additives to avoid and these factsheets on possible symptoms. Don’t discount emotional reactions like feeling irritable and angry, as well as less obvious physical reactions like foggy-headedness — along with itching and hives, it’s my most common reaction when eating out, usually enough to make me feel unable to function optimally for any mental tasks and on occasion I’ve even felt too ill to make my way home unassisted :(.