Hawker Heritage – The Next Chapter, at The Line @ Shangri-La Hotel
The hawker food culture is closely associated with Singapore’s multi-ethnic history. Origins of hawker food date back to the days when early immigrants from China, India and the Malay Archipelago brought with them the cuisines from their homeland, which evolved over time to incorporate the local influence.
Early immigrants hawked these dishes on the streets as part of their livelihood. As Singapore developed, street hawkers were relocated to sanitised hawker centres built by the government to maintain a hygienic environment. These iconic traditional hawker dishes flourished as more hawker centres were set up over the years and eventually became an integral part of Singapore’s food culture.
Unfortunately, we are facing a indisputable fact that few people really want to be hawkers. It’s hot, dirty, and tiring. And we have heard many stories of hawker legends having to close down before there are no one to take over the business. While we had many sad stories, there are some heartening ones which we should give a shout out. That is, there are still a group of young hawkers who chose to preserve Singapore’s hawker heritage.
Shangri-La Hotel, has staged a unique promotion, “Hawker Heritage – The Next Chapter,” at The Line on 21 and 28 September 2013. Nine young hawkers from six famous eateries will present local hawker dishes at The Line for you to experience Singapore’s hawker food culture and highlight the new generation of hawkers.
Early Indian immigrants brought Indian rojak, a mix of deep-fried dough fritters, to Singapore from the Takala region. It was a common sight to see these items sold in pushcarts. Other ingredients were added in later years for greater variety.
Second-generation hawker, Mr. Habib Mohamed, who took over the family business, currently helms this Indian rojak stall started by his father (Mr. Gani) in 1988. Among Mr. Gani’s three children, 25-year-old Mr. Habib is the only child who followed his father’s footsteps in becoming an Indian rojak specialist, selling this hawker fare to his loyal customers.
His foray into the hawker line began with peeling potatoes when he was in kindergarten. Selling Indian rojak has been his first and only job after completing the National Service and G.C.E “N” level education. Carving a successful career and being his own boss as an Indian rojak hawker, Mr.Habib has been featured in local newspapers, blogs and has even appeared in the local Channel 5 television programme, “Makan Places.”
Mr. Habib’s Indian Rojak is a colourful platter of his top-selling coconut fritters, fried bean curd, potato, cuttlefish, fish cake and vadai, topped with onions, green chillies and cucumber that go perfectly with the delicious red Indian rojak sauce. The sauce, made with peanuts, chillies, pineapple and tamarind powder, combines sweetness, spiciness with a hint of sourness.
Mr. Habib learnt the culinary skills from his father and inherited the secret recipes for the batter used for 24 types of traditional Indian rojak items and the sauce that goes with it. Every item from his stall is freshly prepared daily. These include coconut fritters, fried bean curd, potato, cuttlefish, crispy prawn fritters, flour-battered egg, fish cake and vadai.
Address: Blk 503 West Coast Drive, Ayer Rajah Food Centre, Stall 68
Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily (closed on alternate Mondays)
Kway Guan Huat Joo Chiat Original Popiah & Kueh Pie Tie was founded in 1938 by Mr. Quek Tren Wen, who sailed to Singapore from Fujian, China. Since then, it has become an iconic shop house in Joo Chiat Road, attracting customers in search of traditional homemade popiah and kueh pie tees. The popiahs are made from scratch, starting with handmade paper-thin popiah skin using fresh dough cooked daily over a flat heated pan before adding the filling and wrapped. Seeing that it was a waste to discard the leftover dough daily, his Peranakan wife came up with the idea of using the dough for making their special bite-sized kueh pie tee cups.
Mr. Quek’s skills are inherited by his children. Five of them are now helming the shop as second-generation popiah and kueh pie tee experts. The men, Mr. Ker Cheng Lye, Mr Quek Chin Heng and Mr. Quek Kiat Siong, are skilful in the art of popiah skin making by tossing the dough continuously using their hands before dapping a portion on the hot pan to make sheets of popiah skin in one swift motion.
The women, Ms. Zita Quek and Ms. Vicky Quek, are experts in making the filling and other condiments for the popiah and kueh pie tee. The third generation has also mastered the art of popiah¬ making. Many of them are professionals in pharmaceuticals, information technology and accounting, but they help out on weekends or when the shop is busy. For instance, 37-year-old Michael Ker (the guy in the first photo), has been doing this for 20 years alongside his day job in the pharmaceutical industry.
