January 20, 2009 / 8:31 AM / 10 years ago

Wax duck missing as crisis bites Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters Life!) - Wax duck, a delicacy enjoyed by many Malaysian Chinese at the Lunar New Year, will be missing from some tables this year as people cut back on traditional festive foods to weather a slowing economy.

A wax duck seller waits for customers at his stall in Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown January 20, 2009.REUTERS/Zainal Abd Halim

Eaten only during Lunar New Year, a major Chinese festival which falls on January 26-27, wax duck or lap ngap in Cantonese is made by preserving a flattened, deboned bird in salt, spices and fat. The “wax” in the name refers to the cycles of the moon.

Extremely salty and leathery in texture, the duck is cut into bite-size pieces, steamed and eaten with rice congee or porridge.

But as Malaysia heads for its first recession in eight years, despite government predictions that the export-oriented economy will grow 3 percent in 2009, Malaysians are feeling the bite of the global financial crisis.

Street hawkers in Kuala Lumpur’s Petaling Street in Chinatown say sales of wax duck, and other dried foodstuff such as waxed liver or pork sausages, have fallen by up to a quarter.

“Business is bad. It’s five days before Chinese New Year and we’ve sold 20 percent less duck than last year,” said Cheh Yoong Kong, who has been selling preserved meat at a corner stall for the past 28 years.

Years ago, several other hawkers would set up stalls selling wax duck during the Lunar New Year but this year, they have been conspicuously absent.

“I’m selling my ducks now at 38 ringgit ($11) each but if there’s still a lot left just before the New Year, I might have to sell at 20 ringgit each and make a loss,” said Cheh, whose ducks are sourced from Hong Kong.

Chinese shoppers are also buying less mandarin oranges, another traditional New Year food, according to a fruit trader who would only give his name as Wong.

“There is an obvious drop in sales but I’m hoping that it will pick up. Some people often leave it to the last minute,” he said.

Some shoppers have cut back on buying foodstuffs and decorative items in order to maintain the same amount of money given out in “red envelopes,” or hong baos, as last year.

In Chinese society, hong baos are typically given on the first day of the Lunar New Year by those who are married to those unmarried, regardless of age, for good luck.

Duck seller Cheh and other Malaysians said that despite the tough times, they won’t be reducing the amount of money put into these red envelopes this year as it is a matter of “saving face,” or preserving your reputation.

“That’s a very important gesture to a Chinese during Lunar New Year,” said insurance agent Thian Chong Sing.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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