Singaporebrides | Fine Dining

March 2011

Saving Sharks, Saving Face

Shark’s Fin Soup has always been a popular dish served at special occasions such as Chinese weddings and lavish banquets. As we become more concerned and passionate about wildlife conservation, are couples now able to exclude the ubiquitous Shark’s Fin Soup from their wedding banquets, and get away with it?

In a poll done by Yahoo! Hong Kong late last year, where 1,500 Hong Kong citizens shared their views about what interesting aspects they would introduce to their weddings, 65 per cent of respondents would choose to remove Shark’s Fin Soup from the wedding dinner menu. 76 per cent of the younger respondents (19 years and below) said they would not even consider including the dish in their wedding menu. With Hong Kong traditionally being one of the largest markets for shark’s fin, the results of the poll are proving to be rather comforting for shark conservationists.

Shark’s Fin Soup is one of the “Big Four″ dishes usually served at a traditional banquet dinner. Together with the other three, namely the abalone, sea cucumber, and fish maw, they symbolise wealth, prosperity and a demonstration of the Asian concept of mian zi (面子), or face. Traditionally, the groom’s family pays for the wedding, and there’s an expression that says “if there is no Shark’s Fin Soup at the wedding banquet, the bride is marrying into a poor family”. More often than not, it is seen as distasteful to not serve one’s guests Shark’s Fin Soup.

Shark’s fin, like many other expensive East Asian delicacies such as bird’s nest, actually has very little flavour on its own; it absorbs flavours from other tastier soup ingredients. So, quite simply, its appeal lies not in its taste but in its hefty price tag and perceived “rarity”, as with many other luxury goods.

In some Chinese restaurants, a substantial amount of the meal cost comes from their version of the Shark’s Fin Soup. However, this has not deterred some couples from serving it up at their wedding banquets, often under strict orders from their parents, who had served the dish at their own weddings many decades before.

When celebrity lovebirds Melody Chen and Randall Tan tied the knot, they knew exactly what they were getting themselves into. “Years ago, we had both made personal vows as individuals to not add on to the pain and suffering of sharks that have been killed for their fins,” said Melody. “We celebrated our wedding at The Shangri-La Hotel, and they didn’t insist or argue with us on our choice of not serving Shark’s Fin Soup. We loved the soup they served at our dinner!”

Randall and Melody on their wedding day

When asked if there was any resistance about their menu choice from her parents or in-laws, Melody chirped, “Thankfully, we both have very supportive and understanding Chinese-Thai and Peranakan parents. They knew it was our special day and that we should celebrate it however we wanted to. We felt that as long as the food served was exceptional and the venue provided a relaxed and romantic ambience, it would be a joyous occasion. And it certainly was!”

Many other restaurants and hotels have jumped on the bandwagon and to the environmentally-conscious couple’s rescue. They have created many original dishes that are just as luxurious, using expensive ingredients that cater to the requirements of the couple and yet pleases family members of the older generation.

Eight Treasures Soup from Traders Hotel Singapore

Traders Hotel Singapore serves Eight Treasure Soup, with ingredients that include fish maw, fish belly, conpoy, crabmeat, bamboo pith, dried mushroom, golden mushroom and black fungus.

Kelly Tan, Director of Communications at Mandarin Oriental, Singapore says, “Our wedding couples do have a choice of soup from the menu created by our Chinese Banquet Chef Lee Cheok Kwang. The Braised Lobster Soup with Four Treasures, and Double-Boiled Superior Soup with Black Truffle do not contain any Shark’s Fin but are equally packed with premium ingredients, befitting the celebration.”

Braised Superior Bird’s Nest with Lobster and Gold Leaf from The Regent Singapore

Rainer Tenius, General Manager of Swissôtel Merchant Court also has this to say: ”It is not our prerogative to defy traditions. Yet, at Swissôtel Merchant Court, we assume responsibility to support environmental sustainability. Although Shark’s Fin Soup will still be served upon request, we are pleased to offer wedding couples other soup options that are equally high in value and perception. Our Executive Chef and his team have created two signature dishes in the likes of Premium Abalone Soup with Sea Treasures, and Rock Lobster & Golden Pumpkin Soup.”

The happy result of having hotels and restaurants support the shark conservation efforts is that couples now have more choices when it comes to dinner menu planning. Whether or not this is a cause you support, the other scrumptious soups are worth checking out because they definitely do not pale in comparison in terms of quality, taste, and value. With ingredients such as lobster, truffle and abalone, surely the old folks would approve!