Cheap & Good

Food review: Young hawkers hold their own

Food lovers: While you continue to bemoan the disappearance of heritage hawker foods and dearth of new blood in the industry, take comfort in that a handful of young people are forgoing cushy jobs to set up hawker stalls.

I recently found two neighbouring food stalls near my office, which are both run by new-generation hawkerpreneurs. One stall sells prawns noodles and the other serves soups, salads, pastas and other main courses.

I haven't had a chance to try the pastas yet - the stall Vintage Chef is run by two men in their mid-20s, one of whom is Shatec-trained and had previously worked at a reputable Italian restaurant in Mohamed Sultan Road.

But what I can say is that the prawn noodle soup from Ah Geok Prawn Noodles in Toa Payoh North is surprisingly good, with servings starting at $3.50 a bowl.

I am all for supporting new-generation hawkers, but their food should be up to the mark.

And at Ah Geok's, it is. The full-flavoured soup is made from scratch every morning with prawn heads and shells and pork bones. The soup fares better than others in town and is thick, flavoursome and comforting, although it could be more heady and robust.

Having said that, it is still very satisfying. Plus, it beats having to queue for up to 30 minutes during the peak lunch hour at other popular prawn noodle stalls.

The soup here is good enough for me to have eaten it three times in the last month. The fact that it is convenient is a bonus too.

There are also two other things that I love about the dish here: The generous sprinkling of crispy lard cubes and fried shallots.

Thankfully, Ah Geok's hawker-owner Keen Low, 30, has boldly resisted the allure of buying these readily available items from commercial suppliers. He makes everything himself from scratch and does not take shortcuts.

The mechanical engineering graduate, who had previously worked in a foreign bank as an operations executive and as a sales consultant in a Japanese trading house, opened the stall in September.

The recipe is a modified version of his father's.

He says that he wanted to try his hand at being his own boss. The low start-up cost was also a draw, says the hawker, whose wife, an oil drilling company executive, is expecting their first child.

With hawker culture on the wane, he saw an opportunity in providing good food to diners who appreciate it. I, for one, appreciate it. Kudos to new-generation hawkers who want to keep local food heritage alive.

rltan@sph.com.sg