On the 21st and 28th of September, The Line at Shangri-La Hotel Singapore presented a special rendition of Singapore’s Hawker Heritage as part of its buffet line up. Titled “Hawker Heritage – The Next Chapter”, the promotion featured nine young hawkers from six famous eateries who displayed to all guests the unique flavours of Singapore’s hawker food culture and highlight the new generation that is taking up the ladle. Singapore’s hawker culture is gaining attention for its declining trade, and potentially a loss in what is uniquely Singapore. The traditions and flavours from history gone past would have seen its sunset if not for the younger crew of hawkers that have decided to carry on a piece of that heritage. Therefore, to see the select gathering of young hawkers at The Line is one sign of a positive change. A night to remember, especially when you get to try in a single sitting Indian Rojak from Habib’s Rojak, Fish ball noodles from Ru Ji Kitchen, Bak Kut Teh from Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh, Hokkien Mee from Xiao Di Fried Prawn Noodle Stall, Popiah and Kueh Pie Tee from Kway Guan Huat, and Kaya Toast from Toast Hut.
The main floral arrangement at Shangri-La Hotel, Singapore
The Line was well prepared to snazz up the hawker environment for the night or at least attempt to bring in some elements of a hawker flavour. There were frothy creamy bandung and soymilk chinchow at the front, together with bundles of Kachang Puteh.
Melvin Soh is his own boss at Toast Hut at the Old Airport Road Food Centre. He serves kaya toast alongside traditional coffee, and has made his kaya with less sugar specially catering to the tastebuds of health conscious customers. He opened Toast Hut in 2007 and has learnt the tricks of the trade of coffee brewing from his father.
Block 51 #01-52 Old Airport Road Food Centre
Opens from 6.30am to 3pm daily (Closed Thursday)
I was particularly delighted with the serving of kaya toast served up. The Each portion of bread was freshly toasted over a charcoal grill, giving a good dose of smoky fragrance throughout. I specifically requested for more butter on mine and oh was it so good. The kaya was not too sweet though I am still more acquainted with the stronger robust pandan flavoured variant.
The team from Kway Guan Huat along Joo Chiat Road also presented their culinary expertise at The Line. Popularly known for their traditional home made popiah and kueh pie tees, the shop has a long history since 1938. Started by Mr. Quek Tren Wen then, it has since sustained till this day with Ms. Zita and Vicky Quek (2nd generation) to the younger third generation who help out from time to time.
Kway Guan Huat
95 Joo Chiat Road
Opens from 8am to 2pm daily
I first visited Kway Guan Huat back in the December of 2009, and I was very happy to see Zita again. My grandmother prefers Kway Guan Huat to the rest she’s tried, and it has been her favourite since she was a young girl. The most unique feature of this shop is that all its popiah skins are prepared fresh for the day. The Kueh Pie Tee was good, and always a favourite.
The popiahs were a winner for their generous stuffing and soft textures throughout. The queue at this stall was particularly long, but everyone waited patiently for their rolls of popiah.
Second-generation hawker, 25 year old Mr. Habib Mohamed is currently the boss of his own Indian Rojak Stall. Inheriting from his father the secret recipe for preparing the batter and sauce that goes with traditional Indian Rojak, Mr. Habib prepares each ingredient of coconut fritters, fried bean curd, potato, cuttlefish and vadai fresh daily.
Blk 503 West Coast Drive
Ayer Rajah Food Centre Stall 68
Opens from 11am to 10pm daily (Closed alternate Mondays)
Habib’s Indian Rojak
Ms. Joanne Ng and Mr. Daniel Lee are 2nd generation hawkers continuing the legacy from Mr. Ng Hock Loo who opened Ru Ji Kitchen 10 years ago. A long queue of loyal customers stand in line to wait for the stall’s fishball noodles and fish cake every morning. The work is divided with Daniel frying the giant fish cakes, while Joanne takes the orders. Joanne’s parents help out with the preparation of the fishball noodles.
