Disappearing food trades in Singapore include the dairy man, ice ball seller and kachang puteh seller. With ageing hawkers slowly but surely retiring from the trade, I can’t help but worry that hawkers are at risk of being the next in line to disappear.
However, is the hawker culture really dying in Singapore? Here is a list of 10 hawker stalls run by passionate young Singaporeans that will make you more optimistic about the future of Singapore’s beloved hawker heritage.
1. Tom Loo From Tom’s City Zoom Mee Pok Tar
32-year-old Tom Loo went down this path nine years ago after leaving his engineering job. He seized the opportunity to learn the art of making fish balls and fishcakes from his army friend’s mother, and mastered the skill and opened Tom’s City Zoom Mee Pok Tar in a mere span of six months.
Tom acknowledges that the hawker culture is not what it used to be, for youngsters nowadays are less tolerant of physical toil. Most people may not want to be bent over a hot stove for over 12 hours while being sweaty and oily, but the satisfaction that he derives from his job keeps him going.
Tom is passionate about every bowl that he cooks, so the stall sees a regular flow of returning customers.
Tom’s City Zoom Mee Pok Tar: Ghim Moh Market and Food Centre, 20 Ghim Moh Rd, #01-11 | Opening Hours: (Daily) 6.00am – 1.00pm; Closed on Tuesdays | Tel: +65 9742 0865
2. Habib Mohamed From Habib’s Rojak
Although the Indian rojak stall is named after him, Habib Mohamed is actually a second-generation hawker. Having started peeling potatoes and helping out the stall at a tender age of five, Habib has always known that this was the career path for him.
His dedication towards being a hawker is evident as selling Indian rojak is the only job he ever had in his entire life, and would most probably be for as long as he can.
Habib continues to share the dish through his fresh, colourful and well-portioned creations of the 24 types of traditional Indian rojak and the special sauce that goes with it.
Habib’s Rojak: Ayer Rajah Food Centre, 503A West Coast Drive, #01-68, Singapore 121503 | Opening Hours: (Daily) 11.00am – 10.00pm | Tel: +65 6873 7010
3. Melvin Soh From Toast Hut
When Melvin Soh was 17 years old, he juggled with working at a local kaya toast chain and schooling at the Institute of Technical Education. Six years later, he opened his very own stall in Old Airport Road Food Centre.
Toast Hut sells traditional kaya (coconut jam) toast set that is paired with home-brewed traditional coffee and tea. He learnt how to make coffee from his father, and his coffee is a strong blend with rich flavours.
The 30-year-old’s toast sets are well-loved by many and he has been featured on local television shows such as《今天不开工》Star’s Day Off.
Toast Hut: Old Airport Rd Food Centre, 51 Old Airport Road, #01-52, Singapore 390051 | Opening Hours: (Daily) 6.00am – 3.00pm, Closed on Thursdays | Tel: +65 8125 7729 | Facebook
4. Douglas Ng From Fishball Story
Douglas Ng uses a fishball noodle recipe that has been passed down for generations in his family, which his Hakka grandmother obtained from a retired Teochew fishball noodle master.
Douglas believes that Fishball Story isn’t just a story but also about touching lives through authentic food that reminds you of the magic that your grandmother made in the kitchen at home. From the fishballs to sambal chilli, everything is homemade using the best ingredients.
Fishball Story (Timbre+): 73A Ayer Rajah Crescent, JTC LaunchPad @ one-north, #01-32, Singapore 139957 | Opening Hours: (Monday to Saturday) 8.00am – 6:00pm
5. Gwern Khoo & Ben Tham From A Noodle Story
36-year-old Gwern Khoo is a food lover who dreamt of creating a dish that he could call his own, instead of replicating other chef’s specialties in restaurants. After being inspired by his travels and furthering his research in sous vide char siew, he created the Singaporean-style ramen.
He met his business partner, 35-year-old Ben Tham, in SHATEC. The pair sees hawker centres as a melting pot of cultures that is perfect for bonding across racial lines. Gwern takes pride in our local hawker centres and thinks that they are worthy of being tourist attractions because they are so well-organised in Singapore.
6. Mohamad Afiq From Harummanis Junior
Owned by 27-year-old Mohamad Afiq, Harummanis Junior was named after his parents’ stall, where he was an apprentice for five years. The appendage “junior” is a constant reminder of his parents’ guidance and showcases Afiq’s humility.