The fame of Kway Guan Huat Joo Chiat Original Popiah & Kueh Pie Tie is best seen when throngs of customers queue up at the shop during weekends. Their rich history is well documented in local newspaper clippings and magazines that are proudly hung in the shop. They also cater to external popiah and kueh pie tee parties, as well as conduct demonstration classes for Singapore Tourism Board’s tour groups and corporate events.
Kway Guan Huat Joo Chiat Original Popiah & Kueh Pie Tie (since 1938)
Address: 95 Joo Chiat Road. Telephone: 6344 2875
Opening hours: 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily (closed on Mondays)
Do you know, the pork ribs soup dish with herbs introduced to Singapore by Chinese coolies and commonly eaten with rice as a breakfast dish to give them energy for a day of hard labour. Given Singapore’s status as a spice trade hub in the early days, the coolies collected spices, such as pepper and garlic, which were added to pork ribs soup and eaten with a pot of Chinese tea; hence, the name bak kut teh as commonly known now.
Mr. Lim Hai Chai started Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh (“榕城(新民路)肉骨茶”) 36 years ago. He is a carpenter who loves to eat bak kut teh (pork ribs soup) and drink Chinese tea. Driven by his love for bak kut teh, he learnt to cook the dish from a renowned master in Singapore and set up a permanent shop in Sin Ming Road more than 30 years ago.
Mr. Lionel Lim revolutionized the local bak kut teh scene 20 years ago by using loin rib (龙骨 in Mandarin) and not adding soya sauce to the broth. The clear broth brings out the natural taste of pork ribs, pepper and garlic, which would otherwise be overpowered by the soya sauce taste. He also kept the practice of having “gong fu” tea with bak kut the, which has been passed down from the time of the coolies in the early days of Singapore. Keeping with tradition is the secret to his shop’s success.
Following his father’s footsteps, 39-year-old Mr. Lim is the second-generation owner of Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh. Having graduated in Australia with a bachelor’s degree in Marketing, he worked in the corporate world for 10 years before deciding to open a new shop in Midview City in 2011. In this shop, he hopes to make his father’s bak kut teh brand name more prominent, while attracting younger customers to this traditional hawker dish and preserving the “gong fu” tea drinking culture to pass on to future generations.
Mr. Lim’s shop is the only bak kut teh establishment place in Singapore to offer floral tea, which caters to the palate of the younger generation. At his shop, they can also learn the hassle-free steps to the tea ritual guided by his staff. This floral tea is lighter and unlike traditional Chinese tea, which tends to be bitter. It emits a floral aroma, such as that from chrysanthemum, white flower and jasmine. Since the opening of his shop, Mr. Lim has been featured in local Chinese newspapers, blogs and the local Channel 5 television food programme called “Meat and Greed.”
Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh
Address: 26 Sin Ming Lane #01-114/117 Midview City
Opening hours: 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily
Telephone: 6684 1889
A specialist in handmade fish ball noodles and giant fish cakes, Ru Ji Kitchen (如记小厨) is a popular stall in Holland Drive set up 10 years ago by Mr. Ng Hock Loo, who is currently 60 years old. His daughter, Ms. Joanne Ng, and son-in-law, Mr. Daniel Lee (both 31 years old), decided to continue his legacy and fulfil their entrepreneurial quest of setting up their own stall at Old Airport Road Food Centre in May 2012.
Using his secret recipe under his supervision, Ms. Ng and Mr. Lee, took around two months to master Mr. Ng’s skills. This husband-and-wife duo, who graduated with degrees in biomedical sciences from the University of Bradford in Britain through the Management Development Institute of Singapore, recouped their initial start up cost of S$10,000 in two months.
They have been reaping great success, evident from a long snaking queue of customers yearning to savour the fish ball noodles and fish cakes every morning. Inspired by the brisk business at their stall, the couple will open another stall in Redhill soon and hope to expand by adding five or six more outlets.
Mr. Lee is in charge of frying giant fish cakes to golden brown perfection on the outside and keeping them juicy and succulent on the inside. Ms. Ng fronts the stall with taking orders and preparing fish ball noodles with the help of her parents. Their homemade chilli sauce adds a finishing touch to the dish. They were invited to participate in Singapore Day 2012 held in New York to serve their specialty to Singaporeans overseas. Over the years, Ru Ji kitchen has been featured extensively in local newspapers, radio programmes and blogs.
