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FROM THE ARCHIVES

5 famous Singapore food feuds

Published on Aug 2, 2014 1:58 PM
 
A file photo of 328 Katong Laksa eatery in Katong. -- PHOTO: ZAOBAO

Changi Airport’s week-old Singapore Food Street in Terminal 3, which was touted as offering popular hawker stalls from different corners of the island, is not what it has been made out to be.

In a report on Aug 1, The Straits Times found that of the 13 stalls at the 10,800 sq ft Singapore Food Street in Terminal 3's transit area, seven bear no direct links to the original famous stalls. Some are new start-ups while others are named after streets or areas well-known for particular dishes but have no connection to the original brands.

We look back at some famous cases in Singapore where the names of hawker stalls have been reused and copied, and their ownership challenged and fought over.


1. Hock Lam Street beef kway teow (beef noodles)

In short: Brothers Anthony and Francis Tan both claimed they were the true successors of the famous Hock Lam Street beef kway teow.


What's your beef?
By Teo Pau Lin. First published: Oct 19, 2003


A file photo of Mr Anthony Tan. He and his brother Francis Tan both claimed they were the true successors of the famous Hock Lam Street beef kway teow. -- PHOTO: ST

Two Sundays ago, Anthony Tan flipped open the pages of LifeStyle and was dealt a crushing blow. In our Oct 5 special on Singapore's 50 Disappearing Foods, we listed the famous Hock Lam beef kway teow at Purvis Street as a heritage food stall.

When Anthony, 57, read that his youngest brother, Francis, was described as the third-generation hawker continuing a food legacy that was passed down from their father, he was distressed.

Since the age of 12, he had helped his father cook at their stall in Hock Lam Street, carrying on the culinary tradition to this day at his food stall in Far East Square. It is called Original Popular Hock Lam Street Beef Kway Teow.

But Francis, 51, a former export trader who entered the beef noodles business five years ago, seems to have swooped in and taken all the credit. His Purvis Street stall is called Hock Lam Street Popular Beef Kway Teow.

'My father couldn't sleep that night,' says Anthony's 28-year-old daughter, Tina, who wrote us an e-mail to set the record straight.

'My uncle Francis is definitely not the third generation of Hock Lam Street beef kway teow. My Dad has been in this business since he was 12,' wrote the investment banker.

When LifeStyle paid both brothers a visit, a family feud was found stewing in counter-accusations worthy of a TV soap opera.

The brothers have rival stalls that are both clearly successful, and both are laying claim to one thing - they are the true successors of the famous Hock Lam Street beef kway teow.

The heated sibling spat will be upped another notch soon. Tina says she is planning to file a lawsuit against Francis to stop using the Hock Lam name at his stall.

'We're planning to expand,' she says. 'If there are so many Hock Lams around, our customers wouldn't know which is the real one.'

Thrown into this family potboiler is a little-known, third offshoot of the Hock Lam legacy.

David Lim, 47, son of the founder's eldest daughter, is also selling beef kway teow in Marine Parade Central.

His father had learned how to make the dish from the founder for a few years, but had branched out to start his own stall in Empress Place in 1971.

Lim named his stall Empress Place Beef Kway Teow in honour of his father's version. 'I don't want to use the Hock Lam name, even though our noodles originated from there,' he says.

'There's so much jealousy there. I don't want to have anything to do with it. Let them fight it out.'

- How it all began - 

The Hock Lam story began in 1921 when founder Tan Chin Sia set up a beef kway teow stall in Hock Lam Street, near the former Capitol cinema.

A stern, whisky-loving immigrant from Guangdong province, he served a Teochew recipe that was passed down from his father, who was a food-seller in China.

Tan had seven sons and three daughters, of whom only Anthony was roped in to run the business full-time.

'My Dad wasn't good in school, so Granddad taught him how to cook, so at least he would have a career in the future,' recounts Tina.

When the founder died in 1982, Anthony carried on the business through several locations: Funan Centre; Singapore Swimming Club; and, in 1998, Purvis Street, in a partnership with Francis and three other friends.

Anthony was the chef, but left the venture after a year because 'they kept telling me I had to cut down on this ingredient or that ingredient', he says. 'I didn't like it. They were only thinking about profits, and it affected the quality of the food.'

In 2000, he set up his own stall at Far East Square, where he still wakes up at 6am to prepare the food - slicing the beef, making the soup and chilli sauce, and cooking for the customers.

Despite the stall's popularity, he does not own a car and lives in a four-room HDB flat in Upper Boon Keng Road. 'My Dad saves all his money for his children,' says Tina.

She and her elder sister, a 31-year-old accountant, went to university in Australia. Her brother, 19, is set to study chemical sciences at the National University of Singapore.

