Wednesday, May 27, 2015Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Frog fallopian tubes, anyone? Business booming at Singapore's only frog farm

Hashima's growing popularity with diners has boosted business at Singapore's only frog farm

Published on Jun 9, 2013 8:10 AM

Frogs' legs are one thing, but how about slurping down the amphibians' fallopian tubes?

Many diners are happy to do just that - helping to boost sales at Singapore's only frog farm.

Called hashima, the delicacy is well known here, but some may not be aware which part of the animal it comes from.

And while it is traditionally imported from China, the home-grown version is enjoying a boom in popularity, spawned by growing numbers of restaurants and Chinese medicine halls choosing to go local.

Enjoy 2 weeks of unlimited digital access to The Straits Times. Get your free access now!

Background story

New food fad

"More people know about it now. They call it the cheap bird's nest."

Fung Onn Medical Hall owner CHEE KIM BOON, on the growing popularity of hashima


Before her 10th-year Methodist Girls School reunion, Miss Chelsea Wan fretted about how to introduce her job to her former classmates.

Eventually, she settled on the plain truth - frog farmer.

"Few people understand why I choose to work on a farm," said Miss Wan.

"They can be condescending. Some say I am a frog in a well. But that's not how I view it."

There was, after all, no reason why the 29-year-old - who manages the family-owned Jurong Frog Farm - could not have landed a cushy office job.

After secondary school, she attended Pioneer Junior College and scored A-level results that qualified her to study sociology at the National University of Singapore.

The middle child started working at the family's 1.2ha farm in Lim Chu Kang right after graduating in 2006 and has never considered other options.

It is also where she lives with her parents and two siblings - in a single-storey bungalow behind concrete basins of tilapia fish and croaking bullfrogs.

The farm, which used to be in Jurong, was set up by Miss Wan's father, a former oil rig engineer. The 60-year-old started breeding frogs in the 1970s after he saw the potential. At the time, the Government had started phasing out pig farms to make way for development and was encouraging the breeding of alternative livestock.

Her father's income offered the family no indulgences, said Miss Wan, because frog meat "never ever really hit the mainstream market".

In 1999, they started selling harvested hashima - frog fallopian tubes that are a popular delicacy in Asia and imported in small amounts here from China.

To help him, Miss Wan, then a teenager, stuffed her backpack full of dried hashima and tried to convince medical halls to put the product on their shelves.

She faced one rejection after another. Some even accused her of selling fake items. But she did not give up. By the third round, 15 stores had been convinced to sell 10 packets of dried hashima each on a consignment basis.

But it was only in 2011, and after many more rounds of convincing and tinkering with the drying method, that supply requests started coming in.

First from other medical halls, then restaurants which bought one lot at a time.

This, she said, made her feel that "anything was possible".

Last year, she developed bottles of ready-to-eat hashima. She is now working on a low-sugar version. Her next project involves frog breeding and expanding the farm.

Miss Wan said her passion for the business has never waned.

"People think the pace at a farm is slow and not as demanding as outside, but it's not true."

Every day, she conducts farm tours and manages orders. "You set the standard because it is your own business."

The gutsy woman has skinned and gutted frogs.

"Is it so different from a regular job? Maybe, in that there is no office politics," she said, adding that she draws a salary of $3,000 a month. "But like most people, I have a to-do list every day and I execute it.

"And the upside is I get to grow my own sweet potato leaves and breed my own tilapia," she said, smiling.

Jessica Lim