Tiong Bahru Satay Man teams up with Moosehead

The Tiong Bahru Satay Man (above), whose real name is Mr Ang Boon Ee, peddled his satay in the estate for more than 30 years until he was forced to retire in 2015. Foodies can enjoy it as part of the Satay Platter at a one-night-only tie-up with Mediterra
Foodies can enjoy the Tiong Bahru Satay Man's Hainanese-style satay as part of the Satay Platter at a one-night-only tie-up with Mediterranean restaurant Moosehead.PHOTO: MOOSEHEAD
The Tiong Bahru Satay Man, whose real name is Mr Ang Boon Ee, peddled his satay in the estate for more than 30 years until he was forced to retire in 2015. Foodies can enjoy it as part of the Satay Platter (above) at a one-night-only tie-up with Mediterra
The Tiong Bahru Satay Man, whose real name is Mr Ang Boon Ee, peddled his satay in the estate for more than 30 years until he was forced to retire in 2015. Foodies can enjoy it as part of the Satay Platter at a one-night-only tie-up with Mediterranean restaurant Moosehead.PHOTO: MOOSEHEAD

For more than 30 years, a street hawker peddling satay on a rickety wooden pushcart around Tiong Bahru had a following among residents and foodies.

The elusive hawker, known as "the Tiong Bahru Satay Man" or Ah Pui, made sporadic appearances around the estate, grilling Hainanese-style satay - skewered pork lard sandwiched in between two pieces of pork loin - on a makeshift charcoal grill and serving them with a spicy peanut sauce with mashed pineapple.

Throughout the years, the Tiong Bahru Satay Man, whose real name is Mr Ang Boon Ee, was fined repeatedly by the authorities for selling food without a licence.

The final straw came two years ago when he was fined $400. The 59-year-old decided to retire his pushcart and has since been catering satay for two to three private events a month.

On Friday, foodies have a rare chance to savour his satay at a one-night-only cooking collaboration with Mediterranean restaurant Moosehead in Telok Ayer Street.

This is the second instalment of the restaurant's supper series that features cooking collaborations with home-grown hawkers.

It teamed up with A Noodle Story in Amoy Street Food Centre in November.

Moosehead's head chef Seumas Smith and owner Daniel Ballis first tried getting Mr Ang on board after hearing about the "urban legend" from a foodie friend two years ago. He turned them down as he was mulling over his next move after being forced to quit as a street hawker then.

This time, they stepped up their persuasion efforts by visiting him at his home after tracking him down at a private event. They also showed him photographs of the previous cooking collaboration.

Chef Smith, 25, says: "We want to collaborate with Mr Ang as he sells satay, which is relevant to the chargrill aspect of our menu, and showcase this in a fun and cool event that reflects the local hawker scene."

He adds that Mr Ang's satay is "the best" as it boasts a tantalising combination of meat and fat.

Mr Ang says in Mandarin: "It is a new experience and I look forward to having fun by cooking with the young chefs. It is also a way for my regulars to try my satay."

He will be grilling about 1,000 skewers of his old-school satay at the event.

At the same time, chef Smith will whip up his interpretation of satay - roasted herb-brined lamb neck skewers accompanied with roasted cauliflower seasoned with ras el hanout (a North African spice blend of cumin, nutmeg and ginger) butter, sumac, Greek yogurt and pomegranate. These three dishes make up the Satay Platter ($24). The dishes are also available as a la carte add-ons that start at $8.

At age 18, Mr Ang learnt to make satay when he worked for six months at a Hainanese-run satay stall in Tiong Bahru.

Two years later, after his national service, he started his career as a street hawker on the suggestion of his older brother, who built the wooden pushcart that he became synonymous with.

In the late 1970s, he cycled around Telok Ayer selling satay at 10 cents a stick to construction and shipworkers.

A few years later, he ventured to Tiong Bahru as he lived nearby in Kim Tian estate. He sold satay daily, usually from 4 to 6pm to avoid the authorities.

On why he did not plan to open a hawker stall, he says: "I live day by day and I did not have extra help, which made it difficult to run a stall."

Mr Ang, who has a 15-year-old daughter and 13-year-old son, says: "Being a street hawker was tough. Come rain or shine, I did everything by myself, from preparing the satay to pushing the cart around."

He sold 300 to 400 sticks of satay daily.

A familiar sight among Tiong Bahru residents, Mr Ang recalls how customers rushed down from their flats with their plates after hearing his cries for satay .

Inevitably, he received warnings and fines. "I could not run away from the authorities as I could not abandon my pushcart."

Unable to pay the fines, he took up a full-time job putting film reels in cinemas in Shaw House.

Three years later, he was retrenched and returned to selling satay in Tiong Bahru in 2000.

His schedule became more erratic as he had to take care of his wife, 57, who was undergoing leg surgery to replace worn-out cartilage.

Two years ago, his plans to partner Good Chance Popiah restaurant fell through.

He reveals he is now in talks with a food business to sell his satay. If it happens, he intends to stop private catering.

On what makes a good satay, he says: "The lard in between the two pieces of meat makes the satay juicy and using a charcoal grill makes the meat more fragrant."

Kenneth Goh

•The Supper Series Vol. 2: The Tiong Bahru Satay Man is at Moosehead Kitchen-Bar in 110 Telok Ayer Street on Friday from 10pm till late.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 03, 2017, with the headline 'Tiong Bahru Satay Man teams up with Moosehead'. Print Edition | Subscribe