SINGAPORE, July 18 — Even before McDonald’s Singapore sold its first salted egg yolk chicken burger on June 30, there was already a social media frenzy when news of the burger was announced the day before. This was closely followed by the opening of the second outlet of Fish & Chicks, a popular Western food stall in Ang Mo Kio known for its — what else — salted egg yolk fish and chips, at Cathay Cineleisure Orchard in the first week of July.
Needless to say, the second outlet has also seen brisk business. Let’s not forget too the salted egg yolk prata bom (yes, even prata) introduced by new cafe Big Street last month, which launched a wave of Snapchats and Boomerang shots of that oozy dish.
These recent offerings came like lava on the heels of salted egg yolk crisps, chicken wings, deep-fried fish skins, cookies and croissants. Judging by the response, it is clear the golden sauce is far from being passé.
For those who grew up in Singapore, the evolution of the salted egg yolk sauce has been more of a marathon than a sprint. We simply have to look at the crab dishes of our recent childhood to understand how the salted egg yolk sauce left its mark.
Salted egg yolk staples
It used to be that the di rigueur crab dish was either chilli or black pepper in the 1990s. That changed in the noughties: Millennials, like my brother, grew up instead with crabs coated in salted egg yolk sauce.
“I don’t remember at what age I first had salted egg yolk crab, but whenever I was asked to pick the sauce for the crab dish, it had to be salted egg yolk. Chilli crab was for my parents and older siblings,” recalled Kavan Asril, 24. Salted egg yolk crab since became our family’s seafood restaurant meal staple.
“Salted egg yolk sauce is better than the chilli and black pepper sauces because the taste does not get jelak (cloying),” explained student Orville Tan, 22.
“Salted egg yolk sauce is sweet and salty, and very satisfying because I can have the best of both worlds. It is also not too fluid nor too solid, making it the perfect consistency for a sauce.”
Howard Lo, 39, founder of Tanuki Raw, The World is Flat by Tanuki Raw, Shinkansen and Standing Sushi Bar, agreed: “The blend of salty punchiness with the sweetness to temper it is delicious.”
He added, “I think salted egg yolk items are popular because it looks visually appealing with its luscious creamy texture. It screams that it’s going to ooze flavour, and it’s also a sign of indulgence.”
And salted egg yolk anything has become an increasingly relatively affordable indulgence, it seems.
In comparison to the crab dishes which could cost upwards of S$68 (about RM200) per kg, salted egg yolk dishes can now be had for less than S$10: McDonald’s salted egg yolk chicken burger is priced at S$5.75, Mouth Restaurant’s liu sha bao goes at three for S$5.80, Antoinette’s salted egg yolk croissant at S$6.50, and Irvin’s sells a jar of salted egg yolk sauce for S$8, to name a few.
The accessibility of salted egg yolk sauce has created more demand. To keep up, restaurants that don’t typically serve salted egg yolk items have begun to serve them, too.
Case in point: The Golden Arches. McDonald’s declined to comment on its move, but Lo’s reason for menu expansion was clear: “We currently serve a variety of salted egg yolk items including Golden Wham! Fries (sweet potato fries with salted duck egg), salted duck egg char siew sliders, Golden Kani Maki (softshell crab, snow crab, with salted duck egg hollandaise), and salted duck egg char siew donburi at Tanuki Raw. At The World is Flat by Tanuki Raw, we serve a salted egg fried chicken sandwich.”
While he believes that “we won’t need to have so many salted egg yolk items on our menu eventually, overall, the salted egg yolk is here to stay.”
The co-founder of The Golden Duck salted egg yolk potato chips, Jonathan Shen, 27, believes the salted egg yolk buzz is “similar to the bubble tea trend that hit Singapore a decade ago. I think the salted egg yolk buzz will average itself out over the course of the coming year.
“When that happens, only the best players will be left.” By ‘best’ he meant those offering premium products: “Consumers have a lot of choice now, but I believe that given how picky Singaporeans are, they’ll gravitate back to the premium salted egg yolk offerings eventually.”
Powdered or yolks?
That said, are consumers actually able to the tell the difference between salted egg yolk sauce that was made from scratch, and those made from powder?
Lo thought so: “Diners can tell the difference because the real sauce has a grainy texture, and is not totally smooth. Whether the diner cares about the difference in texture versus taste — which is generally improved by adding lots of butter — I’m not sure.”
At Lo’s establishments, the salted egg sauce is made with real salted eggs, not the powdered form. He revealed that a lot of salted egg yolk is used to make its sauce, but from the feedback, what diners seem to want more of is salt and butter.
Masraihan Sulaiman, 42, co-founder of Yolky Chips, thought otherwise: “I don’t think people can tell the difference between real and powdered salted egg yolks, because I can’t tell the difference. Besides, the powdered stuff is the real thing, just dehydrated.” Sulaiman did not reveal if Yolky Chips is using real or powdered salted egg yolks.
Demand and supply
Demand has been good for Yolky Chips so far. The hand-cooked salted egg yolk-coated potato and tapioca chips dusted with flecks of curry leaves were first sold in May this year. In merely eight weeks, the Facebook-run business has amassed many repeat customers, and now sells an average of about 10 packets a day at S$13 each.
Perhaps, as Lo pointed out, it really boils down to the salt content: “I’ve tasted the other brands, and our potato chips are more savoury than the others. I think that’s why the people like our chips and keep coming back for more,” Sulaiman reasoned. The appetite for salt is, after all, an ancient instinct that goes through the same nerve cells and connections in the brain as addictive drugs.
As demand continues to pick up, suppliers are fanning out. The Golden Duck’s chips can now be bought at six locations across Singapore. Brands such as Knorr are also making salted egg yolk dishes easier to prepare with its Golden Salted Egg Powder. This trend involving the salt-preserved egg yolk is unlikely to end anytime soon. Instead, it needs no egging on to becoming a classic. — TODAY