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Food

Hakka HamCha & Yong Tou Fu: How One Couple’s Love Made Them Switch Their Office Jobs To Thunder Tea Hawkers

Last Updated: December 24, 2019

Written by Lee Wei Yang

Thunder tea rice is one of my go-to meals whenever I feel like I need to go on a diet. Healthy, economical yet filling, it never fails to satisfy my belly.

That said, thunder tea rice, or lei cha fan in Mandarin, is a rather traditional Hakka dish. It’s not very easy to come by stalls selling good thunder tea rice in Singapore.

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So when I heard that a young couple was serving up thunder tea rice in Chinatown Complex Food Centre, I was intrigued. The food detective in me awakened and I headed down to find out more.

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Hakka Hamcha & Yong Tou Fu is merely one of the many stalls in the largest hawker centre in Singapore.

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Run by 35-year-old Michelle Yee and her husband, 39-year-old Alan Kok, the stall only begun operations in 2018. Yet, they’ve already made a name for themselves, with a Promising New Hawker Award from the National Environmental Agency (NEA).

The Couple With Zero F&B Experience

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You’d probably think that they’ve been in the F&B industry for a long time now, but that’s not the case. In fact, both Michelle and Alan had never been in the food industry for all their lives prior.

Originally from Pahang, Malaysia, Michelle herself was an accountant by trade. Her husband, meanwhile, from Tampin, Malaysia, was an engineer.

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The couple had been working in Singapore for a handful of years, but Michelle wanted a more fulfiling job. In particular, she wished to spend more time with her husband.

Therefore, the couple decided to quit their jobs and start a business together. They contemplated becoming online traders or hawkers as those required relatively low capitals.

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In a twist of fate, Michelle chanced upon an NEA initiative for aspiring hawkers, the Incubation Stall Programme. They decided to seize the golden opportunity and took the leap of faith, and the rest was history.

Hakka Family Recipes

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As any new-generation hawker would know, things got off to a pretty rough start for Michelle and Alan. The long working hours and less-than-comfortable working environment were significant changes in their lives.

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The couple thus found it extremely difficult to adapt, but that’s not all. They also had zero experience in the food industry. Eating out most of the times, they rarely cooked, if ever.

Fortunately for them, though, they had invaluable help and guidance.

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Alan’s mother had a thunder tea rice recipe, whereas Michelle’s mother had a yong tau foo recipe. After much teaching and learning, they eventually mastered these Hakka family recipes.

Traditional Hakka Delights

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The Hakka Hamcha (S$4.50 with white rice/puffed rice, S$5 with brown rice) came with an impressive amount of ingredients. Just by one glance, we could instantly tell that it was value-for-money.

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There were a total of 10 ingredients in the bowl, according to Michelle. They chop up and prepare everything daily in the morning around 7am so that the ingredients are all fresh.

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Not only that, but Michelle also confessed that the preparation process is extremely tedious. They have to chop up all the vegetables very finely so as to release and enhance their flavours.

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That aside, it was also my first time encountering a puffed rice option.

Michelle explained that, traditionally, the Hakkas eat their thunder tea with puffed rice. Hence, we went for a mix of puffed and white rice as per her recommendation.

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For the thunder tea, Michelle uses a greater proportion of leaves and herbs than the other ingredients. This gives the tea soup a darker green hue, as well as a stronger bitter flavour, compared to versions elsewhere.

We could also tell that the tea was denser than what it usually would be. So if you prefer much stronger flavours, this is for you.

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That said, however, make sure you give the tea a good mix before devouring it. You wouldn’t want to have leftover residues once you finish it.

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Personally, I like to pour all my tea soup into my rice at one shot. This, according to Michelle, happens to be the traditional Hakka method of consumption.

Alternatively, if prefer your rice to be less soupy, you can mix the tea in scoop by scoop. It’s all a matter of personal preference!

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I’m a firm believer that, like curry rice, thunder tea rice is more delicious if it’s messy. You can bet I gave my one-bowl wonder a thorough mix.

As I expected, every bite oozed with strong herbaceous notes of the tea soup. Not only that, but there were also rich umami notes, I reckon from the dried shrimps, which balanced out everything.

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The medley of finely-cut vegetables worked their wonders too, with their different textures coming together in an all-rounded bite. There was a satisfying crunch in every mouthful.

To my surprise, the puffed rice made for a prominent textural addition as well. They had a slight chew to them which reminded me of my favourite Japanese pearl rice.

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Admittedly, this bowl of thunder tea rice is one of the more potent ones I’ve had. That said, because of the selection of fresh ingredients, it was actually rather palatable.

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The flavours of the different ingredients worked harmoniously together. Even my dining companion who was having thunder tea rice for the first time found it unique.

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Likewise, the Hakka Style Yong Tou Fu (S$0.80/pc, S$0.70/pc for seven or more) is as fresh as it gets.

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Alan and Michelle first marinate the pork and fish paste overnight.

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On the day of service, they fill up the various ingredients with the paste and deep-fry them.

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With that, you can expect your yong tau foo to be golden-brown and perfectly crispy when you get them.

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We also couldn’t help but notice how generous they are with the fillings.

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Every piece had a substantial amount of the pork and fish paste which we simply couldn’t get enough of.

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Of the wide variety of items, my favourite has got to be the beancurd skin. Like a sponge, it managed to soak up all the juices and flavour of the pork and fish paste.

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Biting into it released all the juices and flavours into our mouths.

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If you’re a spice lover, don’t forget to try their housemade chilli too. The chilli packed a fiery punch of heat which was a great complement to the ingredients.

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That said, if you can’t take spice, a little dab of that chilli definitely goes a long way.

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Should you prefer to have your yong tau foo with soup, not to worry. You can opt for soup upon ordering.

I appreciated that the soup had a light flavour compared to the various yong tau foo ingredients. It made for a good counterbalance, as well as a palate cleanser.

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Just a heads up, the Hakka Style Yong Tou Fu usually sells out quite fast. So if you’d like to have a taste of it, make sure you head down early!

Success Is Not Final, Failure Is Not Fatal

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Michelle professes that she has been very lucky on her hawker journey so far. She’s particularly grateful to her regular customers for giving her feedback, encouragement, as well as second chances to improve.

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Seeing that her customers appreciate and finish her food, Michelle says, gives her the ultimate satisfaction. It motivates her to continue to work hard and persevere, even when she’s ill.

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As it turns out, Michelle and Alan are the only ones running the stall; they handle everything from prepping, to cooking and to serving. Hence, they can’t open for business if either of them falls ill.

Nonetheless, with the many adversities they’ve already overcome, I’m confident they will push on and soar to greater heights. Not everyone can achieve such standards from scratch in such a short period of time, so they must be doing something right.

Expected Damage: S$4.50 – S$5 per pax

Price: $

Our Rating: 5 / 5

Hakka HamCha & Yong Tou Fu

335 Smith Street, Chinatown Complex Food Centre, #02-123, Singapore 050335

Price
Our Rating 5/5

Hakka HamCha & Yong Tou Fu

335 Smith Street, Chinatown Complex Food Centre, #02-123, Singapore 050335

Operating Hours: 11am - 7pm (Tue - Sun), Closed on Mon

Operating Hours: 11am - 7pm (Tue - Sun), Closed on Mon

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