Chinese New Year dishes to cost more

Chinese New Year dishes to cost more

SINGAPORE - The home-cooked reunion dinner next Wednesday will cost more this year, as Chinese New Year favourites such as fish maw and dried scallops have become more expensive.

Prices of these items - and mandarin oranges - have gone up by 10 to 30 per cent compared with last year's prices, said retailers and wholesalers.

Reasons for the price hikes include a supply fall due to overfishing or less rainfall, higher demand from restaurants and a stronger US dollar.

Meanwhile, prices of white-bellied fish, traditionally eaten during Chinese New Year, may rise from about $30 per kg this week to $80 a kg next week, said Goh Thiam Chwee, vice-president of the Singapore Fish Merchants' General Association.

Some people believe that eating the fish while it is filled with roe will bring good luck. Spawning season, which usually lasts for a week each year, started on Tuesday, which means the supply of roe-filled white-bellied fish may drop by next week, pushing prices up, said Mr Goh.

But fans of abalone will have reason to cheer - the delicacy is 5 to 15 per cent cheaper compared with prices last year, thanks to the ongoing corruption crackdown in China as expensive banquets, which commonly feature abalone, fall out of favour.

At Sheng Siong supermarket, prices of its house brand canned abalone have fallen by 5 to 15 per cent.

Fish maw prices have been increasing every year because of falling supply from overfishing, said Chow Qiu Rong, 31, whose family owns Teck Yin Soon Chinese Medical Hall in Chinatown. At the shop, big-sized fish maw costs upwards of $80 per 100g. Last year, the starting price was $70 per 100g. Jeff Poon, who owns seafood wholesaler Yau Shing, said prices are also being driven up by high demand from restaurants, which are increasingly substituting shark's fin with the lower-cost fish maw.

Dried scallops, an ingredient usually used in pencai (a "treasure" pot filled with premium seafood), are 10 to 15 per cent more expensive than prices last year. At Victoria Wholesale Centre, retailer Guan Say sells 100g of dried scallops from Japan at $29. The price hike is due to higher demand in the region, said store-in-charge Richard Chua, 55.

Prices of other Chinese New Year favourites, such as sea cucumber and dried mushrooms, remain constant.

While consumers can save money by not having fish maw and dried scallops this Chinese New Year, mandarin oranges are a must in the celebration.

The fruit costs a few dollars more per carton this year because it is traded in the US dollar, which has appreciated against the Singapore dollar, said wholesalers. Last Friday, $1 can buy US$0.742, compared with US$0.789 a year ago.

Supermarket chain FairPrice said prices for fresh goods such as mandarin oranges have risen by 3 to 5 per cent. At Sheng Siong, they cost 10 to 20 per cent more.

Less rainfall in China has cut the fruit's harvest by 10 to 20 per cent, which also contributed to the price hike, said Tay Khiam Back, chairman of the Singapore Fruits and Vegetables Importers and Exporters Association.

Two popular mandarin orange varieties from China are the swatow, which has thicker skin, and the lukan, which is sweeter and juicier. At Bee Seng Fruit Supply, a carton of 20 lukan costs $16, compared with $14 last year. A 38-piece box of swatow costs $26, up from $23.

The price hikes, however, are not stopping some from splurging this year. Administrative officer Grace Tng, 42, who usually spends more than $500 on groceries for the reunion dinner, said she will buy the same quantity of food.

"My children love fish maw so I'll still buy, even though the price has increased. After all, reunion dinner takes place just once a year," she said.

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