We take our food trends seriously in Singapore. If there’s a queue for something new, we’re joining it, and don’t care how long we have to wait. Some crazes are a flash in the pan (hello, OTT milkshake); others just won’t quit. And in this city, the salted egg obsession is strong.
The salted egg, of course, is nothing new – for centuries, the Chinese have been preserving duck eggs by brining them in a salt solution. Classic congee without salted egg is almost unthinkable. Zi Char food stalls use salted egg sauce as the perfect foil for fried pork and squid. Liu sha bao – fluffy steamed buns with an explosion of salted egg custard – is a dim sum favourite. And don’t get us started on the mooncakes.
But how did it end up in everything from croissants to cocktails? It all started in Hong Kong back in 2014, when Urban Bakery injected new life into the nostalgic ingredient – by injecting it into a French pastry. The result, Molten Egg Yolk croissants, were an instant hit. Flavour Flings cafe in Singapore’s suburban Hougang was the first to bring the trend to locals, and legend has it their croissants, priced at $7.50 a pop, (hefty even by Singapore standards) would sell out each morning within 30 minutes.
But Singaporeans like to take things up a notch. Cut to the end of 2016 and hipster food stalls serve fried chicken sliders doused in salted egg sauce at every festival, and you can even grab a pizza slathered in salted egg mayo.
What’s the appeal? It’s all about the savoury-sweet umami element that salted egg brings to the table. Salted duck egg yolks are a rich orange, and, when cooked well, have a balance of creaminess, oiliness and an unmistakable grainy texture that fans crave.
A special appreciation is reserved for the lava-like consistency of salted egg sauce. It’s all about the ooze. Used as a filling in a crisp croissant, pillowy dumpling or donut, the custard should flow smoothly from the first bite. It should melt in your mouth, have a high comfort-food factor, and make you completely disregard the fact you’re making a huge mess.
Salted egg should leave you damn satisfied. Because, frankly, it’s rich. And let’s not go into details, but nutritionists have warned about overindulging in the stuff. Here are some of Singapore’s salted egg highlights. Choose wisely…
The croissant: Flavour Flings may have been the first of many, but the famed French patisserie, Antoinette in the Mandarin Gallery, is the unanimous winner for its perfect croissant and balanced sweet-savoury custard.
The brunch: Visiting the Singapore Art Museum? 7Kickstart cafe serves a massive salted egg French toast; ask them to hold the condensed milk unless you have an incredibly sweet tooth. Or head to Drury Lane cafe on Tanjong Pagar Rd for the special eggs benedict: fat prawns and poached eggs on a steamed bun with liu sha sauce instead of hollandaise.
The ice-cream: Tom’s Palette in Shaw Towers was whipping up salted egg ice cream long before it was trending. This salty-sweet treat has staying power.
The fried stuff: Salted egg elevates anything that’s been fried to a crisp, but SPRMRKT in McCallum St has nailed the now ubiquitous salted egg fried chicken. No gooey sauce here though: expect a super rich crust, and fried curry leaves for extra crunch. Just want to dip your toes into the craze? Go for fries with salted egg sauce on the side, which you’ll find all over town.
The sweet stuff: Liu sha is having a moment in the cake scene, and one interesting take is the salted egg earl grey cake served at Dapper Coffee on 73 Amoy St. It’s also making cameos in Christmas bakes, and was last spotted in a festive log with chicken floss. Questionable. And it was just a matter of time before Singapore’s waffle craze collided with salted egg mania: yes, charcoal waffles with salted egg sauce is a thing here. Try it at Fatcat (Blk 416 Bedok North Avenue).
The crab: Locals in the know go to No Name Seafood on 414 Geylang Road, but if you really want to eat like an insider, skip the chilli crab and go for the salted egg version. The sauce is next-level indulgent – you’ll need extra mantou buns for soaking it up.
The cocktail: Reward yourself for finding secret bar Operation Dagger by sinking into its signature cocktail, ‘The Egg’. Salted egg yolk is cured in rum, and served with smoked star anise and hay, which all but takes over the drink. But if you’ve been overindulging in liu sha, this may very well be a good thing. (Operation Dagger is on 7 Ann Siang Hill; ask at the pub if you get lost.)
The quick and easy stir-fry: Get the recipe for this delicious savoury dish hailing from China combining bitter melon and salted egg yolk.