Being a hawker is a thankless, tiring task. Especially in Singapore, where customers are impatient and sometimes arrogant in how they relate to hawkers.
Personally, I am thankful for our hawkers, especially the older generation, who continue in this back-breaking trade, even though many of them can afford to hang up their woks or coffee socks.
One of our best friends who has migrated to Australia since his teens was back in Singapore for a while recently. So we brought him to the Tampines Round Market to introduce him to our favourite breakfast delicacies there.
As we made our rounds to gather all the food, it hit me that Singaporeans really owe our hawkers a debt of gratitude. Where else can we get such yummy food at such reasonable prices?
They have spent their lives honing their skills, such that they can whip up food of such perfection. Many might feel that hawker food is not worth much because they do not use ‘premium’ ingredients. But I think conjuring out such great taste from simple ingredients is all the more commendable and admirable.
So I got to thinking of commemorating the hawker heroes I have in just one food centre, as an ode of sorts, even though there are thousands of them all over Singapore. Perhaps another day I will be able to write a tribute to the top 5 or 10 hawkers I admire, from all over Singapore.
Corner coffee shop
This stall is special because of its boss (man in vermillion polo tee). The Uncle standing at the fore makes every cup with such flair and effortless precision. And he has a great heart for his customers, especially the elderly. They know it too, and can make their way to the front of the queue, and he will serve them out of turn as a sort of Pioneer Generation privilege.
When buying a takeaway cup, he will also ask if you are driving. Initially we were flummoxed by that question, but later realised that it determines whether he will give you an extra plastic bag for your cuppa, in addition to the usual holder, to minimise spills.
Song Han Carrot Cake
The carrot cake is notable both because it is my favourite carrot cake in the whole of Singapore, and also because I think the Uncle who fries it is awesome.
Most of the time he is OMO (One Man Operation), and other times, his wife helps take orders and collect money. He works at an amazing pace. Looking at him always reminds me of how much atheleticism being a chef requires, and how back-breaking delivering plate after plate of carrot cake is.
Song Han Carrot Cake is unique in that it comes with crunchy little juicy prawns, and a dash of curry powder. It’s price is unbeatable – for $4, I can get 黑白 with prawns. In other stalls, they specify that they only sell a plate for a minimum of $3, and the smallest order of 黑白 would cost $6, with no prawns to speak of.
Song Han’s carrot cake has the right amount of wok hei and crisp, plus enough chye por, which I love. I could just go on and on raving about it…….
Sarawak Kolo Mee
The next stall that not just I but many others love, is Sarawak Kolo Mee. I love the texture of the noodles, and the chilli! Sedap.
A long queue can build up as early as 7am. The husband and wife who run this look stern, but are accommodating enough to customers’ special requests.
They open their stall really early, and think they must have started preparing all the ingredients and braised pork before daybreak.
Some people say that some hawkers can be quite rude, but my sympathies are usually with the hawkers. Try standing for hours on end in a small and hot space, churning out dishes for demanding customers, (or those who mumble their orders and then get upset that you cooked the wrong thing) and you’d get grumpy too!
Most high end chefs are given enough privacy to practice their skills without having to deal with front of house. But for our hawker heroes, they are everything from maître d to serving staff to cashier to chef and sous chef, all in one!
Plus, some customers are really ridiculous in their requests for all sorts of customisation, or a little more of this and that without wanting to pay more. Hence, I totally understand that most hawkers are a little crusty in their attitudes.
This is also why, hawkers that are cheery and courteous are all the more to be lauded, and their stalls faithfully patronised, in my books.
Jia Hua sugarcane drink
Like the owners of Jia Hua. There are many sugar cane juice sellers in every hawker centre, but I always suss out those who are friendly, and patronise them unfailingly. Extra points if they call me 小妹。🤣
House of Dessert
This stall is run by an extremely elderly Uncle and his family. The Tao Suan is fantastic, and they are famous for their lotus seed dessert. The hot and cold desserts there are priced extremely reasonably, and we were very very sad when they closed for a few months last year! But they are back, hooray! (Forgot to take a photo – will add on next time.)
Oh and there’s a You Tiao stall with freshly fried (piping hot, crisp on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside) 油条 for just 60 cents each.
All this brought to you by hardworking hawkers!
So the next time you order your favourite hawker meal, smile at the hawkers, don’t mumble as you order, and be as understanding as you can!