Crocodiles invade Singapore dining tables
By Jan Lund Jan 12, 2012, 4:05 GMT
Singapore - You don't really want to see a crocodile in your kitchen - unless of course you are a fine dining chef or housewife preparing a delicious dish in Singapore.
Crocodile meat is becoming a common sight at dinner tables, most of it coming from Long Kuan Hung Crocodile Farm, where manager Robin Lee has been doing brisk business of late.
Monthly sales have risen from 1.5 tons in 2010 to 2.5 tons last year, and the customer base has grown from 100 to 300.
The trend has hit the retail sector at street level as well as in high-end restaurants. Sales at the country's largest supermarket chain also grew tenfold in 2011.
One reason may be the marketing persistence of Lee's team.
'Before, people did not know where the animal came from, if it was from the wild or from farms. They also did not know the taste or how to prepare it,' said the 36-year-old who runs the family business that has been operating for more than four decades.
'So we have been out in the supermarkets making demonstrations, teaching consumers how to cook and handing out samples for tasting. Today many people are also becoming aware of croc meat as a health benefit, especially against asthma.'
Even some lower-end hawker stalls now include it on their menus.
In the Lavender Food Square, business is brisk at a stall serving crocodile soup.
'We have been selling crocodile for 10-15 years but it has really become popular lately,' says the busy cook behind the counter.
He dishes up about 60 servings a day, prepared with his special blend of herbs that cool the body, according to traditional Chinese medicine.
'Crocodile is good for asthma. But basically I think sales are picking up because people are becoming more adventurous and dare to try something new,' he says.
The price is 10 Singapore dollars (7 US dollars) per bowl, a bit expensive in a low-cost food centre where dishes of noodles or chicken rice can be had for a third of that.
Crocodile is not a traditional staple in Singaporean kitchens, but the fad is moving up the food chain at a time when political winds are blowing against traditional Chinese meals of shark fin and dogs.
Pressure to stop the wholesale slaughter of sharks for their fins has caused the three large supermarket chains to announce that they will phase out the product from their freezers.
Crocodile meat is coming into fashion as an exotic option in posh restaurants as well.
At the gourmet Summer Palace in the Regent Hotel, a waitress confirms that croc stew is a popular choice.
'You can choose between spicy or not so spicy, depending if you like Cantonese style or not,' she explains.
Apart from soups and stews, the meat is also barbecued or wok-fried at some venues.
The meat tastes like a cross between chicken and fish - perhaps cod or squid or scallop. Its tenderness depends on the preparation, and is enhanced by garnish and spices.
Its new popularity is also connected to the belief in traditional Chinese medicine that crocodile meat boosts the immune system and prevents respiratory problems.
In modern Singapore, age-old fears of croc eating man may be giving way to man eating croc.