Local butcher Kwan Chun-kan says it’s important to support the SAR’s homegrown pig farms
Buying local food is important. It dramatically lessens the carbon footprint when it comes to transporting products and it can make for fresher grub too. Plus, it helps the local economy. However, in Hong Kong, buying local can be really tough. We simply don’t have many farms in our small SAR, so most of the tuck we enjoy comes from the Mainland or other countries across the globe. But one butcher in Sai Ying Pun is selling only pork that’s been raised and slaughtered in Hong Kong. Did you know we have about 30 pig farms in our city?
Kwan Chun-kan has been the boss of Fu Ying Pork in Third Street for the past five years after he moved from his business selling pigs from a farm in the New Territories. His pork is all-local and all-natural too, free of growth-enhancing hormones and leanness-enhancing agents which are reportedly sometimes found in meat from the Mainland. This means that customers are guaranteed fresh, quality meat from his shop. Judging by the steady stream of people coming in on our visit to the store, on what Kwan calls a ‘slow day’, there’s a big call for quality local pork in Sai Ying Pun. He says he has only one commitment and that’s running Fu Ying [富營], which in Cantonese aptly means ‘nutritious’. “I chose this old area because of its cheap rent,” he explains, “but now, after five years, it has tripled in price.” Despite the costs of running the business, though, the butcher maintains that the work is well worth it.
Kwan’s life with pigs started when he was a child. He used to help his mum and dad nourish and breed them on his family pig farm in the New Territories. And he kept doing so until it sadly closed about 20 years ago. He says he wanted to continue in the pork industry, though, so he started selling pigs from another farm. His big move, however, was when he opened Fu Ying. “When everything is new,” he reflects, “it’s always going to be hard.” Hard, indeed, it was but through his dedication and the team at the butcher’s shop, he’s turned it into a successful business that emphasises the importance of buying local and going all-natural when it comes to your food. “Although imported pork meat is cheaper,” he says, “locally bred and all-natural pork definitely has better quality in its texture and taste when it’s cooked.”
“Pigs are omnivores,” continues Kwan. “Farmers feed them corns, grains and vegetables. When I was little, my father cooked Chinese herbal teas for his pigs to strengthen their immune systems. There are pig farmers on the Mainland who mix the feeds with asthma drugs because this can make the pigs grow and mature faster. It makes more of a profit in the short run.” Kwan says that his local pork comes from a pig farm in Ta Kwu Ling, near Sheung Shui.
The day of a butcher, according to Kwan, starts at 5am. He’s up and running before the sun even rises. And he doesn’t rest until it sets, usually after 7pm, meaning most days he works at least 12 hours. Two to three pigs are brought to his shop on a daily basis and he uses the mornings to cut up and arrange the meat on racks for his customers. The hardworking Hongkonger says he’s determined to overcome any hardships that he goes up against, such as the tough days on his feet and the ever-increasing rent costs. He says recent rent increases have obviously impacted his business but he adds that he ‘remains focused on the present’.
Kwan calls Third Street a ‘side street’ which is off Sai Ying Pun’s main shopping drag, perhaps costing him increased custom. But he nevertheless loves the area and feels he made a good decision moving here five years ago. “Sai Ying Pun is an old and small district,” he says. “My customers and I, we all hook on to each other.” Kwan says he struggles to achieve ‘good business’ in his shop as there’s a pretty constant flow of customers coming in, meaning he doesn’t have much time to stop and chat. But he does say he has a lot of loyal customers and that’s been consistent since the shop opened. Many of them, he says, are from the SYP neighbourhood and others come in from other districts. But it’s seasonal work, he notes. During holidays, such as Christmas or New Year, it becomes really quiet at Fu Ying. “I could just fall asleep in my shop during the festive season,” he jokes. “Everyone is always out for dinner with their friends and families.”
Kwan is operating a traditional business that focuses on both healthy eating and local produce. But not everything is traditional for him. He’s just joined Jou Sun, a Hong Kong-based healthy food delivery service which specialises in meat, seafood, fruit and vegetables that are delivered fresh to homes across the SAR. Kwan says he’s optimistic about the new collaboration, particularly as he sees the excellent opportunities the online shopping industry can bring to businesses like his. “I hope it will bring me more foreigners and young Hongkongers,” he says, “in addition to my regular customers.” He adds that his customer base is, at the moment, mostly ‘housewives and older Chinese buyers’. “I think foreigners and younger people,” he says, “would find it more convenient to put in an order online and have my pork delivered. I think Jou Sun will undoubtedly help create a whole new side to my business.”
When it comes to Hong Kong’s markets, Kwan says he sees online delivery services like Jou Sun taking over in the future. A lot of this, he reckons, is down to the fact that younger generations are not being encouraged to take over the traditional food businesses in the city. Particularly, he adds, in the case of butcher shops. “No parent would tell their child to be a butcher,” he says. “The younger generations are more educated these days and they’re not so inspired to go for labour-intensive careers. There’s such a high demand of pork meat in Hong Kong but, pretty soon, there may not be enough butchers to get the job done any more.”
However, for the moment, Fu Ying has a decent decent future as more people look to shop local and eat healthier foods. It’s pretty young, really, as traditional Hong Kong businesses go. “The future is what it is,” says Kwan. “There will always be positives and negatives but I think being in the business of pork is a good place to be because the Chinese love their pork meat. They can’t live without it in their diet!”
Visit Fu Ying Pork at 42 Third Street in Sai Ying Pun. Pop in on a Monday when the butcher offers Hong Kong Iberian pork. For more details and to sample a delivery from Fu Ying, see jousun.com/stores/fu-ying-pork.
By Ashley Ho