When Malaysia suddenly announced that they were going to ban their chicken exports, and we learnt just how dependent we were on our neighbouring country for our poultry, Singaporeans reacted in an unsurprising way.
First with the denial and reconfirming of the news, like “are you sure our chicken rice is in jeopardy”, then the panic sinks in and the hoarding begins.
If the behaviour pattern sounds familiar, it’s because we did the exact same thing when we heard about the COVID-19 pandemic hitting our shores—
In which we handled it with the subtlety of a bull in a China shop and proceeded to smash through every supermarket for the required necessities.
Calm down people, it’s just chicken.
We’re omnivores, damn it, you still have your vegetables.
Unable To Sell Chicken Dishes Without Malaysian Exports
When the news of chicken export ban reached all ends of the city-state, Singaporeans reacted in one of four ways: get as much of the product as you can now, switch to frozen chicken, find alternatives in the same food group, or just give up with a heck-care attitude.
Why Bird Paradise Suddenly Became Singapore’s Yishun:
For the well-known eatery Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice in Maxwell Food Centre, they went with the first option, stating they will stop serving chicken dishes if they can’t get the fresh chicken supplies.
It’s totally understandable, especially since the 36-year-old business is completely dependent on Malaysia’s exports for their fresh chicken.
If they are unable to find any suppliers, they will resort to selling other items instead, such as fried tofu, fried pork chop, and prawn salad.
No matter what, the founder Foo Kui Lian, now aged 73, refuses to use frozen chicken.
You have to respect a man for his dedication to getting only the best ingredients he trusts.
However, Madam Foo is aware that the ban will probably hit them badly in terms of profits.
Tian Tian has two other branches in Clementi and Bedok, and is very well-known both by its patrons and internet-curated listings as one of the best chicken rice in Singapore.
Having to take off their signature item off the menu completely will make it very difficult to ensure that their revenue can sustain the three outlets, central kitchen, and the many staff they employ.
Nonetheless, that decision will be sticking. For now.
The Patrons’ Reactions
On Friday (27 May) many patrons flocked to the famous Chicken Rice store during their lunchtime, with the queue extending beyond the perimeter of Maxwell Food Centre.
Naturally, it’s better to get your cravings over now then not have it later.
It would also be really funny if someone accidentally joined the queue, only to realise an hour later that they were in the wrong line the whole time.
Anywho, The Straits Times reporters went over to the food centre to gather some responses from the patrons.
One respondent, Mr Peter Low, stated that he’s been dining at Tian Tian since his national service days, and he’s currently 28 years old. If Tian Tian were to stop serving chicken rice, he would feel very disappointed.
However, he’s sure that he can find good chicken rice elsewhere.
Mr Low isn’t wrong on that count; every hawker centre and food court in Singapore has one chicken rice store at least.
An intern accountant by the name of Ms Roopa Niedu frequents Tian Tian regularly as well, and her opinion was quite similar to Mr Low.
She points out that the chicken rice at Tian Tian is good and it’s inexpensive, but it’s not irreplaceable; she can always look for alternative sources of cheap meat.
Then there are the patrons with the heck-care attitudes, who really can’t bring themselves to be bothered by the export ban.
A patron, who only wishes to be identified as “Mr Lim” remarked that Singaporeans are spoilt for choice, and they can always find something else to eat.
In blunter terms, the world won’t end just because Malaysia won’t sell us their chicken anymore. Move on to the seven other stalls and get something to eat instead.
Some customers, like Mr Ryan Lim, still don’t really care in the sense that he believes he won’t be able to taste the difference between fresh and frozen chicken anyway, so does it really matter if the chicken served changes?
Mr Lim is even willing to pay a dollar or two more, if it simply means he can get his fix of chicken rice.
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The Other Chicken Rice Stores’ Plans
The chicken rice store owners have reacted in similar ways.
Ming Kee Chicken Rice in Bishan has gone to their supplier to import more chicken before the ban officially sets in. (Hoarding.)
For restaurants and eateries like Tang Tea House and Jew Kit Chicken Rice, both of which have several branches across the island, their higher management are willing to settle for frozen chicken in lieu of fresh chicken if the latter is unavailable.
Mr Teo Jew Kit, the founder and owner of Jew Kit Chicken Rice personally thinks that poultry suppliers “have a responsibility” to uphold, and if worse comes to worst, they can always source for alternatives.
For the halal Chinese cuisine Tang Tea House, it’s just pragmatism at its work. Their chicken dishes make up 10% of their revenue, so why should they have to give it up?
As long as it’s halal-certified, they’re good to go.
Meanwhile, the owner of Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice, which is two stalls down from Tian Tian, stated that he is still discussing what the best course of action is with his own supplier.
Mr Wong Liang Tai, the owner, isn’t in the position to give up his staple menu item, so he will give frozen chicken a try, even though he’s uncertain if it will taste the same.
Mr Wong, as long as the frozen chicken you buy hasn’t been sitting at the bottom of a freezer for a year, you’ll probably be fine when it comes to the taste.
Really, you can read this article about the differences between fresh and frozen chicken if you don’t believe me.
Meanwhile, there are some lucky ones like Boon Chiang Hainanese Chicken Rice.
The general manager, Mr Ng Chuang Han told The Straits Times that his supplier has assured him that they will continue to deliver.
Wait, isn’t that contravening the ban?
Politics and logistics are confusing.
In other news, Mr Ng did notice that the number of customers ordering larger portions of chicken rice has increased by 20% since the ban was announced on Friday.
His customers would frequently ask if the Lorong 1 Toa Payoh stall would close—which it isn’t—and it drew approximately 200 customers that day.
Mr Ng reiterated to his patrons that they don’t have to panic as business will carry on as per usual.
This is just another hurdle that we have to overcome.
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