On the eighth day of New Year my mama said to me
8. bits of long yuk
I was told of a story about a man visiting London and he was talking about dragon tongue. His friend was curious and asked to see it. So the man took out a slice of red meat and showed it to his friend. The man was brave enough to take a bite, to see what it tasted like. Not detecting anything unusual about the taste, the man finally told his friend that it was just meat that had been marinated beforehand and then barbequed. The friend took the joke good-naturedly and laughed it off.
Why is it called dragon tongue? Well, perhaps it’s another play of words. Among Cantonese (in Malaysia), the word ‘long yuk’ sounds like ‘loong yuk’ (dragon meat) and to make it more fascinating, someone coined the expression ‘dragon tongue’. But this was meant more as a joke.
I remember having one slice of meat, if I was able to get a full slice, or I would put bits and pieces of the meat between two pieces of white bread for breakfast. That would be my treat. I was only allowed one slice a day because my mama didn’t want me to get a sore throat the next day. In the old days, nitrates were used in the marinating process and with the meat being barbequed or grilled, a sore throat was almost a guaranteed result if one ate too many pieces. But because they were so nice to eat, they were also irresistable. Today, nitrates are no longer used so readers can breathe a sigh of relief.
Long yuk (what the Cantonese in Malaysia call it) or bakkwa (in Hokkien) is basically minced or thinly sliced pork, marinated with sauces and then grilled over a fire. Because sugar is added to the meat to sweeten it, it is also high in calories plus it is grilled, resulting in it being ‘heaty’, i.e. your body has to work very hard to get rid of the toxin that comes from the burnt bits, so eat this in moderation. Chicken meat may also be used. In the olden days, the meat was sun-dried before it was grilled over a fire.
The process of making bakkwa is thought to be a way of preserving meat and is very similar to pork jerky. There are about 180 to 200 calories in a slice (or about 400 calories per 100g) depending on how much sugar has been added into the mixture. The terms yuk kuhn and ruo gan are its terms in Cantonese (Hong Kong) and Mandarin respectively. In Singapore, it’s most commonly known as bakkwa.
Several shops in Singapore and Malaysia specialise in making this meat and pre-CNY, prices are increased and the shops do a roaring business selling this. Nowadays there are derivations of the meat as well to include the spicy and sambal flavours. The meat does not keep for very long, so finish it as soon as you can. Years ago, the pieces were kept out in containers for a few days and they were still edible. Today, we keep our meat slices in the fridge and reheat them in the oven as they tend to go mouldy. Reheating them means that we have to be careful not to burn them. They do taste nice after being reheated again, like they have just come fresh off the grill.
I couldn’t work out why this made it to the must-have list for CNY but it is hugely popular during CNY especially, more than at any other time in the year. Probably the fact that it is reddened and sweetened (before it is baked or grilled) has something to do with it. To make things red (red is auspicious) and to sweeten them are good practices during CNY (never mind the calories). Because of its popularity during CNY, the prices go up but that has not stopped the long queues. Some people resort to making their own because of the price and it is probably healthier too.