Anthony says when he and his brother parted ways at Purvis Street, Francis made a verbal agreement not to continue using the Hock Lam name.

Shaking his head, Anthony says: 'He think he got money, very ya-ya. I don't like to talk to him.'

Francis, on the other hand, has a different tale to tell LifeStyle.

He says he was the closest child to their father, having spent time chit-chatting with him every night after dinner for years, when his father would 'teach me all about the recipe and the cooking'.

Francis was in business before opening his food stall in 1998. He owned a garment manufacturing company for 15 years before turning to export trading for another 11 years.

Brash but eloquent, he has three children aged 32, 31 and 22. He drives a Mitsubishi with the words 'Beef Kway Teow King' etched on the licence plate.

Asked about Anthony's contribution to the family food business, he says: 'Anthony never helped lah, he only washed bowls and cleaned tables. He was only serving. Serving is not cooking.'

He claims Anthony left their joint venture after two months because he refused to make changes to his recipes. 'His tasting is not so good. Too salty,' Francis sniffs.

When told that Anthony insists that he had learned the skills from their father since he was 12, Francis retorts with a wave of a hand: 'Okay lah, let him say he learned lah. I don't want any conflicts. Let him win, I don't want to win.'

As for the news that his brother plans to sue him over the use of the Hock Lam name, he widens his eyes and says: 'Sue me lah, how can he sue me? The name is already registered. I'm going to call them and scold them.'

True enough, Anthony got a call from him that evening, scolding him and his daughter for getting the media involved.

'But I'm not surprised,' Tina says. 'This is not the first time he's treated my Dad like this. And it won't be the last time.'


2. Tai Hwa bak chor mee (minced meat noodles)

In short: Mr Tang Chay Seng, owner of Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle in Crawford Lane, took his nephew Arthur Tung to court for trying to pass off his stall, Lau Dai Hua, as the original.


Bak chor mee seller loses suit against nephew
By Elena Chong. First published: Aug 13, 2010


A file photo of Mr Tang Chay Seng at his Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle stall in Crawford Lane. -- PHOTO: BT

The owner of a famous bak chor mee (minced meat noodle) outlet in Crawford Lane, who sued his nephew for trademark infringement, has lost his case.

Mr Tang Chay Seng, 63, who runs Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle, was however awarded nominal damages of $1,000 for loss of goodwill.

Mr Tang had claimed that his nephew, Mr Arthur Tung Yang Wee, 39, had passed off his pork noodles business as being linked to the Crawford Lane one.

In dismissing Mr Tang’s claims on Tuesday, Justice Tan Lee Meng said in his judgment that it was more likely than not that Mr Tang had consented to Mr Tung using the name “Lau Dai Hua” for his VivoCity stall.

Mr Tang had even sent his nephew congratulatory messages after the stall’s opening in 2008.

However, the judge did find that Mr Tung had made use of his uncle’s culinary awards to promote his VivoCity outlet.

Justice Tan did not accept Mr Tung’s claims that his uncle had allowed him to use the awards in advertisements that he had taken out in two Chinese-language newspapers in 2008.

As Mr Tung had passed off his pork noodles as Mr Tang’s, there was a “likelihood of confusion” as a result of this, added the judge.

But as Mr Tang did not give any credible evidence to show how this had damaged his goodwill, Justice Tan awarded him only $1,000.

Mr Tang had wanted an order to stop his nephew from riding on the reputation of his stall; unspecified damages; and an apology to be published in the Chinese-language newspapers.

The falling out between uncle and nephew arose from the 2008 newspaper advertisements to promote the younger man’s VivoCity stall.

The judge also added that he found no visual similarity between Mr Tang’s registered marks and Mr Tung’s sign.

In addition to the three Chinese characters (Lau Dai Hua), Mr Tung’s signboard has Japanese and Korean characters and a graphic depiction of a mythical creature called pi xiu, which resembles a winged lion, on both sides of the Chinese characters. 

Mr Tang’s composite marks include a reference to “suspension bridge head” and “Tai Hwa Pork Noodle” with graphic depictions.


3. Katong laksa

In short: Katong laksa was popularised by brothers Ng Juat Swee and Ng Chwee Seng, who started selling the noodles in a coffee shop in East Coast Road in 1963. Four rivals had popped up along the same stretch of East Coast Road by 1999, and many of them had names with “Katong Laksa” in it.


Katong Laksa revisited
By Frankie Chee. First published: Jan 8, 2006


A file photo of 328 Katong Laksa eatery in Katong. -- PHOTO: ZAOBAO

Back in 2000 when the Katong Laksa war was at its peak, the 50m stretch of East Coast Road at the junction of Ceylon Road was a cauldron of activity.

Employees from the five rival stalls selling the noodles would call out to passers-by that theirs were the 'original' noodles, posters and banners screamed 'Original Katong Laksa' and hawkers shot each other dagger looks.

