At the age of 65, Mr Lai Wah Yau thought he would call it a day after operating a dimsum stall at Redhill Market & Food Centre for 15 years.
The Hong Kong chef had come to Singapore more than 30 years ago to work in various Chinese restaurants, including those in Four Seasons Hotel and the now-defunct Cockpit Hotel. He also worked in Japan for four years as a dimsum chef.
Two years after closing the Redhill stall, he got bored staying at home and missed making dimsum. He then opened Hong Kong Dim Sum in ABC Brickworks Market & Food Centre about two months ago.
It was not easy starting over, but Mr Lai, now 67, is back doing what he knows best.
He started with a few items and is trying to add a few more, and his loh mai kai (steamed glutinous rice with meat, $3) drew me back to his stall twice.
HONG KONG DIM SUM
Where: Block 6 Jalan Bukit Merah, 01-18 ABC Brickworks Market & Food Centre
Open: 7am to 2pm (Tuesday to Friday), 7am to 3pm (Saturday and Sunday), closed on Monday
Business was slow initially and it was a customer next to me who was tucking into the glutinous steamed rice with gusto that made me notice the stall.
The glutinous rice was well seasoned and cooked just right - firm and with each grain distinct. More importantly, there was a treasure trove of ingredients, including salted egg, tender slices of pork, char siew (barbecued pork), chicken, mushroom and sausage, buried in the rice.
The whole concoction was tasty and I enjoyed every bit of it.
Finding a decent loh mai kai in hawker centres is difficult and there have been many times when I had to contend with overcooked versions that are hard around the edges, not to mention containing tasteless slices of chicken or pork toppings. But Mr Lai's loh mai kai was good.
I also tried his chee cheong fan (rice roll, $3), which is made on the spot.
The skin was thin and smooth. I preferred the prawn filling to the char siew version. The prawns were firm and fresh. More prawns would have been great though. The sauce that came with the dish complemented the rolls perfectly.
I am waiting to go back when he comes up with more dimsum items that I like.