545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles – Young Hawker Gave Up Corporate to Craft Insanely Delicious Prawn Noodles
Old school. This is what 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles is all about.
You would have expected an older generation to be cooking at the stall. But 35-year-old Li Ruifang is the one behind the kitchen. She was a finance graduate but decided to quit work as a settlement officer in an MNC to become a hawker. “It’s my father’s stall and he had been at it for 40 years. But he is getting old and I want to continue the legacy.”
The roots of the prawn noodles in Ruifang’s family go far back into the 1950s when her grandfather started selling it along the streets of Whampoa before it was even named so. When Whampoa Market was built in 1973, Ruifang’s Dad took a stall, and has been selling prawn noodles since then. The current stall at Whampoa Market is run by Ruifang’s aunt. With the guidance of her dad, Ruifang decided to be a hawker, bringing bowls of tradition and history to Tekka Food Centre.
Every morning, Ruifang and her parents would reach the stall by 3am to prepare the ingredients. First, they have to peel and boil a mountain of prawns before adding the pork bones to give it the richness. Using a recipe that spans across 3 generations, their stock is a little darker but sweeter as she only uses sea-caught prawns called sua lor and ang kar.
What you get is that old school prawn noodle that has got that familiar taste from grandmother’s time. I wasn’t old enough to experience police-wear-shorts period but their prawn noodles hit the comfort spot with its flavourful broth. Just give us a delicious bowl of piping hot prawn noodles and it will make us slurp non-stop.
Their dry rendition is just as popular, if not more so. The sambal that was tossed with the noodles was awesome – a nice balance of spicy, savoury and dried seafood accents. With a spoonful of ketchup added in, toss the noodles well and make sure every strand is coated with the sauce. Half slices of prawns and thin slivers of lean pork are served together with a spoonful of fried shallot to complete the dish.
The relationship that Ruifang has with prawn noodles is the reason why she decided to get into the trade. But it has not always been a smooth journey. For a start, Ruifang has no prior kitchen experience, even though she was helping at her father’s stall since young. But she picked up the ropes within a few months. She has been running this stall with the help of her parents since 2014.
I do not want her family’s prawn noodle recipe to end.
Despite having to work long hours, Ruifang did not intend to give up. “Surprisingly, I can wake up early in the morning because I know many people are waiting to enjoy our prawn noodles.” That’s the motivation for her and I could see why she had customers who had to have this every day.
It’s an honour meet young hawkers like Ruifang who are spearheading a new wave of hawker culture. While Singaporeans’ love for hawker food still burns as passionately today as it did decades ago, we need the new generation of hawkers to continue to preserve the heritage.
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