GE candidates' favourite hawker stalls


Singaporeans are keeping their eye on the "food wars" as election candidates let on what dishes they like

Hawker food has been thrown into the spotlight this General Election season, with candidates posting their favourite dishes on social media or mentioning them in interviews.

Oyster omelette, prawn noodles, vadai and epok epok have featured on the campaign trail.

It all started three weeks ago when Workers' Party (WP) chairman and candidate for Aljunied GRC Sylvia Lim posted an Instagram photo of herself eating oyster omelette in Fengshan Market & Food Centre.

The post went viral and has attracted more than 900 likes.

Ms Lim's post also prompted Mr Charles Chong, the PAP candidate for Punggol East, to post a Facebook photo of himself with a plate of orh neng (oyster egg omelette) in a coffee shop in Aljunied GRC, saying: "The oyster omelette (orh luak) tastes better in Aljunied."

With other candidates weighing in on their favourite hawker food islandwide, hawkers who sell these dishes tell Life they have seen business increase by 5 to 20 per cent over the past three weeks.

Some diners are keeping track of the unfolding of "food wars" as they dig in.

One of them is Mr Lin Hao Lun, 22, who recently completed his national service.

He says: "Orh luak is one of my favourite hawker foods and I eat it once a week. This saga will boost people's perception of Fengshan Market & Food Centre as a place for oyster omelette and as a foodie hangout."

Architect Tony Sum, 61, who has been a regular at Beach Road Prawn Noodles for more than 10 years, thinks the "subtle messaging" of food makes the election season more colourful.

He says: "People usually associate an area with food and expressing a liking for an area's food means it is ripe for the picking."

Other diners are familiar with the hawker dishes long before they were associated with candidates.

Businessman and Potong Pasir resident Wong Chee Hoong, 60, frequents the peanut pancake stall in the estate that veteran opposition politician Chiam See Tong likes.

He says: "PAP candidate Sitoh Yih Pin queued behind us at the stall last week and recommended it to us, but we already knew about it."

Some diners are nonchalant about food being dragged into politics.

Take, for example, real estate agent Jasmine See, 36, who visits Beach Road Prawn Noodles at least once a month.

She says: "I do not care what the candidates like to eat. The bottom line is they need to listen to the public and deliver on what they've promised."

Which oyster omelette wins?

Hock Kee Fried Oyster’s Simon Poh and Joey Lim (both above). ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG


Where: 01-19 Serangoon Garden Market & Food Centre, 49A Serangoon Garden Way

Open: 7.15am to 2pm and 6.15 to 10pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday

On the campaign trail: PAP candidates for Aljunied GRC, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, Mr Shamsul Kamar, Mr K. Muralidharan Pillai and Mr Chua Eng Leong, posed for a photo with a plate of oyster omelette (orh luak, from $5) from the stall when they visited the hawker centre on Wednesday morning.

With oyster omelette in the spotlight, stall owner Simon Poh, 48, hopes to go around Singapore trying the dish from other stalls. He says in Mandarin: "Like most Singaporeans who love to try out food from different stalls to make comparisons, I am keen to taste the various versions and improve on mine."

He has been running the stall with his wife Joey Lim, 40, for eight years.

Mr Poh says of Mr Yeo: "He has visited my stall three to four times in the past two years. He likes his white fried carrot cake crispy."

Apart from fried carrot cake and char kway teow, the stall serves a rarely seen traditional version of oyster omelette, called Tang Shan Fried Oyster. It is more moist and gooey as the starch solution is diluted before it is added to the egg.

Mr Poh, who has 30 years of experience of frying oyster omelette, says: "It is usually served to the older generation who have no or weak teeth. When paired with rice, it tastes better than mui fun (stewed rice)."


Stall owner Lau Jock Keah. ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

Where: Stall 5, Chinatown Food Street, 335 Smith Street

Open: 11.30am to 10.30pm daily

On the campaign trail: Marine Parade GRC's PAP candidate Tan Chuan-Jin posted a photo of orh luak from this stall on Instagram two weeks ago, saying: "Best I've had."

Two weeks ago, stall owner Lau Jock Keah (right), 61, got word from his fellow hawkers that Mr Tan Chuan-Jin was dining in Chinatown Food Street. Curious, he popped over to see what Mr Tan was eating. To his surprise, one of the dishes was orh luak (from $5) from his stall.

