“When our government collides with the government of Malaysia, we are told that there will be no more meat, fish or vegetables coming from Malaysia to feed our families. The water will also be cut off,” he said.
Now in his fifties, a chicken seller who runs a stall with his wife at a wet market in southern Bedok district feels as if history is repeating itself.
For decades, Singapore, a rich but poor island nation, has relied on its nearest neighbor Malaysia for a third of its poultry imports. Every month, about 3.6 million live chickens are exported to Singapore, which are then slaughtered and refrigerated.
But Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaqoub last week announced drastic measures: his country will ban the export of live chicken to Singapore from June in a bid to address the domestic shortage that has driven up prices.
The ban is set to hit Singaporeans hard, not least because the city’s de facto national dish is rice with chicken – and enthusiasts say replacing fresh meat with frozen won’t do the trick.
“Every pinch hurts,” Gillihar said. “Suppliers are telling us to prepare for price hikes. One chicken now may cost an extra dollar, but where will I get the extra money I need to buy 100 birds for sale? Will my customers accept the costs too?”
In Malaysia, rising feed costs have driven up chicken prices in recent months and retailers have rationed sales in response.
With the last live chickens from Malaysia arriving in Singapore on Tuesday for slaughter, the city-state is now preparing for its own shortage, which could last for months.
Chicken sellers in Singapore said customers were trying this week to bypass a looming ban by buying in bulk, but sellers faced shortages as they tried to replenish their stock.
Elderly chicken seller Ah He and his son Thomas, 58, said the price of chicken had already been high for some time. “The chicken business has been on the edge for months now, so it was nothing new to us,” Hu said.
Their chicken stall is out of stock, even lesser-known items like giblets are out of stock. “Our fate is now in the hands of the suppliers and their willingness to raise prices to make a profit,” Thomas said.
For the father and son, who have been in the business for more than three decades, survival has always been tough – but now it’s about to get even more difficult.
“No one knows what will happen in the next month or so, or how long this shortage will last, but with the way it looks, it may finally be time for us to ditch the towel and close the store,” Thomas said.
Chicken Rice Crisis
Fears of a chicken shortage were also evident in the countless queues of snakes that formed at chicken and rice stalls across Singapore.
The owners of Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice Restaurant, one of the island’s most popular restaurants, said that while they will continue to serve chicken and rice, they will stop serving other chicken dishes if they cannot secure fresh meat.
At the Katong Mei Wei Boneless Chicken Rice kiosk, another popular destination for foodies on the island, loyal patrons like Lucielle Tan were given pre-Prohibition chicken nuggets.
“We should enjoy it as long as we can as long as supplies last,” Tan said.
While a short-term solution could be to import more frozen chicken from countries like Thailand and Brazil, it’s not an option for the legions of chicken rice sellers across the island.
“Frozen chicken? You expect us to cook chicken rice using frozen chicken? It won’t taste good,” said Madame Tong, laughing.
“If that is the case and you are happy with that kind of quality, you can also go to Malaysia and have chicken and rice there no. “
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