CHEAP & GOOD

Wonton wonder

A compelling story can sometimes help a food business to stand out from the crowd and Mr Raymond Tan, 28, who runs Crab Meat Wonton Mee in MacPherson Road, certainly has one.

The friendly man with tattooed arms says he used to own a car workshop and rental business and was "a millionaire". But he gambled away that fortune and had to man up and find a way to support his two young children.

So in January, with no experience in the food business, he opened a wonton noodle stall in Sin Fong Restaurant, a coffee shop at the corner of MacPherson Road and MacPherson Lane.

But an interesting backstory means nothing if the food is bad. The hawker has to deliver the goods.

I will risk slipping on the startlingly greasy floor of the coffee shop to have a plate of Mr Tan's deep-fried crab meat wontons ($5). They spurt juice with every bite and it is even possible to taste the sweetness of the crab in them.

  • CRAB MEAT WONTON MEE

    Sin Fong Restaurant, 560 MacPherson Road, open: 7.30am to 11.30pm (Monday to Saturday) or until sold out; closed on Sunday, go to www.facebook.com/crabmeatwontonmee/

    Rating: 3 stars

Apart from minced pork and crunchy water chestnuts, he uses Australian snowcrab meat in the filling, after finding flower and Sri Lankan crabs lacking.

Ask him how he got the recipe for the wontons and the answer is surprising and funny: He Googled it and then made tweaks. This is what hawking in the Internet age is like, I suppose.

But that must be one heck of an online recipe because the well-seasoned wontons are really the reason to check this stall out.

There is a good amount of filling in the dumplings and they are cooked in a small deep fryer set in one corner of his stall. He serves them with mayonnaise, but that is superfluous. The crisp treats are best eaten as is.

However, the noodles ($4 and $5) can be much better. On the day I have them, the mee kia is perfectly al dente but the dressing lacks depth and complexity. Aside from dark soya sauce, he also adds light soya sauce and sesame oil, but it is lacklustre. Ditto the generic char siew. Yet, the friend who told me about the stall says it is much better than it used to be.

Mr Tan himself admits that "at first, it was terrible". When I ask if he meant that business was bad, he says: "No, the food was terrible."

He has made strides since, getting the texture of the noodles right and will have to tinker with the sauce so that it has more oomph.

After my meal at the stall, I get to thinking that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Back in the day, some hawkers joined the trade because they had no other options. There would have been many in Mr Tan's predicament too.

But some of them overcame their obstacles, honed their skills and became masters at what they do.

Today, diners are impatient. We want hawkers to be perfect on Day One and that is rarely possible.

A sign on his stall says: "No Awards Yet! Hoping For One Soon!"

Mr Tan already makes great wontons. If he comes up with a killer sauce for the noodles, he might just get one.

www.facebook.com/tanhsuehyun

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 01, 2016, with the headline 'Wonton wonder'. Print Edition | Subscribe