He says: "I am happy he praised my food and kept his Instagram post straightforward by not comparing my food with other orh luak stalls."

More local diners have been ordering from his stall at dinner time in the past two weeks, but he does not know if this is the result of Mr Tan's Instagram post. He sells about 200 plates of orh luak a day.

On what makes his version special, he says it is his "secret chilli recipe" and a deft control of the fire when frying the omelette.

He has honed his craft over more than 40 years. At the age of 11, he and his brother learnt to cook orh luak and Teochew-style braised duck from a relative and sold the dishes as street hawkers.

He later ran a duck rice stall in the food court at Changi Airport Terminal One for 30 years, before starting an orh luak stall at the Singapore Flyer six years ago, which he still owns.


Bedok North 85 Fried Oyster. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Where: Stall 7, KPT Coffeeshop, Block 401 Hougang Avenue 10

Open: 24 hours

On the campaign trail: PAP candidate for Punggol East, Mr Charles Chong, posted a Facebook photo of himself with a plate of orh neng (oyster egg omelette) from this coffee shop in Aljunied GRC, saying: "The oyster omelette (orh luak) tastes better in Aljunied."

Stall owner Ng Soon Huat (above), 51, says Mr Chong's slip-up is common among customers.

He says some diners call orh luak and orh neng oyster omelettes, without knowing the difference. For the record, orh luak has starch added to the eggs and orh neng does not.

He says in Mandarin: "We usually receive one or two mixed-up orders daily, so we point to the photos of the dishes on the signboard to confirm customers' orders."

There are five stalls in his chain, with branches in Fengshan Market & Food Centre and Rivervale Plaza.

Over the past two weeks, sales at his six-year-old stall in Hougang have gone up by 10 per cent. He sells about 80 plates of orh luak (from $4) and orh neng (from $6) a day.

A former seafood restaurant chef, he has incorporated "some elements of zi char cooking" into his orh neng. Instead of frying sambal with the eggs and oysters, he makes a piquant gravy of chilli, dried shrimps and garlic with oysters and pours it over the omelette.

He says: "The sauce is so savoury that it can also be eaten with rice."


Xiang Chun Fried Oyster. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Where: 01-05 Fengshan Market & Food Centre, Block 85 Bedok North Avenue 4

Open: 2pm to 2am (Monday to Thursday), 2pm to 3am (Friday & Saturday), 2pm to 1.30am (Sunday)

On the campaign trail: Workers' Party chairman and candidate for Aljunied GRC Sylvia Lim posted an Instagram photo of herself digging into a plate of orh luak from this stall, saying: "The taste of Fengshan - heavenly! #reasonstowin."

That post put oyster omelette in the spotlight, with other candidates chiming in with posts of their favourite orh luak. But Xiang Chun owner Annie Tan, 52, has never met Ms Lim. The dish was ordered by her dining companion and it was sent over by Ms Tan's stall assistant.

She says in Mandarin: "When we cook, we don't pay attention to who the dish is for. It is amusing that such a humble dish can spark off an oyster omelette battle."

Her cooking assistant Goh Peng Huang, 55, says some diners attempted to identify the source of the orh luak. "We had at least 10 diners ask if we use yellow plates on the day the reports came out."

Business has since increased by about 10 per cent, but Ms Tan says sales still pale in comparison with Bedok North 85 Fried Oyster stall. When Life visited the hawker centre last Thursday, the latter was easily the more popular stall, with a constant stream of customers.

Ms Tan says: "This is a great opportunity to get diners to try our orh luak, as competition here is tough, with three other stalls also selling oyster omelette."

She sells more than 100 plates of the dish, fried carrot cake and char kway teow a day.


Peanut Pancakes Stall. ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

Where: Jin Biao Coffeeshop, Block 136 Potong Pasir Avenue 3

Open: 7am to 2pm (Tuesday to Sunday), closed on Monday

On the campaign trail: PAP incumbent in Potong Pasir SMC, Mr Sitoh Yih Pin, says veteran opposition politician Chiam See Tong enjoys peanut pancakes (or mee chiang kueh) from this Potong Pasir coffee-shop stall.

Over the past week, stall vendor Ong Siew, 56, has been receiving food orders for "Mr Chiam's flavour". These customers are cheekily referring to her stall's peanut pancakes, which the opposition politician likes.

