IN time, our char koay teow and curry noodles will no longer be the same as we know it.
As the country’s cockle (or in Malay kerang) supply diminishes, it is a matter of time before the shellfish completely disappears from our favourite dishes.
Most hawkers and cockle lovers interviewed by MetroPerak are resigned to this fact, saying that there is nothing much that can be done.
Curry noodle seller Ng Poh Tick, 56, said should that day arrive, he would just have to substitute the cockles with other ingredients.
“It is actually not a big problem.
“As it is, most people refrain from eating cockles and because of this, I specifically ask each customer if they want cockles in their noodles,” said Ng, who has been selling curry noodles for 32 years.
Ng’s nephew, Ng Yon Ee, who sells char koay teow next to his stall at the Woolley Food City in Ipoh, said they have been getting their supply of cockles from Pantai Remis ever since there was a drop in yield in Kuala Sepetang.
“Not only are cockles from Pantai Remis more expensive, they are also very small because fishermen are in a hurry to harvest them to address the current shortage.
“I really have no idea when things will recover, that is if things actually go back to normal at all,” said Yon Ee, who with his uncle, is coincidentally from Kuala Sepetang.
The shortage of cockles does not bother grilled fish seller Wong Par Hong, who also sells cockles at his stall at Kafe Fooh Singh.
“If the supplier delivers them, then I sell them. If not, so be it.
“My customers are well aware of the shortage. They also understand that because of the current shortage, prices keep going up.
“At present, the price of cockles has gone up by 100% from about RM4 to RM8 per kg,” said Wong.
It was reported that thousands of cockles bred for human consumption are dying in Kuala Sepetang, which is home to the largest cockle breeding ground in the country.
Since March, cockle farmers in the coastal area located 16km from Taiping have been harvesting only 50kg in five hours, most of which were empty shells, whereas in the past they had been able to harvest at least two tonnes of live cockles within two hours.
Preliminary laboratory reports of water samples taken from the river at Kuala Sepetang by the Perak Fisheries Department have shown high levels of ammonia.
But while the tests are inconclusive, department director Dr Bah Piyan Tan has said it could be a possible that the high ammonia levels were causing the cockles to die.
Cockle lover T.Y. Yong, 42, who usually orders a double portion of the shellfish in her char koay teow and curry noodles, lamented that the two popular Malaysian hawker fare would never again taste the same.
“And when I go for lok lok, there will be one less variety to choose from, which is so sad.
“This is totally unexpected. Never did I imagine that we would one day run out of cockles but I guess there is nothing much we can do about it,” she said.
Retired bank employee John Loh, 58, would without fail, indulge in a minimum of four skewers of cockles at the lok lok stall during each pasar malam outing.
“Cockles are a rarity these days and if I find a curry noodle stall which has them, I would tell them to add more of it into my noodles.
“I love cockles but I guess it’s alright if we can’t get any more of it.
“For me, it is a case of out of sight, out of mind. I don’t crave for cockles if I don’t see them,” Loh shared.
Coffee shop owner Wong Mee Yoke, 61, is looking at the situation positively.
“I love cockles but have cut down on my consumption due to fear of contracting Hepatitis A.
“When I do eat them, I make sure they are well cooked. Cockles taste the best when semi-cooked but my health is more important. I guess in a way, less cockles means less chance of people contracting Hepatitis A,” she said.