Salted eggs are all the rage, popping up in myriad dishes and baked goods in cafes and restaurants here.
The brined duck egg yolk has transcended Chinese cuisine, where it is an accompaniment to porridge, tucked into mooncakes or used by zi char cooks to make a sauce for pork ribs, crabs, prawns or deep-fried fish skin.
However, a new generation of chefs and bakers are using the bright orange yolks in pastries, pastas, pizzas, cocktails and as a dip for finger food.
One of the first to realise the potential of salted eggs was Mr Chronos Chan, 40, co-owner of ice cream parlour Tom's Palette in Shaw Towers. He started selling salted egg ice cream in 2008.
Customers were wary of trying it until he decided to list it as a mystery flavour. That got people trying - and liking - the ice cream.
Then came a period starting about two years ago, when chefs and bakers experimented with salted egg yolk creations and tested them on customers.
Now these dishes are best-selling fixtures on menus, proving to be a hit with diners.
Some of the dishes creating a stir are the charcoal waffles drizzled with salted egg yolk sauce at Fatcat Ice Cream Bar in Bedok North; and seafood pizza slathered with salted egg mayonnaise and fried chicken wings coated with salted egg sauce from Beer Market in River Valley Road.
Chefs who grew up eating salted egg dishes in zi char places are keen to translate the flavour into their creations.
At sharing plates restaurant Morsels in Mayo Street, the grilled octopus and squid ink risotto served with salted egg sauce is its most popular dish, with up to 150 portions sold each month.
Chef-owner Petrina Loh, 32, says: "The risotto has an umami flavour that brings out the saltiness of the sauce, which also goes well with the natural saltiness of the octopus."
Inspired by liu sha bao (steamed salted egg custard bun) in dim sum restaurants, the chef-owner of Fix cafe in Balestier, Mervyn Phan, 35, came up with a dip to accompany its bite-sized doughnuts. The cafe sells about 500 servings of that in a month.
Phan says: "It is interesting to take a nostalgic flavour and apply it in a new and creative way."
Chef Andy Ang, 49, of Five & Dime, a cafe in River Valley Road, was introduced to the salted egg craze by his younger colleagues last year. He came up with salted egg prawn pasta and salted egg custard lava cake.
With only 20 portions made daily, the molten chocolate cakes usually sell out fast.
Ang says: "I like the contrast between the bitterness of the dark chocolate and the salted egg, which adds extra oomph."
The popularity of salted egg yolks stems from its multi-faceted flavours. Makansutra founder KF Seetoh says: "It has mass appeal with its savoury and lightly salted taste. Salted egg dishes are new yet retro and are an allusion to local food heritage."
Eric Neo, 37, executive chef of the Intercontinental Singapore, noticed that salted egg yolks started trending in the middle of last year, when liu sha bao became the most talked-about dim sum item here.
He says: "Salted egg's versatile sweet and savoury flavours make it easy to use in a wide variety of dishes."
Chef-owner Willin Low, 43, of modern Singaporean restaurant, Wild Rocket at Mount Emily, introduced salted egg crab cake in its eight-course omakase menu in July.
He says: "Salted egg has long been part and parcel of Singapore cuisine. More chefs are confident of using local ingredients and proud of celebrating our food heritage, which is more interesting than copying foreign flavours."
Egg suppliers have noticed a growing demand for salted duck eggs from eateries. Egg importer Kai Young Huat has seen a 20 per cent increase in orders in the past year for its processed salted egg yolks. It processes about 90,000 egg yolks, mainly from Vietnam, in a month. Its director, Mr Aloysius Lee, 34, says: "Salted egg yolk is more than a festive ingredient for mooncakes and rice dumplings. More restaurants are using it in dishes and dim sum."
Mr Randy Tan, 56, general manager of Eastern Egg Supplies, which imports at least 672,000 salted eggs a month, says: "Sales have become consistent all-year- round in the past year, instead of the festive surges in May and August."
As salted egg dishes gain popularity, health experts caution against indulging in them too often.
Salted duck egg yolks contain twice the cholesterol of butter and are high in sodium.
Nutritionist Jean Tong from Eat Right Nutrition Consultancy recommends limiting consumption to one yolk a week.
She says: "Foods such as lava cakes and chicken wings are already sources of empty calories. Adding salted egg makes them more unhealthy."
Dr Christina Low, medical director of Singapore Medical Group, a private specialist health-care provider, points out that a diet high in cholesterol and salt can lead to heart problems and stroke. She says: "Pair salted eggs with vegetable and fruits, or eat just the egg whites as they do not contain cholesterol."
However, diners are excited by salted egg yolk offerings.
Student Felix Chew, 24, who recently went on a "salted egg food trail", says: "I think salted egg dishes will stay on menus as it is such a popular ingredient. The dishes have the potential to become a classic, just like chilli crab."
Housewife Josephine Seetoh, 40, says: "I am keen to see how cafes use salted eggs in their dishes, though I need to limit myself as they can be quite overwhelming."
SALTED EGG SAUCE
Sean Lim, 25, chef-owner of Sin Lee Foods, a nine-month-old cafe in Jalan Bukit Ho Swee, considers salted egg crabs from zi char restaurants one of his comfort foods.
He serves his salted egg yolk sauce with sweet potato fries. The Instagram-worthy dish is one of the more popular items in his cafe, with about 200 portions sold every month. He uses 300 salted duck egg yolks every weekend for more than 3 litres of the sauce.