Things have cooled down since. A visit to the area last week revealed that there are only three laksa stalls operating there now.
Competition is less frenzied, and employees no longer call out to customers although the posters touting each stall's merit are still there.

'I don't need to rope in customers anymore. I have a steady stream of regulars. I now also own the whole coffee shop, so why would I need to do so much?' says Mrs Teo Hee Cheng, 48, who runs the stall at No. 49.

After the spurt of publicity about the feud, two of the original five stalls started franchise arrangements, resulting in branches being set up all over Singapore.

However, both decided to give up the franchise business last year.

The Katong Laksa saga began in 1963 when brothers Ng Juat Swee and Ng Chwee Seng started selling laksa at the coffee shop at No. 49.

The stall, then called Marine Parade Laksa, was very popular and, till the early 1990s, was the only one selling the noodles in the area. Mrs Teo was the landlord of the coffee shop.

In 1998, the brothers moved out when the landlord wanted to raise their rent, and took a two-year hiatus. The stall was taken over by a food stall helper from Clementi, Ms Nancy Lim, now 42. She named it 328 Laksa.

After about a year, Mrs Teo wanted to take over the stall herself, so Ms Lim moved across the road to No. 51.

Meanwhile, three other laksa stalls popped up. The sons of the original Katong Laksa Ng brothers restarted the business at No. 57, and two other stalls opened up at Nos. 45 and 47. And so laksa fans found themselves having to decide between the noodles at Nos. 45, 47, 49, 51 and 57.

In 1999, Sunday Plus, the predecessor of LifeStyle, ran a story on the feud. It included a review of the stalls by food consultant Violet Oon.

She rated stall No. 47 the worst. A week after the report, the owner, Madam Ah Ang, reported that business had dropped by half.

She closed her shop about three years ago. The other stall owners could not recall when No. 45 closed down, but guessed it was between 2001 and 2003.

Today, only three out of the five stalls remain: No. 57 Katong Laksa, the original run by the Ng family; Ms Lim's 328 Katong Laksa which is now at No. 53; and No. 49 Katong Laksa, which belongs to Mrs Teo.

The Ngs say they sell more than 200 bowls a day and have four branches around the island.

Ms Lim says she sells about 300 bowls a day. She also has another laksa shop down the road at No. 216, away from the warzone.

In 2002, she started supplying her gravy to 10 franchise stalls at foodcourts but gave this up in August last year.

'Some of the franchisees learnt to make their own gravy,' she says in Mandarin. 'I was also receiving complaints from customers about the laksa from these stalls, so I decided to stop it all.'

Mrs Teo, who says she sells 300 bowls a day, also had five franchisees in 2003 but they did not last long either.

'It was troublesome. They'll call and ask for help on cooking and I'll have to go down, plus some of them added water to the gravy making the laksa sub-standard,' she says.

Meanwhile, the three stalls continue to have their own following. Student Suanggita Emerlin, 18, who was eating a bowl of laksa at No. 53 last Wednesday, says: 'I don't know which is the original Katong Laksa, and even if I did, it won't change anything because this one is tasty.'


4. Rochor beancurd

In short: The Rochor beancurd war is a tale of bitter business rivalry among the Koh siblings. It began in the 1960s when their parents peddled tau huay, a beancurd custard, from a pushcart in the Rochor and Beach Road areas. After their father died in 1986, the stall had shop units in Selegie Road and Middle Road before settling in Short Street in 1998. Disputes over control of the family business, however, saw the siblings set up their own stalls.


Spilling the beans 
By Teo Pau Lin. First published: July 16, 2006


A file photo of the three Koh brothers (fr left) William, Koh Koon Meng and David, seen here with their mother. -- PHOTO: ST

It takes a brave man to open a tau huay shop right next to the famous Rochor Original Beancurd in Short Street. 

But David Koh, 38, has no fear.

He is confident that his tau huay (beancurd custard with syrup) can stand up to Rochor’s, even though the latter is a household name known for its super-smooth beancurd texture.

After all, he is none other than the younger brother of Rochor’s shop owner, William Koh, 47.

David was also the one who had helped churn out the original Rochor tau huay for 23 years. He left the family business in 2002 to set up his own outlet, Beancurd City, in Jalan Besar.

Then last month, in a move that could spark off an ugly, head-to-head sibling slugfest, he opened his second outlet right next door to his brother’s in Short Street, off Selegie Road.

LifeStyle visited both shops last week and uncovered a sticky family saga that involved not just David and William, but also a third brother, Koon Meng, 61, who too had left the family business to set up his own shop.

We got wind of the story when we were forwarded an e-mail from Mr Joseph Tan, 40, founder of the voluntary group Crime Library, who is a friend of David’s. He sent it to a few journalists urging them to check out the new challenger in Short Street.

