Hunger for bak kwa still strong amid Covid-19 pandemic

The queue at Kim Peng Hiang, at 465 Changi Road, started at 9am on Tuesday, although the shop began taking orders only from 11.30am.
PHOTO: The New Paper

The Covid-19 pandemic is not stopping people from getting their bak kwa fix this Chinese New Year, with many also braving the recent wet weather to queue for their favourite barbecued meat.

A line of 50 people had already formed at Sang Hock Guan when The New Paper visited the shop in Ang Mo Kio Avenue 4 at 9.30am on Wednesday (Jan 13).

The first few customers had arrived at 6.30am, three hours ahead of the store's opening.

Those who wanted to make pre-orders could do so only on that particular day for collection from Jan 27 to Feb 5, as pre-orders for Chinese New Year takes place only on one day every year - the first day of the 12th month of the lunar year.

A 40-year-old customer, who works in marketing and wanted to be known only as Philip, joined the queue at 11am and was given the queue number 319.

He said: "I bought bak kwa for my kids (to eat now) because I think they cannot wait until Chinese New Year."

A customer of five years, who wanted to be known only as Gibs, 28, said: "There was a year when we bought leftover crumbs for Chinese New Year... that is how much we really love its (Sang Hock Guan) bak kwa."

Like Sang Hock Guan, Kim Peng Hiang is a bak kwa outlet with no online sales or delivery options.

At 9am on Tuesday, a line had already formed at the shop at 465 Changi Road even though it would accept orders only from 11.30am.

One customer, a 44-year-old engineer who wanted to be known only as Simon, told TNP he did not know that he could only place an order on the day and had to return the following day to collect his bak kwa.

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He said: "It would be better if the shop could take online orders because it is a bit of a hassle to queue up to order and make another trip to collect.

"But I am prepared to queue. I have previously queued for three hours for this bak kwa, it is worth it because I love the taste."

A Kim Peng Hiang spokesman said: "We are a traditional brand and are unable to pivot to online platforms like other brands."

For customers who still prefer to make their purchases in person, safe distancing measures are in place.

A spokesman for Kim Joo Guan, located at 257 South Bridge Road, said: "We allow only one walk-in customer at a time in shop premises.

"We also have a pre-order service to spread out customers from the usual walk-in purchase peak period."

While some find that queueing for bak kwa is a Chinese New Year tradition, others have gone online to satisfy their craving.

Said Ms Yee Choy Fang, 59: "I plan to order 3kg of bak kwa online as it is a waste of time to queue. Covid-19 will not go away soon so we must enjoy eating during Chinese New Year and keep the festive mood going."

Delivery

Kim Hua Guan, which was established in the 1960s and now has outlets in a few locations, started its e-commerce and delivery services this year to avoid crowding and any possible violation of safe distance rules.

Its spokesman said: "This year's orders have increased by 5 per cent to 8 per cent compared with previous years."

Kim Joo Guan has also seen an 80 per cent increase in online sales compared with previous years.

The Peng Guan brand is also experiencing an uptick in business, with its spokesman saying: "Sales have increased 15 per cent since last year, for both physical and online sales.

"Our online sales have sold out and delivery slots are fully booked."

For the latest updates on the coronavirus, visit here.

This article was first published in The New Paper. Permission required for reproduction.