Lee Fun Nam Kee Sees 50% Drop In Biz Since M’sia’s Chicken Export Ban, Likely Won’t Use Fresh Kampong Birds Due To Cost - 8 Days Skip to main content

Lee Fun Nam Kee Sees 50% Drop In Biz Since M’sia’s Chicken Export Ban, Likely Won’t Use Fresh Kampong Birds Due To Cost

The boss of the soy sauce chicken joint says the price of fresh kampong chooks — now allowed to be exported to S’pore — will be “sky-high". 8days.sg samples his signature dish cooked with frozen chicken.

1_lee_fun_nam_kee

Malaysia’s chicken export ban, in full swing since June 1, has affected many chicken hawkers. One example is soy sauce chicken specialist Lee Fun Nam Kee (LFNK) in Toa Payoh, which had to grapple with a huge plunge in sales.

At the start of the month, second-generation owner David Lee told 8days.sg that he had a stockpile of around “seven to 10 days’” worth of fresh chickens. However, business has been so sluggish that it can now last till “around June 19”.

“I lose about 50 per cent in sales every day, that’s why my stock can last longer,” the 56-year-old shares. He had initially expected a drop of “20 to 30 per cent”.

“Many of my customers said they will stop eating chicken for a while ‘cos there are many alternative food options out there,” shares David, who is the father of Genevieve Lee, runner-up of MasterChef Singapore’s first season. You won’t see her at the eatery though, as she is busy running her doughnut shop, Sourbombe Artisanal Bakery.

LFNK was started as a hawker stall by David’s father in 1967 before moving to its current premises below a block of HDB flats a year later. The standalone eatery, which sits around 90 pax, is more like a clean, mod open-air kopitiam, with no air-conditioning.

Currently using “fresh-frozen” birds

About a third of Singapore’s chicken supply is imported from Malaysia, with most being imported live for slaughtering here.

Rather than freshly slaughtered chicken, LFNK now uses “fresh-frozen” broiler birds, which are “fresh chickens that have been stored in the blast freezer after they were slaughtered” in Singapore. The birds can last for up to two weeks in the freezer. This is in contrast to chickens that are imported frozen from countries like Brazil or America, which are typically smaller and have been frozen for much longer periods of time.

David says he will switch to frozen chicken when his stockpile runs out.

He currently pays $5 per kg for the chicken, but he expects frozen ones to cost “around 30 per cent more”.

While the government has assured that more supplies of chilled chicken from Australia and Thailand can be expected in the coming weeks, David says these alternatives are not financially viable.

“I asked my supplier how much the fresh chilled chicken from Thailand would cost and he said $13 to $15 per kg. My chickens are all around 2kg, so this means I would have to pay $26 for a whole chicken. It’s crazy! Then how much do I have to sell my chicken for? $70? Who would want to pay $70 for soy sauce chicken? Even I wouldn’t buy it,” says David. He currently sells a whole chicken for $36.

However, now that the ban on the export of fresh kampong chickens has recently been lifted, he is considering using the smaller, but pricier premium birds —  if the price is right.

“I am in talks with my supplier, but I think the price will be sky-high at this point in time,” says David.

Soy sauce chicken made with frozen bird is “pretty good”

No matter — David thinks frozen chicken is “equally good”. 

Even before Malaysia announced on May 23 that it would curb the export of fresh chickens, David has been experimenting cooking their signature soy sauce chicken using the frozen alternative.

“I got wind about the ban from my supplier two days before the announcement, so I immediately started to R&D with frozen chicken,” shares David. He also used frozen drumstick and breast meat when Malaysian chicken exports halted in 2004 due to bird flu. 

Earlier this month, LFNK sold frozen chickens alongside fresh ones at the eatery for a couple of days as a trial, and 8days.sg got a taste of it (more on that later). 

Feedback, he says, has been encouraging: “Customers who tried the frozen chicken said it’s pretty good. They wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference if I hadn’t told them it was made with frozen chicken. I tried R&D-ing with different parts of the chicken like frozen breast meat and drumsticks too but whole chickens are still the best.”

LFNK’s regular soy sauce chicken, which is around 2.1kg costs $36, while the one made with the 1kg frozen chicken from Brazil is $18.

In addition to chicken, LFNK also offers a small selection of other dishes like roast duck, char siew, homemade ngoh hiang and double-boiled soups. To attract customers, David also hopes to introduce more duck dishes. He is currently R&D-ing white poached duck and if it works out, he will make it a permanent menu item.

Taste test: Fresh vs frozen chicken

8days.sg got to try LFNK’s soy sauce chicken made with both fresh and frozen chicken back when they offered it at their shop during their trial.

According to David, both chickens were cooked in the same braising sauce made with 15 herbs and spices, and no changes were made to the cooking method or marinade. Only the braising time for the frozen chicken was halved as the bird is smaller.

As David has yet to receive frozen chickens from his supplier, he used 1kg frozen chickens from Brazil purchased from NTUC Fairprice supermarket. He says there “shouldn’t be much of a difference” between that and the stock that he plans to get from his supplier.

At first glance, the frozen chicken is a lot smaller and its colour slightly lighter than the fresh one. While still quite succulent and velvety smooth, the meat is less plump and fatty. The breast meat is also drier.

Taste-wise, there isn’t much difference, especially if you eat it with their savoury sauce and chilli. Both birds are tasty and juicy, though the frozen chicken is missing the floral fragrance from the Chinese rose wine. Perhaps a longer braising time would plump up the meat and infuse it with more flavour.

While we prefer the fresh chicken for its meatier bite and juicier breast, the frozen chicken is still very yummy. The differences are so subtle that you probably wouldn’t be able to tell them apart unless you have them side by side or if you eat the breast meat only. 

Lee Fun Nam Kee is at 94 Lor 4 Toa Payoh, #01-04, S310094. Tel: 6255 0891. Open daily 11am-3pm, 5pm-9pm. More info via website Facebook.

Photos: Lee Fun Nam Kee, 8days.sg

Want More? Check These Out

You May Also Like