Singapore-style jerky

Mei Jan Hong in Richmond

The jerky girls at Mei Jan Hong in the Aberdeen Centre. Photo by David Lansing.

When I was a kid growing up in Oregon my dad would make venison jerky. It was as tough as it was salty. We’d take it with us when we went fishing since a slab would last you all day. It was like gnawing on shoe leather.

Yesterday I was walking through the Aberdeen Centre and my nose led me to Mei Jan Hong, a Singapore-style jerky joint. If you’ve ever had Singapore-style jerky you know it compares to the sort jerky sold in convenience stores that way a baguette compares to Wonder bread.

In Malaysia it’s called bak kwa and you can get it everywhere. In Malaysia and Singapore bak kwa is usually made from beef, pork, or mutton. At Mei Jan Hong, they make beef and pork as well as chicken or salmon. No mutton.

Usually there are two types of Singapore-style jerky: One is made from very thin slices of a whole cut of pork or beef; the other is made from scraps that are pressed and made into bricks. Jerky made from whole cuts of meat are generally leaner than the bricks of meat, but the bricks are easier to slice and work with.

Mei Jan Hong uses bricks and slices the meat into squares so it kind of looks like a very thin Wendy’s hamburger (actually, what they most remind me of is these frozen meat patties we used to fry up when we were in high school; they tasted great but god-only-knows what they were made of. Pink slime?).

At Mei Jan Hong, they air-dry the squares of meat in stainless-steel drying boxes (you can see the guy in the back doing this), then finish them off on the grill so you get this slightly-smoky taste (which was what lured me here in the first place). You pick your meat, then order it either sweet or spicy. I went for one of each of the pork and beef. The winner, hands down, was the sweet pork jerky which, to me, tasted like jerky char siu. Sweet, soft, fragrant and nothing at all like the jerky I remember from my youth. Thank god.

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