Fluffy, delicious and a food safety hazard: The Taiwanese sandwich craze that put 46 Hongkongers in hospital

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 August, 2015, 12:14pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 August, 2015, 8:02pm

They have been described as “addictive”, “fluffy” and “delicious” and they were taking Hong Kong by storm – until they put 46 people in hospital and were banned by the city’s food safety watchdog.

In the past six months, the Horng Ryen Jen brand of sandwiches, originally created in Taiwan, went from sudden fame, praised by food bloggers and ordered in bulk online, to infamy.

The Centre for Health Protection said they discovered salmonella in some of the 46 people admitted to hospital in the past week after eating Horng Ryen Jen sandwiches they bought in Hong Kong or ordered online.

Over the past six months the sandwiches have become a popular Taiwanese souvenir for people in Hong Kong, all due to the apparently appealing taste – many sceptical bloggers and social media users said they did not understand why until they tasted the sandwiches.

Sold in two Honey Granny stores in Quarry Bay and Hung Hom, among other places, each sandwich came wrapped delicately in paper and plastic, with colourful writing indicating which of the six types you were getting – original, cheese, mix, wheat, strawberry or orange.

READ MORE: Why is a good sandwich so hard to find in Hong Kong?

A prominent Hong Kong food blogger praised the sandwiches in March, saying they had replaced classic pineapple cakes as the Taiwanese souvenir of choice.

“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,” blogger SuperTasterMei wrote.

Other food bloggers described the sandwiches, which are sold online through apps and Facebook as Taiwanese “souvenirs”, as a “miracle”.

They were even ranked by CNN among 40 Taiwan delicacies which they could not live without. “Some say it’s the unbeatable combination of ham and a layer of paper-thin fried egg,” Maggie Hiufu Wong wrote on the CNN website.

“Others say it’s the buttery and sweet fresh cream and ‘secret mayo’. Most agree it’s the balanced flavour of all these ingredients … that makes it a hit.”

Hong Kong Polytechnic University department of applied biology associate professor Chen Sheng said bacteria could grow very quickly in certain foods when they were stored at room temperatures.

“In particular a sandwich which contains meat products that can potentially be contaminated with different bacteria, such as salmonella,” he said.

Whatever the secret behind their popularity it could be a long time before Hongkongers get a chance to try them again – the Centre for Food Safety has banned all sales and imports of the sandwiches, after saying the food poisoning was linked to “processing of food at the upper stream” of production.