He puts his heart into his craft, tasting everything he makes while following his mother’s recipes as closely as possible.
Afiq feels at home with the hawker culture and believes that he would be a fish out of water if he ever left the hawker trade. As a young hawker, Afiq finds it difficult to deal with customers’ critiques but he is gaining confidence with each passing day.
Harummanis Junior: 259 Bukit Panjang Ring Road, Singapore 671259 | Opening Hours (daily): 8.00am – 5.00pm; Closed on Thursdays | Facebook
7. Faye Sai & Jack Sai From Coffee Break
Faye Sai is a third-generation kopi barista. The family kopi stall was founded by her grandfather in 1935. Even after tasting all the best coffees around the globe and spending years brewing espresso coffee, Faye found herself gravitating towards making local kopi.
Jack Sai laments that having cheaper prices than coffeehouses like Starbucks means that some customers treat their craft with less respect and may change orders at the last minute.
Coffee Break may be a local brand but it certainly deserves credit for delivering orders swiftly despite the hectic pace at the stall especially during peak periods.
Coffee Break: Amoy Street Food Centre, 7 Maxwell Road, #02-78, Singapore 069111 | Opening Hours: Monday – Friday (7.30am – 2.30pm) | Tel: 81006218 | Facebook
8. Mohamed Dufail & Almalic Faisal From Sin Ming Roti Prata
Mohamed Dufail is a 32-year-old who gave up working as an engineer in a construction line because he does not want to waste over 40 years of hardship endured by his father and grandfather.
His brother, 35-year-old Almalic Faisal, confirmed that manpower is the greatest issue hawkers face. Sin Ming Roti Prata would have closed down if Dufail did not quit his job because the stall struggles with insufficient manpower.
Dufail confessed that he would be riddled with guilt if people reminisced about how there used to be a great roti prata stall around that no longer exists, hence his decision to take over the stall. He asserts that he is a hawker not out of obligation but because of his love for his father; if this doesn’t tug at your heart strings, I’m not sure what will.
Sin Ming Roti Prata: #01-51, Jin Fa Kopitiam, 24 Sin Ming Rd, Singapore 570024 | Opening Hours: (Monday to Sunday) 6.00am – 7.00pm | Tel: 6453 3893 | Facebook
9. Joel Tan, Joshua Khoo, Jeremy Bong From Taste Affair
Joel Tan, 34 years old, was working in United Overseas Bank. 33-year-old Joshua Khoo and 32-year-old Jeremy Bong were from Saveur, a restaurant that sold French food at affordable prices. They entered the hawker scene wanting to try out a new environment and founded the Taste Affair.
A stall that uses local and Japanese ingredients to create European cuisine, Joshua firmly believes that one shouldn’t have to spend over ten dollars to get a proper meal in Singapore.
Joshua is optimistic about the future of the hawker trade as people are constantly innovating and bidding higher for hawker stalls.
Taste Affair: 7 Maxwell Rd, Singapore 069111 | Opening Hours: (Mon to Fri) 7am – 9am, 11am – 2.30pm; (Sat) 11am – 2.30pm | Tel: +65 9139 5870 | Facebook
10. Li Ruifang From 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles
Ruifang is the current owner of 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles— a legacy left behind by her grandmother, who sold prawn noodles from a pushcart along Balestier Road in the 1920s.
After graduating from university, Ruifang worked in an multinational corporation for years and decided that sitting behind an office desk is not her cup of tea. Now, she rises before 2 am in the morning almost daily to prepare the prawn noodle stock. Ruifang has no complaints though, for her craft gives her fulfilment in life.
545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles: 665 Buffalo Rd, #01-326, Singapore 210665 | Opening Hours: (Sunday to Friday) 6.30am – 2.00pm; Closed on Wednesdays and Saturdays | Facebook
Hawkers are the quintessential hard workers. Young hawkers today are furthering the legacies left by the generations before them. They may have different reasons that inspired them to be in the hawker trade but the thread that connects them all is love — be it for their family members or for their food creations and their intentions to preserve this rich culture.
Share with us on what you think the future holds for Singapore’s hawker trade and how can Singaporeans show appreciation to our hawker heritage as we celebrate the nation’s 52nd Birthday, and stand a chance to be one of the lucky winners to walk away with NDP 2017 Preview Tickets.
*This article was brought to you in partnership with NDP 2017