Fried fish skin is no stranger to Asian cuisine. A staple Chiu Chow street food, it’s ideal for dipping into soups and congee. How this evolved to be eaten as a dish by itself mixed with salted egg yolk is a story for another day, but transforming this combination into a non-perishable, take-home packet has turned Singapore’s snack and souvenir scene on its head. Queues lasting for hours and sold-out signs everywhere have blindsided the food landscape and left us wondering, Are they really all that? We blind-tasted – with two Singaporeans on the panel – the biggest names in the fish-skin kerfuffle, plus the latest contender from Hong Kong, to see what all the fuss is about.
The Golden Duck Co
Price per packet: HK$50
One of the only brands of the coveted snack to make its way to our shores. Available from The Golden Duck Co’s outlets and select shops in Hong Kong (like 7-Eleven) and the Philippines, this brand is an easier one to get your hands on. Darker in colour and dusted in more seasoning, the first thing you taste when you bite down on the fish skin is the chilli, and it packs quite a punch. This quickly abates to the umami flavours of egg yolk and curry leaf and rounds off with exotic hints of coconut. Unfortunately, one of our Foodie tasters came upon a thick piece that wasn’t cooked through. For the uninitiated, it’s like when a few pieces of Kettle Chips are stuck together and join into a super-chip that feels like it’s going to break your jaw. But when it’s fish skin, it’s worse, because a thick, unflavoured piece just tastes like bad seafood. Our other tasters didn’t encounter the same problem, but this is like getting a stinky oyster in a dozen and it kind of spoils things.
Verdict: Strong, punchy and slightly exotic, but we had a bad few crisps in our bunch.
Foodie rating: ☆☆☆
Irvins Salted Egg
Price per packet: S$8
We had to jump a few hoops to get our hands on this one. Notorious for its long lines, five-packet-per-person quota and selling out within an hour or two, there are even scalpers reselling Irvins on the street corners of the CBD in Singapore. Boasting as the brand that started it all, we must say we were quite impressed. The first flavour to hit the palate is the depth of salted egg followed by a medley of curry leaf and spices. The fish skin is crisp, with a wafer-like texture and just a hint of briny saltiness where the aroma of curry leaf lingers. We can see why this brand has the hashtag #dangerouslyaddictive on its bag.
Verdict: A food-gasmic mix of moreish flavours, but this brand is frustratingly hard to purchase. Good news, though – an Irvins pop-up has recently opened at Harbour City in TST, with a more permanent shop hopefully in the pipeline. Get there early!
Foodie rating: ☆☆☆☆
Price per packet: HK$36
Hong Kong’s F&B giant behind the city’s biggest potato chip brand, Calbee, has just released its own version of the snack invasion from Singapore, and we must admit that our expectations were exceeded. Available at 7-Elevens around the city, this little bag of fish skin is easy on the wallet – we even spotted it on special for $28.50! Crunchy and light, Four Seas’ fish skin has an airy quality to it. The seasoning is noticeably lighter with this one, which lets the fishy flavours play a bigger role, and it actually increases the experience of umami. Salted egg and spices definitely aren’t as big a part of the flavour profile with Four Seas, but there is a slight creamy note on the back end, leaving a pleasant sensation on the tongue to finish.
Verdict: Four Seas is not a bad substitute given its price and availability.
Foodie rating: ☆☆☆
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