Singapore’s hawker heritage has been under the spotlight, with many complaining of the decreasing standards of our local delicacies. In this photo essay, we take a peek into the lives of 8 different hawkers who also give us their thoughts on our hawker heritage.
1. Chang Cheng Hokkien Mee
237 Serangoon Avenue 3
With over 20 years of experience in the hawker business, Madam Lim Yong Chuang, 50, and Mr Goh Hock Soon, 52, have much to say about the decreasing standards of hawker fare. The husband-and-wife duo lament that the authentic taste of hokkien mee will not be preserved due to the laziness of present-day hawkers.
“Looking at the current state, I think the traditional method of cooking will die off after our generation,” Madam Lim shakes her head in resignation. “It’s very sad, what a pity.”
2. Xiang Zhiang Claypot Rice
498 Jurong West Ave 1
Mr Leung Kai Tung prides himself on dishing out traditional Hong Kong clay pot rice with a Singaporean twist. The 30-year-old credits the recipe to his father, Mr Leung Cheuk Yin, 63, who set up the business 12 years ago after relocating here from Hong Kong.
“It’s about changing it to suit the Singaporean palate. Singaporeans love black soya sauce,” he smiles. “Back in Hong Kong, chefs create their own sauces. The recipe is not so simple.”
3. Chong Pang Satay
105 Yishun Ring Road #01-176
Madam Phua Ai Neo started out as a roadside hawker when she was 13-years-old, and relocated to Chong Pang Food Center in 1984 as part of the government’s street hawkers resettlement programme. She recalls the strict hygiene standards that the government put in place, and in particular one occasion when National Environmental Agency (NEA) officers spotted a cockroach in her stall and fined her $400.
“Why would I keep a cockroach in my stall for NEA to catch?” She complains. “They cannot even exterminate all the cockroaches, how can I prevent one from scuttling in, right?”
4. Mei Fong Chicken Rice
726 Clementi West St 2 #01-181
Mdm Tan Toh Hway, 46, has been manning the stall for 5 years and recognizes her regular customers. These range from heartlanders who come with their families in tow, to formally-dressed businessmen that drop by after work for their $3 chicken rice fix.
“I think it’s impossible for hawker centres to die out, because they cater to the locals,” an unidentified worker at the stall (pictured here) remarks. “Maybe the original flavours will be lost but the price will always be a pulling factor.”
5. Soon Lee
500 Clemenceau Avenue North
A sheen of sweat coats Mr Chew Hock Thiam’s forehead as he barbeques chicken wings over the fiery flames. The 56-year-old hardly gets time to rest, as he is the only one on cooking shift for the night.
The owner of Soon Lee, Mr Choy Mun Kit, 31, explains that hiring workers is a difficulty as most Singaporeans “shun away” from such tiring jobs.
Mr Chew understands this as well. “It’s always the lack of manpower. It’s a tough job with irregular working hours, and most people cannot stand the heat from the stove,” he elaborates.
6. Ayza Restaurant
506 Jurong West St 52 #01-170
Mr Rahmuen, 30, inherited the family business selling Indian-Muslim cuisine from his father 2 years ago. Since then, he has been hard at work expanding the business.
“Before I took over, it was a small stall in a coffee shop. Now, it’s a coffee shop with seven stalls, and there is a branch each in Bukit Timah and Jurong West,” he says, with a tinge of pride colouring his tone.
7. Ah Siong Roast Duck
69 Bedok South Avenue 3 #01-468
After working at various roast duck stalls for 14 years and honing his craft, Mr Ding Chu Heong, 36, finally decided to venture out to run his own business four years ago. He insists that he does not feel bored despite working in the same industry for 18 years.
“I get job satisfaction when I manage to roast a duck well. It’s not as easy as it looks,” he grins. “That’s why I am still pleased every single time.”
105 Yishun Ring Road
Despite the lack of health benefits and off-days, Madam Tan Yan Hua, 48, persisted with running her rojak [traditional dish of fruits and vegetables] stall for close to 20 years. However, she is now exhausted, and is willing to let the business go after her brush with colon cancer 4 months ago.
“What’s the point in working so hard when you’re so tired everyday?” She sighs. “I want to retire soon, and play mahjong regularly with my friends.”