Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice may stop selling dish after Malaysia starts ban on chicken exports

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice in Maxwell Food Centre gets its chicken entirely from Malaysia. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Well-known eatery Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice in Maxwell Food Centre will stop serving chicken dishes if it cannot get fresh chicken supplies.

The 36-year-old business gets its chicken entirely from Malaysia, which will ban exports from June 1.

If Tian Tian cannot find alternative suppliers, "we will bring back dishes like fried tofu, fried pork chop and prawn salad, but we will not use frozen chicken", said founder Foo Kui Lian, 73.

Malaysia announced on Monday (May 23) that it will halt the export of up to 3.6 million chickens a month, until domestic production and prices stabilise.

Tian Tian, which has two other branches in Clementi and Bedok, frequently features on lists tracking the best chicken rice outlets in Singapore. But with three outlets, a central kitchen and many staff, its overhead costs are high and Madam Foo said the ban will likely bring about a financial hit.

On Friday (May 27), patrons, wary about the ban's impact on their eating choices, flocked to Tian Tian during lunchtime, with queues extending beyond the perimeter of Maxwell Food Centre.

Mr Peter Low, 28, who works in the finance industry, said he has dined at Tian Tian for many years since his national service days. He said he would be disappointed if it stopped serving chicken rice, but added: "I'm sure that I will still be able to find good chicken rice elsewhere, even after the ban."

Ms Roopa Niedu, 22, an intern at an accounting firm who visits Tian Tian weekly, said: "The chicken rice is good and cheap, and I usually get a takeaway back to my office. I suppose I will have to look for alternative cheap meats."

Another customer, who wished to be known only as Mr Lim, is not perturbed by the Malaysian ban.

"Singaporeans are spoilt for choice here. Life will go on, we will find other things to eat," said Mr Lim, 50, who works in the finance industry.

But the owner of Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice, just two units away from Tian Tian, is apprehensive. Mr Wong Liang Tai said his stall requires 20 to 30 chickens daily, and he is still discussing with his supplier on the best alternative for Malaysian chicken.

"I will try using frozen chicken, but I'm not sure how good it will taste," Mr Wong, 63, said.

Fortunately, he has customers like Mr Ryan Lim, who said: "I can't tell the difference between frozen and fresh chicken anyway, so I will still continue to buy even if the stall uses frozen chicken."

Mr Lim, 22, an intern at a media company, is even willing to pay more if prices increase after the ban. A $1 or $2 hike would not sway him, he added.

Other chicken rice stall owners are also working with their suppliers to find solutions. 

Ms Grace Lau,  the third-generation owner of Ming Kee Chicken Rice in Bishan, said: “We came to an agreement with our supplier to import more chicken before the ban.”

Ms Sharonne Tan, chief operating officer of halal Chinese cuisine restaurant Tang Tea House, which has several outlets islandwide, said up to 10 per cent of its revenue comes from chicken rice. 

“We will continue to sell it for the time being, even if it requires us to use frozen chicken,” Ms Tan, 59, said.

Mr Wong Liang Tai, owner of Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice, serving a customer at Maxwell Food Centre on May 27, 2022. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

Mr Teo Jew Kit, founder and owner of Jew Kit Chicken Rice, was initially shocked when he heard the announcement, but is less worried now.

“I believe that Singapore’s poultry industry will have ways to manage this problem. These suppliers have a responsibility to us, and will be actively stockpiling fresh chicken, and if there isn’t enough, we will find other options,” he said.

He runs three outlets at Sembawang Shopping Centre, Killiney Road and Bukit Timah Shopping Centre. 

The general manager of Boon Chiang Hainanese Chicken Rice, Mr Ng Chung Han, 50, is confident he will not be let down by his supplier in Malaysia. 

“At first I was panicking, the news was sudden and I didn’t know if Malaysia would stop their supply to us,” he said. “Lucky for us, they called to tell us that they will continue.” 

After news of the ban surfaced, Mr Ng noticed a 20 per cent uptick in customers ordering larger portions of chicken rice and asking if the Lorong 1 Toa Payoh stall would close. It drew about 200 customers a day before the ban made headlines.

“I would tell them they don’t need to panic buy or be worried that we would close down because we will still be in operation even after June 1,” he said. 

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