Text by Joanna Yeo, co-reported by Sheere Ng, Image by Joanna Yeo @ Makansutra.
Duck eggs were once used to cook familiar local favourites such as char kuay teow, carrot cake and oyster omelette. Owner of Hill Street char kuay teow, Mr Ng Chang Siang who had previously used duck eggs in his recipe says his customers prefer it as it has a richer taste and gives it a more ‘nian’ (sticky) texture.
But as prices of duck eggs became more expensive and supply turned scarce, he like many of his peers, resorted to cheaper chicken eggs over the years.
The reason for this price difference, says Mr Ong Siew Pang, former Chairman of the Kheng Keow Coffee Merchants Restaurant & Bar-Owners Association, dates back to the eggs’ origin around the 60s. Mr Ong explains that in the past, most fresh duck eggs were imported from Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, there was a shortage of duck eggs which then led to a price hike. As a result, many hawkers that were originally using fresh duck eggs in their recipe substituted them with chicken eggs.
Another reason for its unavailability here is because no approval has been granted to any supplier for the import and sale of fresh duck eggs in Singapore, according to egg supplier Mr Tan Kian Soon of Go Market. Mr Tan says the sale of fresh duck eggs in Singapore had already ceased way before he entered the business around 13 years ago.
When asked why, the Àgri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA) replied that they “have not received any applications to export fresh duck eggs to Singapore”. AVA is the government body that regulates the import of food and has strict criteria for hygiene, and safety. All meat, meat products, eggs and egg products to be imported into Singapore have to come from sources approved by them.
Mr William Ho, owner of the Farmart Centre thinks that the reason why fresh duck eggs cannot be found in Singapore might be due to avian flu. He elaborates that duck farming requires both wet and dry lands for breeding. He thinks that this makes them more susceptible to water and air borne diseases and as well as avian flu. This makes it an uphill task for duck egg farms to get accredited.
“In open-duck farming, wild birds that may carry avian flu virus can come into contact with the farmed ducks. When this happens, the farm ducks will also contract the virus,” says Associate Professor Vincent Chow from the Department of Microbiology, National University of Singapore. There are two different kinds of duck farming: open duck farming (not enclosed) and closed system duck farming with proper biosecurity (enclosed, without contact with outside birds).
Prof Vincent adds that in general, ducks reared via the open-duck farming system are more susceptible to avian flu as compared to their close-farmed duck counterparts. Chicken egg farm is an example of closed system farming. However, he also says that once the ducks are infected with the influenza virus, they will fall very sick easily and eventually die. Hence, the chances of them producing the eventual diseased eggs are very low.
Yet there are no suppliers applying to be accredited with AVA as duck egg suppliers.
If you’ve had the pleasure (or pain) of eating cha kway teow, fried Hokkien mee or oyster omelet done with duck eggs, please tell us all about the experience. We’ll like to hear your views.