550g salted duck egg yolks
600g unsalted butter, softened at room temperature and cut into six cubes
270ml of full-cream milk
5g white sugar
5g chilli powder
1. Heat salted egg yolks in a microwave oven on high heat for two minutes. Mash yolks into a soft paste and set aside.
2. Place a pot over medium heat and add cubes of butter. Let the butter melt, stirring regularly. When fully melted, turn the heat to low and add yolks to the pot. Mix thoroughly for two minutes
3. Add milk, sugar, salt and chilli powder. Stir contents for two minutes until well mixed.
4. Blend the contents in an electric blender for up to three minutes, till the mixture is smooth and runny.
5. Set aside to cool before using.
Makes 1.2 litres of salted egg sauce
DEEP-FRIED SQUID WITH SALTED EGG YOLK
Eric Neo, 37, executive chef of the Intercontinental Singapore, says seafood has a natural sweetness which contrasts well with salted egg yolk. Deep-fried squid with salted egg yolk is one of the six salted egg dishes at the hotel's Chinese restaurant, Man Fu Yuan. It sells about 150 portions of the dish in a week. The restaurant has seen a 20 per cent increase in orders in the past year for salted egg dishes, including deep-fried lobster and the popular steamed salted egg custard bun.
300g squid, washed and sliced
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp white pepper
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp sugar
70g potato flour
1 litre vegetable oil
100g margarine at room temperature
4 salted duck egg yolks
2 bird's eye chilli, finely chopped
20g curry leaves
50g salted butter, cooled at room temperature
Green and purple shiso cress to garnish
1. Marinade squid slices with 1/4 tsp salt, 1/4 tsp white pepper, 1 tsp chopped garlic and 1 tsp sugar. Coat the marinated squid slices on both sides with flour and set aside.
2. Heat the oil in a wok at high heat for five minutes. To test if the oil is hot enough for frying, a pinch of flour should bubble when sprinkled in.
3. Turn off the fire and lower the flour-coated squid slices one by one into the wok evenly. Turn on the fire and fry the squid slices for about two minutes at high heat till they turn golden brown. Remove the fried squid slices from the wok and set aside.
4. Pour the remaining oil away and add margarine into the wok at low heat. Once the margarine has melted, turn the heat off and add salted duck egg yolks into the wok. Squash the eggs flat with the back of a spatula and chop it into smaller bits. Mix contents thoroughly.
5. Over low heat, add chopped chilli and curry leaves into the wok. Mix well. Add fried squid slices and butter into wok. Coat the slices with gravy thoroughly and stir-fry contents for about 20 seconds.
6. Dish the fried squid slices from the wok. Garnish with white pepper to taste, and green and purple shiso cress. Serve.
SALTED EGG AND CHAR SIEW MUFFIN
What: Called Ms Piggy, this large savoury muffin has flecks of salted egg yolk in the sweet and smoky barbecued pork filling.
Where: Pacific Marketplace, Pan Pacific Singapore, 5 Raffles Boulevard, lobby level; open: 7am to 10pm daily
Info: Call 6826-8240 or go to www.pacificmarketplace.com.sg
CRISPY LOTUS WITH SALTED EGG
What: Thin slices of deep-fried lotus root are coated with a piquant salted egg sauce, flavoured with curry leaves and chilli.
This is one of Wan He Lou's best-selling dishes, with about 500 portions sold each month.
Where: Wan He Lou, 01- 01, 65 Maude Road; open: 11am to 2.30pm, 5 to 11.30pm, daily
Price: From $11.90
Info: Call 6294-8057 or go to www.wanhelou.com
SALTED EGG COOKIES
What: With about 400 tubs sold over the Chinese New Year season, these savoury cookies by Flourish have proven to be so popular that baker Trixie Ong, 36, will be offering them permanently at her shop.
Where: Flourish, 122 Owen Road, 01-01, Suites@Owen; open by appointment only
Price: $20 for a jar of 50 to 60 cookies
Info: E-mail email@example.com a week in advance to order
SALTED EGG AIOLI
What: Owner Chung Deming, 33, found it expensive to order a zi char dish to satisfy his craving for salted egg yolk sauce. So he came up with a dip, which is produced in his modern Singaporean cafe, The Quarters. The aioli is a blend of mayonnaise, curry leaves, chilli and salted egg yolks. It goes well with fried finger food. The cafe also serves fries ($8.50) with the aioli. About 70 jars have been sold since January.
Where: The Quarters, 16 Enggor Street, Icon Village, 01-09; open: 8am to 10pm (weekday), 10am to 10pm (Saturday), 10am to 6pm (Sunday)
Price: $14 for a 200g jar
THE EGG COCKTAIL
What: Inspired by liu sha bao and a duck egg yolk liqueur from Sweden, Luke Whearty, 31, owner of Operation Dagger bar, came up with this concoction. It comprises a salted egg yolk cured for 24 hours in dark Venezuelan rum, sugar and vanilla. The drink is housed in a ceramic egg cup, which is then immersed in a glass container that contains smoked star anise and burnt hay. The Egg has become the bar's signature sip, with more than 900 sold each month.
Where: Operation Dagger, B1-07, 7 Ann Siang Hill; open: 6pm to midnight (Tuesday to Saturday), closed on Monday and Sunday