What was your dream career growing up?
For many born in the 1990s, it would have been “doctor”, “teacher” and “lawyer” – but now entrepreneurship has become one of the top career aspirations. It’s not a surprising result, as the prevalence of successful entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, Jack Ma, and our local “chief gamer” Min-Liang Tan have made entrepreneurship a very attractive career indeed.
Many have taken the leap of faith and gone into F&B, with themed artisan cafes selling popular brunch items like Eggs Benedict, French Toast alongside “artisan” coffee concoctions.
However, there are some taking the road less glamourous as they venture into hawker centres and coffeeshops. Their presence comes as a breath of fresh air to the local hawker scene, which has been facing an “increasingly […] dire future” due to the lack of ownership succession (children taking over their parents’ business). Furthermore, the trade is not fancied one due to its gruelling hours of physical labour without the typical office comforts.
The Singapore Workforce Development Agency (WDA) and the National Environment Agency (NEA) jointly launched the Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme to try to combat the problem but the programme met with not-so-encouraging results. Few remain still in operation with ex-apprentices citing that financial constraints and the capital needed to start up being a barrier that couldn’t be overcome.
While the future of the programme and our hawker culture are still hard to determine, we decided to compile a list of young hawkerpreneurs currently doing their bit to make a difference:
1. Crab Meat Wanton Mee
[Update: Restaurant is now permanently closed.]
Owner(s): Raymond, 28, who picked up his skills from Youtube videos.
Speciality: Crab meat-filled wantons with meat sourced fresh and daily from Jurong Port
Address: 560 Macpherson Road, Singapore 368233
2. Coffee Break
Owner(s): A trio of siblings who are the 3rd generation running the store (started in 1935 as San Hai Yuan at East Reclamation Road); Jack Sai, 32, and twins Faye and Anna, 29
Speciality: Traditional sock-brewed coffee and toasted kaya toast with a modern twist, for example, Black Sesame Toast and Iced Caramel Latte
Address: Amoy Street Food Centre, 7 Maxwell Road #02-78, Singapore 069111
3. Tom’s Citizoom Mee Pok Tar
Owner(s): Tom, 31, who already has 7 years of hawker experience under his belt
Speciality: Fish Chor Mee, a play on the usual Bak Chor Mee which is usually served with pork
Address: Blk 20, Ghim Moh Road #01-11
4. Truly Curry Rice
Owner(s): Ex-Forex traders Joel and Deniece, both under 30, and Joshua, Joel’s younger brother. They have since grown from their stall in Telok Blangah Food Centre to Truly Test Kitchen, a coffeeshop with stalls selling different items
Speciality: Hainanese curry rice with homecooked-style side dishes
5. Habib’s Rojak
Owner(s): Habib Mohamed, 28, a 2nd-generation hawker who took over the stall from his father, who opened the stall in 1988
Speciality: Indian-style rojak, which is painstakingly handmade by Habib from 3am each day
Address: Ayer Rajah Food Centre, Block 503 West Coast Drive, Stall 68
6. Lim Soup “The Art Of Soup”
Owner(s): Chong Chee Siang, 30 and ex-banker Eric Lim, 42
Speciality: Old Coconut Chicken Soup. Their soups are prided to contain no MSG or pre-made stocks of any kind
Address: Dong Fong Fatt Coffeeshop, 161 Bukit Merah Central, Singapore 150161
7. Jin Ji Braised Duck
Owner(s): Melvin, a 2nd-generation hawker who took over the business from his father who had been running the stall for over 30 years
Speciality: Duck Rice packed into a bento box, with Japanese Ramen-style runny yolk eggs
Address: Chinatown Complex, Blk 335 Smith Street #02-156, Singapore 050335
8. 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles
Owner(s): Li Ruifang, the 3rd-generation owner who worked in an MNC before taking over the business which started in the 1950s
Speciality: Prawn Mee in soup and dry variations, which Ruifang starts preparation for from 3am
Address: Tekka Food Centre, 665 Buffalo Road, #01-326, Singapore 210665
9. L32 Geylang Handmade Noodles
Owner(s): Ben and Shirley, a couple in their 30s who took over the stall over 10 years ago from the previous owner, fuelled by Shirley’s love for the noodle dish
Speciality: Ban Mian with an emphasis on the pork used and ikan bilis for the soup base (cooked over 10 hours) and garnish
Address: 558 Geylang Lorong 32, Singapore 389509
10. Xiao Di Fried Hokkien Mee
Owner(s): Terence Chee, 26, who had over 8 years of experience working at different stalls before venturing out on his own
Speciality: Fried Hokkien Mee. He uses prawns from Thailand, ensures the soup stock is cooked for a minimum of 3 hours and chooses to fry only 6 servings per wok
Address: Blk 153, Serangoon North Ave 1, Singapore 550153
11. Heaven’s Indian Curry
Speciality: Freshly-made Putu Mayam and Princess Appam, which is a twist on the traditional Appam. It is topped with egg, cheese and butter
Address: The franchise currently has 4 outlets in Ghim Moh Food Centre, Jurong Point, NUH and Changi Airport
12. Penang Kia Prawn Mee
Owner(s): Julyn Teoh, 33 and her boyfriend Gerald Goh, 37, who used to be Singapore Airlines flight attendants. Julyn learnt her skills from her father who used to sell prawn noodles in Penang
Speciality: Penang-style prawn noodles, which soup stock took the couple over 3 months to perfect
Address: Blk 205d, Compassvale Lane #01-02, Singapore 544207
New Hope For Singapore’s Hawker Culture
These young people have followed their passion and chosen the path less travelled by their peers in a bid to preserve the recipes crafted by generations past.
We wish them all the best, and thank them for helping keep Singapore’s beloved hawker culture alive.
If you have any stalls run by young hawkerpreneurs that you’d like to recommend, let us know!
Feature Image Credit: misstamchiak.com, ieatishootipost.sg, makansutra.com, allaboutceil.com, danielfooddiary.com, hungrygowhere.com