The Shangri-La Singapore is doing something quite remarkable this month - "Hawker Heritage: The Next Chapter" promotion. They've tracked down some of the most interesting young hawkers taking up the the challenge of this tiring trade. Nine hawkers from six establishments will present their dishes at The Line (photo above courtesy of Shangri-La) on 21 and 28 September 2013.
We are acutely aware that old hawker masters are passing on, and few youngsters are keen to take up or continue the trade. So it's encouraging to meet examples that inspire hope in the hawker future.
Daniel Wang, the former Commissioner of Public Health/Director of Public Health, will also talk at 6pm about the history of hawker centres in Singapore. He would know, because he was the one who made it happen.
Here's a quick introduction to the six eateries you'll see as part of the regular 16 live stations at The Line. The hotel took media on a whirlwind tour of all the places in one day. Great fun. I'm using my Instagram photos here.
Block 503, West Coast Drive,
Ayer Rajah Food Centre, Stall 68
Open 11am to 10pm daily (closed alternate Mondays)
Habib Mohamed is only 25. But he's doing pretty well as an Indian rojak boss, helming the stall that his father Mr Gani started in 1988. He had been helping at the stall, peeling potatoes when he was in kindergarten.
Since then, Habib has been learning the culinary secrets of the 24 types of traditional Indian rojak and the sauce that goes with it. Out of three children, he is the only one who decided to continue his father's trade.
KWAY GUAN HUAT
95 Joo Chiat Road
Open 7.30am to 1.30pm daily (closed Mondays)
This 1938 business is still going strong, with five of the second generation all skilled in the making of traditional popiah and kueh pie tee. Third generation Michael Ker (in photo here), 37, is a pharmacist by day, but can deftly swirl and dab the dough on the hot pan to make the popiah skin.
Truly, there's nothing like a good handmade popiah skin. It really isn't easy. I tried it myself, when Bob Blumer visited them! You need some real gongfu!
It was nice to see Zita Quek again, and this time her sister Vicky too.
RU JI KITCHEN
Block 51, #01-37, Old Airport Road Food Centre
Open 7.30am to 1.30pm (closed Mondays)
Mr Ng Hock Loo, now 60, set up Ru Ji in Holland Drive 10 years ago as a specialist in handmade fish ball noodles and giant fish cakes.
His daughter Joanne Ng and son-in-law Daniel Lee decided to continue the legacy at Old Airport Road in May 2012. The couple have degrees in biomedical sciences, but it looks like their efforts here are paying off well - they recouped their startup cost of S$10,000 in just two months.
Ru Ji Kitchen was also invited to participate in Singapore Day 2012 in New York. Mee pok tah! It's so Singapore. And their fish cake rocks!
Block 51, #01-52, Old Airport Road Food Centre
Open 6.30am to 3pm daily (closed Thursdays)
The shy but cheery owner of Toast Hut is 29-year-old Melvin Soh.
He started his own kaya toast stall six years ago after working
at a local kaya toast chain, in between classes at ITE.
His coffee is a special blend, stronger than others.
He learned that art of brewing traditional coffee from his father.
Melvin also makes his kaya less sweet for health reasons.
He also offers blended ice coffee and interestingly,
freshly made sandwiches to cater to the younger crowd.
He's got a long queue every morning, and loyal fans, even among celebrities.
Note: Melvin will only be present on 28 Sept.
XIAO DI FRIED PRAWN NOODLE
Block 153, Serangoon North Avenue 1,
Guan Hock Tiong Eating House
Open 11am to 8pm daily (closed Mondays)
At only 23, Terence Chee is the youngest of all the hawkers featured in this promotion, but he's already amassed eight years of cooking experience. He discloses that master hawkers are willing to impart their skills to those who have the right attitude to learn.
His fried Hokkien mee is seriously good. Sumptuously gooey, rich gravy; crispy pork lard, and fresh prawns from Thailand. He is extremely particular about his stock, and you can taste it.
He works hard at this, 12 hours a day, six days a week. Not bad for a rebel kid who dropped out of school. I guess he found his calling, and I'm glad for that.
RONG CHENG BAK KUT TEH
26 Sin Ming Lane, #01-114/117
Open 7am to 9pm daily
Lionel Lim, 39, is following his father's footsteps opening a new shop in Midview City, after working in the corporate world for 10 years. Rong Cheng has a history of 36 years. They revolutionised the scene by adding loin rib ("long gu" in Mandarin), and not adding soy sauce to the broth.
Lionel's got a "natural pork" offering that's similar to organic meat (pigs raised the natural way), which is more expensive but tastes better. We tried the pork belly slices - oh they were like shabu-shabu heaven.
The Shangri-La "Hawker Heritage: The Next Chapter" happens 21 and 28 Sept 2013 only, at The Line, for the dinner buffet (6pm to 10.30pm, S$78++ per adult and S$36++ per child). The regular buffet line is still available, just that six of the 16 live stations are used to showcase the young hawkers. Educational fringe activities include a photo exhibition depicting old hawkers, the talk by Daniel Wang at 6pm, and an autograph session by Sinma DaShow, author of "Not For Sale - Singapore's Remaining Heritage Street Food Vendors".