Is the meat in Chinatown safe to eat?

Chinatown is one of the cheapest places to buy groceries in Toronto so I often shop there for produce, frozen dumplings and Asian ingredients that are less common at supermarkets. But I never buy meat because the stores are generally less clean.

One day, I had some friends over for dinner and they were talking about ground pork that they bought from T&T (a clean and modern Asian grocery store chain) and Chinatown. They said that the T&T pork had a strong/strange smell when they fried it compared to the pork from Chinatown which made us think: “Could Chinatown pork be cleaner than T&T pork?” We decided to embark on an experiment to find out.

bowls of ground pork with price tag
Photo credit: Liz Yeung

We bought ground pork from the stores we frequent (Chinatown, grocery store chains and butcher shops) with prices ranging from $1.49/lb to $5.99/lb. We made pork meatballs using the same recipe, same ingredients and the same measurements (we used a scale for accuracy) and cooked them at the same time. Then the hard part, we tasted them all to compare the differences in taste, texture and appearance. I know, it’s hard work. 😉

Exact measuring taking place to keep the recipe consistent across all batches.
(Photo credit: Liz Yeung)

Here are how the stores ranked in price:

Sanagan’s Meat Locker (Kensington Market): $5.99/lb
Whitehouse Meats (St. Lawrence Market): $3.99/lb
Longos: $3.99/lb
T&T: $1.99/lb
Lucky Moose Food Mart (Chinatown): $1.49/lb

Taste and texture differences between the different batches of pork

The ground pork from Longos and Lucky Moose Food Mart were the most lean. However, the Longos meatballs were the toughest compared to all the other meatballs. Lucky Moose, despite being as lean as Longos was still as tender as the other meatballs. The pork from Longos and Whitehouse Meats had a similar flavour but were a little bland and unremarkable.

pork meatballs labelled and on baking sheet
Photo credit: Liz Yeung

Is it worth buying ground pork from a fancy butcher shop versus Chinatown?

Sanagan’s Meat Locker ($5.99/lb) had the most flavourful pork flavour which was full and more complex but the most expensive. Lucky Moose ($1.49/lb) was a close second in terms of flavour. The ground pork from T&T ($1.99/lb) had the most water and grease plus an offensive off flavour that everyone could taste. Sure, it was cheaper than most of the other samples but the unpleasant after taste had us questioning its freshness.

In terms of texture, they were all similar except Sanagan’s Meat Locker which had a nice lumpy, chewy and firmer texture. We decided that Sanagan’s Meat Locker would be great for meatloaf where you’d want to have that course, yet tender meat texture. And because you really want the flavour of the meat to shine in meatloaf, Sanagan’s Meat Locker would be the best ground pork to buy.

However, Lucky Moose Food Mart was a close second behind Sanagan’s Meat Locker in terms of flavour. It was also leaner and significantly cheaper at $1.49/lb which made it the overall winner!

cooked pork meatballs
Photo credit: Liz Yeung

Here are how the stores ranked in terms of flavour:

Sanagan’s Meat Locker (Kensington Market): Most flavourful, great texture but most expensive.
Lucky Moose Food Mart (Chinatown): Lean but still tender. Good pork flavour and least expensive.
Whitehouse Meats (St. Lawrence Market): Generally good but not as flavourful as Lucky Moose or Sanagan’s.
Longos: Bright red color. Very lean but tough. Flat tasting.
T&T: Second cheapest next to Lucky Moose but had an unpleasant aftertaste which made us question the freshness and quality.

cooked meatballs on baking sheet
Photo credit: Liz Yeung

The ground pork from the Lucky Moose Food Mart ended up being one of the best tasting and the cheapest! We all gained a new appreciation of the ground pork in Chinatown and are definitely more open to buying meat from there.

Overall recommendations: 

If you are doing a fancy pork dish, and you want that extra flavour and texture, Sanagan’s Meat Locker is the place to go. But you will be paying a big premium at $5.99/lb. However, you can feel good knowing that you are eating great tasting pork and supporting local farmers who are raising happy pigs.

pork meatball samples, T&T and Sanigan's
Photo credit: Liz Yeung

However, the overall winner was the Lucky Moose Food Mart. The pork was lean, yet tender, tasty and a steal at $1.49/lb!

The ground pork in Chinatown is actually really good

We were pleasantly surprised to see that Lucky Moose Food Mart beat out the swanky Sanagan’s Meat Locker in a head-to-head pork meatball taste test. Of course, this is only one type of meat at one store in Chinatown so we can’t apply these results across all stores in Chinatown (that would require another experiment).

However, the next time you’re in Chinatown, keep an open mind as you pass the meat counter.

Do you want to do your own ground pork comparison? Here is the pork meatball recipe we used for the experiment.

Do you buy your meat from Chinatown? If so, are there only certain cuts that you buy and why?

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