Ru Ji Kitchen
Address: Block 51 #01-37 Old Airport Road Food Centre
Opening hours: 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. daily (closed on Mondays)
Established by 29-year-old Melvin Soh, Toast Hut is the place for traditional kaya (coconut jam) toast set with coffee and tea any time of the day. Mr. Soh picked up his skills at a local kaya toast chain when he was 17 years old between classes at the Institute of Technical Education. After working there for three years, he opened his own stall in Old Airport Road Food Centre in 2007 at the tender age of 23, serving kaya toast paired with home-brewed traditional coffee, which he learnt from his father.
Aside from the signature items, he serves blended ice coffee to cater to his young customers and freshly made sandwiches using traditional kaya toast bread. In response to the health consciousness of Singaporeans, kaya used in Mr. Soh’s stall is specially created to make it less sweet and not cloying when served with coffee or tea.
His mother and two workers help him at the stall, which has a long queue every morning. He counts international hairstylist Addy Lee as a loyal customer who never fails to visit his stall when he is in town.
Address: Block 51 #01-52 Old Airport Road Food Centre
Opening hours: 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily (closed on Thursdays)
Master hawkers are willing to impart their skills to the younger generation who have the right attitude to learn. This is so for 23-year-old Terence Chee who learnt the art of fried prawn noodles from a master hawker in Serangoon Garden.
After four years of perfecting his skills at various well-known fried prawn noodles stalls, Mr. Chee eventually set up his own stall in May 2012 called Xiao Di Fried Prawn Noodle (小弟炒虾面). This secondary school dropout has carved his name as an up-and-coming hawker star who has been featured in local newspapers, magazines and blogs.
He inherited the true skills of a master hawker and his fried prawn noodles have a slightly gooey consistency. He uses prawn broth to cook the yellow noodles and rice noodles before frying them with bean sprouts, eggs, squids, prawns, pork belly strips, pork lard and chives. The homemade sambal chilli served with lime completes the dish. SERIOUSLY, THIS HOKKIEN MEE IS VERY GOOD!
Terence strongly believes that cooking with passion will make a difference to the final dish. Therefore, he is very particular about the preparation time and choosing the right ingredients such as using a particular type of prawn from Thailand.
Xiao Di Fried Prawn Noodle
Address: Blk 153, Serangoon North Avenue 1, Guan Hock Tiong Eating House
Opening hours: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily (closed on Mondays)
When all powers unite – you have the inaugural “Hawker Heritage – The Next Chapter” at The Line! On 28 Septemer 2013 (Saturday), all these 6 hawkers will gather at The Line @ Shangri-la Hotel. From Indian rojak, fishball noodles, bak kut teh to fried hokkien mee, popiah and kaya toast, these hawker food will add variety to restaurant’s 16 theatre kitchens. I am so happy that they are all at one place and I can eat to my heart’s content. This give us a chance to try all their hawker dishes a one go, and also give the hawkers recognition to be able to present their food in a hotel!
On top of that, there are other local favourites such as stingray, braised pork leg, chap chye, stir fried vegetables, braised pork belly etc. And there is even roasted suckling pig!
Other than that, you can enjoy a range of desserts or have old school ice cream bread. There are also signature hawker drinks, such as Milo Dinosaur, Teh Tarik, Kopi Tarik, Bandung and Grass Jelly with Soya Bean Milk which will be distributed in glass mugs or takeaway clear plastic bags akin to those found in local beverage stalls.
You can also revisit the good old days of kacang puteh sold from a pushcart. “Kacang” refers to nuts, beans or peas and “puteh” means white in Malay language. In the old days of Singapore, kacang puteh was commonly seen outside cinemas, schools or along the streets. The Line replicates the experience with its own blend of kacang puteh wrapped in paper cones.
ONLY FOR ONE DAY! “Hawker Heritage – The Next Chapter” is available during dinner buffet at The Line on 28 September 2013 only. Dinner buffet is from 6:00 to 10: 30 p.m., and is priced at $78 per adult and at $36 per child. Hurry book now!
The Line @ Shangri-La Hotel
Address: Shangri-La Hotel, 22 Orange Grove Road
Reservations Hotline: 6213 4398 (or e-mail [email protected])