She says in Mandarin: "I find this way of ordering quite cute. I am happy politicians and the public like the taste of my pancakes."

Besides peanut pancakes, the stall sells four other flavours of pancakes, including coconut and red bean. Prices start at 90 cents.

For nine years, she has been managing this stall, which is part of a chain of mee chiang kueh stalls owned by Mr Chew Chee Keong, 32. The other branches are in Lorong Ah Soo and Toa Payoh Lorong 4. Mr Chew says business over the past three weeks at the Potong Pasir outlet has increased by up to 15 per cent, with about 150 pancakes sold daily.

Madam Ong says she saw

Mr Chiam regularly during walkabouts and community events when he was MP for Potong Pasir. She sees Mr Sitoh five to six times in a year.

The soft-spoken hawker says: "Both are good-natured men, but I have met them only briefly."


Vegetarian Food Stall. ST PHOTO: KENNETH GOH

Where: Hai Fong Coffeeshop, Block 203 Toa Payoh North

Open: 6am to 2pm daily except Sunday

On the campaign trail: PAP's Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC candidate Chee Hong Tat posted a Facebook photo of himself with a plate of vegetarian bee hoon in a Toa Payoh coffee shop two weeks ago.

Mr Chee's catchy phrase - "oon oon jiak bee hoon" - lingers in stall assistant Ong Chin Hock's mind, two weeks after the politician visited the coffee shop. The Hokkien phrase means to eat bee hoon steadily in order to win the race.

Stall owner Tan Meng Shee, 56, says he has seen Mr Chee on his walkabouts twice this year. He adds in Mandarin: "Patronising food stalls is a great way to build relationships with the people in this neighbourhood. I would be disappointed if he came by without eating my food."

The former construction supervisor has been running the stall for more than 20 years. Despite the flurry of excitement in the coffee shop during Mr Chee's visit, he says he has not seen a spike in business, as most of his customers are regulars.

He sells about 300 servings of vegetarian bee hoon daily. The stall offers more than 15 dishes to go with noodles and the selection includes mock char siew.

On his fried bee hoon, he says: "We fry more than 10kg of bee hoon daily. It contains the right amount of salt, sugar, MSG and soya sauce, so it does not taste too heavy."


Yummy Sarawak Kuching Kolo Mee. PHOTO: YUMMY SARAWAK KOLO MEE

Where: 01-45 Round Market & Hawker Centre, Block 137 Tampines Street 11

Open: 6am to 3pm daily

On the campaign trail: PAP's Tampines GRC candidate Desmond Choo told the media this noodle stall is a must-try.

The husband-and-wife team behind this popular nine-year-old stall selling Sarawak kolo mee were so busy cooking and serving customers that they were unaware Mr Choo has commended their stall.

When asked why they had not noticed Mr Choo in his past visits, stall owner Sunny Lee, 55, says his attention is focused on cooking. His wife Veronica, 52, adds: "We hardly have time to speak to customers, especially during lunch time when the queues can stretch for 30 minutes."

The stall sells about 300 bowls of noodles daily. A serving, which includes fried and steamed wontons and pork ribs, starts at $3.


786 Prata Stall. ST PHOTO: KENNETH GOH

Where: Stall 2 Hai Fong Coffeeshop, Block 203 Toa Payoh North

Open: 6am to 1.30pm (Monday to Friday), 6am to noon (Saturday), close on Sunday

On the campaign trail: PAP's Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC candidate Chee Hong Tat posted a Facebook photo of himself tucking into vadai in a Toa Payoh coffee shop two weeks ago.

After Mr Chee's morning visit to the coffee shop, stall owner S.N. Raja recalls that some customers asked him who the politician was and what he ordered. He says with a laugh: "When I told them that he may become the MP here, they each bought two vadai to try."

During the visit, Mr Raja observed that Mr Chee dipped pieces of vadai in the coconut chutney and dhal curry. "I was surprised to see him eat vadai with curry, which is the proper way of eating a vadai. This shows he is a real Singaporean."

The affable 65-year-old, who wears a colourful bandana, says the 60 vadai he makes every day have been selling more quickly.

He has been running the stall with his wife Angela, 62, for seven years. They used to run a stall in a Toa Payoh Lorong 7 coffee shop for 20 years. They also sell mee goreng, murtabak, roti prata and nasi briyani.