Ru Ji Kitchen
Block 51 #01-37 Old Airport Road Food Centre
Opens from 7.30am to 1.30pm daily (Closed Mondays)
23 year old Terene Chee is the youngest of hawkers presented at the line up. After 4 years of learning from a master hawker and perfecting his skills at various well-known fried prawn noodle stalls, Terence started his own business in 2012. A savoury and thick prawn broth is used to cook the yellow noodles and rice noodles before the dish is prepared with bean sprouts, eggs, squids, prawns, pork belly strips, pork lard and chives. He is particular about the choice of his ingredients used, and I must add, he does serve up a delightful plate of Hokkien Mee.
Xiao Di Fried Prawn Noodle
Block 153 Serangoon North Ave 1
Guan Hock Tiong Eating House
Opens from 11am to 8pm daily (closed Mondays)
The Hokkien Mee receives a positive thumbs up from me. I especially loved the slightly wet base sticking to the noodles with each slurp. The flavours are robustly savoury with the fragrance of prawn stock well permeated throughout the dish. The pairing of homemade sambal chilli also hits the notch for a spicy and shockingly tasty pairing. My mouth is watering, and I’m keen to pay a visit to Terence’s stall.
Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh was started some 36 years ago by Mr. Lim Hai Chai. Now, the store and recipe is passed on to the son Mr. Lionel Lin with a new branch opened in Midview city. Mr. Lim then revolutionised the local bak kut teh scene by using loin rib (long gu) and stopped the practice of adding soya sauce to the broth. This brought out the flavours of pork rib, pepper and garlic to a levels of clarity for one to appreciate.
Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh
26 Sin Ming Lane
#01-114/117 Midview CityOpens from 7am to 9pm daily
Ever since I heard about the loin rib Bak Kut Teh, I’ve been wanting to pay Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh a visit. Now that I’ve tried it, I am satisfied and happy. The loin rib is large and possibly with no best way to enjoy it apart from using one’s own hands to pick the piece up. Throw in some fried you tiao for a contrast in flavour, dip the meat in some dark sauce with chilli, and enjoy the slightly peppery broth till the last sip. Pretty decent, though I yearn for a portion that would make me sweat while savouring the broth.
Of course, Shangri-la had to present Singaporean classics in addition to the extensive buffet spread along the way. Chilli crab, anyone?
I think these are Hainanese Pork Chops
Of course there is a dessert spread.
The Guest speaker last Saturday night was Mr. Daniel Wang, Singapore’s former Commissioner of Public Health/Director-General of Public Health. He shared with the media about the evolution of Singapore’s street hawker scene, and how the great clean up over the 80’s removed the hawkers from the streets into the hawker centres. Illuminating.
Mr. Sinma Da Show, co-author of the book “Not for sale – Singapore’s Remaining Street Food Vendors” also shared his experiences and thoughts of a diminishing hawker generation and trade. The book, supported by the National Heritage Board, is a collection of black and white portrait photographs featuring the beloved heritage hawkers a generation of Singaporeans have fondly grown up with. Over a span of 2 and a half years, 300 hawkers still in their family trade and craft were photographed to remember them for time immemorial. For those who could remember the past, the book definitely brings back a certain sense of nostalgia, empathy, and longing to retrieve back the past. Those younger, like me, could only wonder what was the past really like. It seemed so warm, homely and comforting.
Trishaw Uncle, Mum and Me
The next chapter of Singapore’s hawker heritage is highly dependant on whether a new generation of Singaporeans are willing to sweat and stand behind the wok. The 2nd and 3rd generation hawkers, featured during this promotion, are just a small representation of a batch that has decided to keep the trade alive. Singapore, widely known as a food paradise, would possibly be incomplete without the hawker scene. Singaporeans themselves, who articulate their identity and heritage with the local foods enjoyed since young, are increasingly finding a certain unfamiliarity from what it means to be local. A disappearing hawker trade is more than a phenomena of the pursuit of economics in comfortable offices and an air-conditioned environment. It is indicative of a societal worldview and the values treasured. How can this be changed? It probably comes at no easy measure. But the reality speaks for itself, and it will do good to start reconnecting with our local heritage and the hawker scene once more before they too become nothing but a distant past. Interesting thoughts stimulated from last Saturday’s dinner.
Thank you Shangri-La for the invitation.