The Taiwanese Sandwiches That Sparked A Food Craze Are Now Banned In Hong Kong
Described as “addictive,” “fluffy,” and “delicious,” they were all the rage—the cronuts of Taiwan, if you will—until 72 people ended up getting sick after eating them.
A postcard containing a charcoal rendering of the unfortunate time you spent hovering above your hostel's toilet. One human flesh gift-basket, festively stuffed with off-brand Toblerones. A bucket filled to the brim with Gene Roddenberry's baby teeth. All of these things would qualify as godawful souvenirs.
But if you happened to be an in-the-know Hong Konger recently visiting Taiwan for a little R&R, the catastrophically bad souvenir you picked up might have been Horng Ryen Jen sandwiches. As it turns out, these sandwiches are what a lot of Hong Kong visitors to Taiwan have been bringing home for their food-crazed friends.
That is, until the sandwiches were banned this week by Hong Kong's food safety watchdog.
You see, these formerly in-vogue Taiwanese sandwiches had tourists from Hong Kong going wild. Described as "addictive," "fluffy," and "delicious," they were all the rage—the cronuts of Taiwan, if you will—until 72 people ended up getting sick after eating them, with symptoms including diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, and fever occurring about six to 31 hours after eating the sandwiches. That's a pretty volatile snack.
Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection believes salmonella is the problem, and officials connected the dots after so many people reported eating the sandwiches before falling ill.
The passion for Horng Ryen Jen sandwiches took off this spring when food bloggers—many of whom were initially skeptical—started raving about the Taiwanese treats. The sandwiches are individually wrapped in colorful paper and plastic and come in six evidently delicious flavors: original, cheese, mix, wheat, strawberry, or orange.
The South China Morning Post reports that one popular Hong Kong blogger, SuperTasterMei, described it thusly: "I took a bite and realised why it was so popular—the secret was all in the layers of 'secret mayo' and 'fresh cream' in the sandwiches, which was so deliciously sweet and addicting to eat with the soft fluffy bread." (Just saying, anytime literally anything is described as containing "secret mayo," you should probably turn tail and seek shelter at the nearest safe house.) Others have described them as a "miracle." Even CNN ranked them among the Taiwanese delicacies they couldn't live without, right up there with mochi and bubble tea. CNN wrote in their best-of-Taiwan roundup: "You may wonder—why on earth would someone travel to Taiwan for a ham and cheese sandwich? (The bread isn't even toasted.) Converts will tell you they were once disbelievers too. Some say it's the unbeatable combination of ham and a layer of paper-thin fried egg. Others say it's the buttery and sweet fresh cream and secret mayo." Whatever the secret behind their popularity, it may well be a long time before Hong Kongers get a chance to try them again—the Centre for Food Safety linked the problem to an issue of "processing of food at the upper stream" of production.
Several of the Hong Kong residents who fell ill say they bought the sandwiches from various sources, including online, in a local shopping center, and in a supermarket. Earlier victims say they bought the sandwiches from a Facebook group. Retailers in Hong Kong have reported that they import the sandwiches from Taiwan.
Meanwhile, the Taiwanese media is reporting that Horng Ryen Jen Cake and Biscuits Store, the bakery that makes the sandwiches, has denied responsibility, saying none of its branches had supplied sandwiches directly overseas. Were these counterfeit sandwiches? Still too early to say.
But no one in Hong Kong will be buying those sandwiches—creamy and delightful though they may—for quite some time to come.