He says: "Receiving such good comments about my food gives me a sense of achievement and motivation to continue working as a hawker, which can be tough."

On what makes his vadai unique, he says that 85 per cent of the batter is dhal, unlike other versions which have more flour. "This gives my vadai a soft texture. They do not become hard easily and are less oily."


Xin Ji Fish Soup & Porridge.  ST PHOTO: KENNETH GOH

Where: ST 82 Coffee House, Block 844 Tampines Street 82

Open: 8.30am to 9.30pm daily

On the campaign trail: PAP candidate for Tampines GRC, Mr Heng Swee Keat, told The New Paper he is a fan of fish soup and one of the stalls he visits is in this Tampines coffee shop.

Mr Heng usually orders the dish when he visits the coffee shop about four times a month, says stall owner Fu Ming Cheung. The 58-year-old adds that the politician usually drops by the coffee shop on Mondays, when he holds his Meet-the-People session nearby.

He says Mr Heng, who prefers light-tasting fare, sometimes buys the dish personally. His assistants order the dish when he is busy. "He is very down-to-earth and hardworking," he says in Mandarin.

Mr Fu, who runs the stall with his wife, Madam Lu Quan Qing, 50, sells more than 10 types of seafood and fish soup and porridge. The sliced fish soup (from $4) contains tofu, tomatoes, vegetables and bittergourd. The stall sells about 170 bowls of fish soup and porridge daily.

The couple, who are from Hong Kong, came to Singapore in 1996 to pursue job opportunities and stayed on for 19 years. They became Singapore citizens in 2007.

Mr Fu worked as a chef in a Chinese restaurant here before striking out on his own as a hawker 11 years ago. The couple have two sons aged 13 and 11. He says: "Life in Singapore is more suited to me. It is peaceful and secure and a conducive environment for my children to pursue education opportunities."



Where: Stall 27 Serangoon Garden Market & Food Centre, 49A Serangoon Garden Way

Open: 7am to 8pm daily, closed on alternate Monday

On the campaign trail: PAP candidates for Aljunied GRC, Mr Yeo Guat Kwang, Mr Shamsul Kamar, Mr K. Muralidharan Pillai and Mr Chua Eng Leong, posed for a photo with epok epok from the stall when they visited the hawker centre on Wednesday morning.

Be quick if you want to get your hands on the epok epok - about 200 puffs (70 cents each) are available every day and they sell out by 11am. They are part of the stall's Malay snack offerings, which also include kueh, fried cempedak fritters and goreng pisang.

Stall owner Mohammad Firuz Samuri, 43, says: "It's great to see them show support for our food and to meet them in person. We were too busy when their team visited the hawker centre last month."

The ex-computer analyst runs the stall with his wife Masita Ghani (both above), 46. They also sell nasi lemak (from $3). His family has run a Malay food stall of the same name in Bedok North for 20 years.

On what makes his epok epok special, Mr Firuz says he gets them from a supplier, who makes them to his specifications. He adds: "We added more curry powder and potatoes as well as more butter to the dough to make the epok epok fluffy and crispy when fried."


Beach Road Prawn Noodle House.  ST PHOTO: KENNETH GOH

Where: 370/372 East Coast Road, tel: 6345-7196

Open: 7.30am to 4pm (Wednesday to Monday), closed on Tuesday

On the campaign trail: PAP candidates for Marine Parade GRC, Mr Goh Chok Tong and Mr Edwin Tong, visited the shop on Wednesday during lunch time, while Mr Terence Tan, a Workers' Party candidate for Marine Parade GRC, posted a photo of a group meal on Facebook two weeks ago, saying "the hae mee and rojak in Marine Parade are just divine".

This 80-seat prawn noodle stall has garnered many fans over its 29 years in East Coast Road. While owner John Lee, 51, is flattered by the recent visits by politicians, he says his business has remained consistent, with most customers being regulars.

He says: "I feel honoured to have such good feedback on my food. If the food is not nice, people would not waste time coming here."

The shop, which has branches in Beach Road and Jalan Kayu, sells up to 600 bowls of prawn noodles a day. Popular picks include the prawn and pork ribs noodles (from $5.80). It also sells ngoh hiang, which is an assortment of more than 15 items, including prawn rolls (from $3).

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 06, 2015, with the headline 'Eats a race'. Print Edition | Subscribe