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Chicken dilemma: Hawkers remain concerned over lack of fresh option and long-term costs

This, despite Indonesia as new source of frozen and chilled chicken

One month since Malaysia’s chicken export ban, and despite the fact that Indonesia has been approved as Singapore’s new source of frozen chicken meat, many stalls here are still worried about their food quality and the long-term costs involved.  

There has yet to be a new source of fresh chicken for the Republic and many stalls are forced to rely on frozen produce. 

Most of the 12 chicken rice hawkers TNP spoke to said that while queues appear to be normal, they worry that the continued use of frozen chicken will affect the quality of their chicken rice, and incur more long-term costs. 

Mr Soki Wu, 31, owner of Katong Mei Wei (KTMW) Boneless Chicken Rice, said patrons have been concerned if the meat served is frozen, and that business dipped at the start of the week.  

He said: “Now we are using both frozen and kampung chicken, but kampung chicken is 30 to 35 per cent more expensive than the usual fresh chicken.”

Mr Daniel Tan, 42, owner of franchise OK Chicken Rice, which has outlets islandwide including in Hougang and Ang Mo Kio, said frozen chickens are smaller and becoming more expensive than fresh ones. 

“We moved from chilled to frozen chicken, but the frozen chickens are getting smaller and smaller,” he said, adding that his business is operating at a loss. 

When TNP spoke to patrons of these hawker stalls, many said they were not too fussed over fresh vs frozen. 

“I can’t really taste a difference, and I only eat it once in a while anyways,” said Mr Alvin Chong, 47, who works in aviation and is a patron of KTMW Chicken Rice.

On the other hand, 20-year-old student Sherry Mak said: “I do feel there’s been a change in quality, but only of the chicken itself,” adding: “there's so many components of chicken rice that it just doesn't detract from the overall enjoyment of the meal.”

Joanna Teo, 24, who works in sustainable technology, said of Tong Fong Fatt Hainanese Chicken Rice at Ghim Moh: “They understandably give less chicken, but it’s still as delicious.”

When asked if she would cut down on chicken rice consumption, she said: “If anything, I would actually get more chicken rice now to support the hawkers.”

While queues appear to be as per usual, hawkers are worried that the continued use of frozen chicken will affect the quality of their chicken rice and incur more long term costs. PHOTO: LOK BING HONG

With the rising cost of chicken, many stalls have been forced to increase prices. Some have even begun charging 30 cents for a takeaway container to cut losses. 

At Ah Keat Chicken Rice in Bukit Merah, owner Lim Wei Keat, 27, said he had been absorbing the additional costs up until recently. “Costs have already been rising since Chinese New Year, but we only increased prices this week because (the costs) got too high,” he said.

Some stalls, like Chun Yuan Chicken Rice in Toa Payoh, have taken more drastic measures, going on hiatus since the ban. An employee, who declined to be named, said the stall remains uncertain about continuing.

While hawkers are pleased that Singapore has more sources of chicken now, some are concerned that the Indonesian supply might be too expensive, as shipments are possibly flown into Singapore. 

“The cost of chicken by air is extremely high and unsustainable… it’s double the price of what I get right now,” said Mr David Lee, 55, owner of Lee Fun Nam Kee Chicken Rice in Toa Payoh.

He reckoned that Indonesian chicken prices will be similar to that of Thailand. 

He said: “1kg usually costs $6, but from Thailand it’s $13 to $15. Each chicken is 2kg so the price of one chicken is already $30 before other costs – the selling price would be crazy. How much would consumers be willing to pay?”

Additionally, Mr Tan from OK Chicken Rice told TNP that Indonesian chicken is rumoured to be delivered only in parts, adding: “Whole chickens is what we need, not parts.”

Speaking in Parliament on Monday (July 4) about Singapore’s food security issues, Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu reminded Singaporeans to be adaptable: “If you can't find chicken, go for other forms of meat. If we show some hardiness, I think the whole of Singapore will have better resilience against food disruptions."

Responding to Ms Fu’s suggestion, facility manager Govind Raj, 31, said: “One particular statement cannot suit everyone. Some people might be allergic to seafood, or unable to eat other meats for religious reasons, and they rely heavily on chicken for protein.”

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