Chun Gen: The Hakka-style Meat Roll from Tenom Sabah
Chun Gen (or Ken, Kien, Juan) 丹南春卷 is a unique Hakka food from Tenom, Sabah. In Hakka dialect, “chun” means “egg” and “gen” means “roll”. Just looking its name in Mandarin, it literally translates to “spring roll” which makes people from outside of Sabah wonder how special can a spring roll be. Chun Gen is indeed very different from traditional spring roll. It is actually a meat roll wrapped in thin egg crepe.
Meat rolls are very common and well known in the Hakka region of China, but there are many different variations of meat rolls, made with ingredients like mushroom, yam, egg crepe, tofu skin, dried seaweed etc. The Hakka immigrants that settled in Tenom came from the county called Longchuan. In Longchuan, the version of meat roll wrapped in egg crepe is more common, thus it becomes the Tenom version too.
Traditionally Chun Gen’s meat filling is made with pork shoulder meat. The meat is slowly beaten into a pulpy mince with two clubs. The mince is then mixed with corn starch, salt, and white pepper, and then continuously picked up and slammed onto a flat surface. This is done until the mince reaches a fine paste consistency. Some makers would add fish or prawn paste, black fungus and other additions into the mix too. The paste is then spread on top of a thin layer of egg crepe and rolled into a long sausage shape. The roll is normally cooked via steaming. When Chun Gen is sliced, its cross section shows an iconic yellow spiral pattern.
In Sabah, Chun Gen is so popular that it can be served with all kinds of soup noodles, fried noodles, and other local dishes like Tuaran Mee, Wat Tan Hor etc. The meat paste is also used in making meat balls to be served in soup. Due to its pork content, it is mostly found in Chinese eateries in Sabah.