“I just wanted to support David because his tau huay is really good,” he told LifeStyle.

The Rochor legacy began in the 1960s when the three men’s parents started peddling tau huay from a pushcart in the Rochor and Beach Road areas.

Their eldest son, Koon Meng, helped them from the time he was 12, and the trio went on to improve the recipe through years of trial and error.

Their brand of silky smooth beancurd comes from watering down soya milk to the right thickness, and adding just the right amount of coagulant and sweet potato flour.

The second son, William, was an electrician and joined the family business in 1991. He was more responsible for serving customers than making tau huay.

The youngest son, David, joined the business after completing his national service, learning tau huay-making skills from Koon Meng.

The only daughter, Chay Luang, 44, is now helping David in his shop in Short Street.

After their father died in 1986, the stall operated out of shop units in Selegie Road and Middle Road in the early 1990s before it settled in Short Street in 1998.

Their tau huay, at 60 cents a bowl, was in such demand that they sold up to 50 pails of beancurd a day, with each pail weighing about 30kg.

Retiree Casey Heng, 65, a regular customer of more than 10 years, said: “They are one of the best in Singapore.”

David, a ruddy, somewhat shy man who speaks in calm, measured tones, said that despite their hard work, he and Koon Meng had no share in the business.

They were only given salaries of about $3,000 a month each by their mother, Madam Tan Kim Keow, now 78.

He claimed that she favoured William because she lived with him and his family, and split the company’s shares with him. In 2003, when she suffered a partial stroke, she gave her share to William’s wife, Madam Eng Ah Moi, now 46.

“I’d be satisfied if I was given a small share. But William said to us, ‘You can have some shares but only after I retire’,” recalled David in Mandarin.

“In fact, he said we are welcome to open a shop next to him and fight it out,” he revealed with slight bitterness.

Demoralised, he and Koon Meng left the business, though at different times, leaving William to eventually take over the making of the tau huay.

David set up Beancurd City in Jalan Besar in 2002, but had trouble drawing customers because of its poor location.

In April 2004, Koon Meng opened a shop called Rochor Beancurd House in Geylang Road. It has done well, and he recently opened a second outlet in Tanjong Katong Road.

David said he isn’t setting up a branch in Short Street as a vengeful challenge to William’s business.

“I just want to be at a place where people always go for tau huay,” he said.

He is on good terms with Koon Meng, crediting all his tau huay-making skills to him. But he is clearly unhappy with William’s wife, Madam Eng, and blames her for the breakdown of the brothers’ relationship.

“William listens to her too much. She controls everything. But my Mum likes her... She is very li hai,” said David. Li hai means “formidable” in Mandarin.

He hasn’t spoken to William for years, not even after he opened the shop in Short Street. “Even when we see each other at our shops, we don’t say anything,” he revealed.

But conflict has emerged in other ways. David claims that Madam Eng, who also sells fried glutinous rice and egg tarts at her shop, asked her suppliers not to sell those items to David.

“The suppliers told me that if they did, she would cancel half her orders,” he said. “I don’t want to put the suppliers in a difficult position, so I don’t sell those items. I just sell soon kueh.”

Soon kueh is steamed rice flour skin filled with turnip.

He pays $6,000 a month in rent for his ground-floor unit. William owns the entire two-floor shophouse next door, which he bought in 2001 for $1.2 million, said David.

Neither William nor his wife would be drawn into discussing the family tussle. They were not at the shop the few times LifeStyle tried contacting them.

When we got hold of William’s mobile phone number, Madam Eng answered our call and spoke on his behalf.

“We have nothing to say,” she said brusquely in Mandarin, when asked what she thought about her brother-in-law setting up shop next door. “People can do whatever they want to make themselves happy. We have no right to say anything.”

Meanwhile, Koon Meng refuses to take sides. On good terms with both his brothers, he said: “There’s no need for them to fight over customers. It’s fair competition so let the customer decide.”

So far, David’s shop has not threatened his established neighbour.

When LifeStyle dropped in late last Wednesday night, Rochor Original Beancurd had customers spilling out onto the sidewalks, while Beancurd City was virtually empty.

Customers, it seems, prefer a famous name that is tried and tested. Lawyer Marcus Oh, 27, a Rochor customer, was surprised to see a new tau huay stall next door.

“But it’s natural to stay with Rochor because I’ve been coming here for 20 years and I‘m comfortable with it.”

But here’s the thing that might turn the tide: Our taste test shows that David’s tau huay is actually better than the original shop’s.

Meanwhile, Madam Tan is unaware that two of her sons are now gearing up for a full-on beancurd war. She had a stroke last November and is now wheelchair-bound and unable to speak.

While David is confident that his tau huay will triumph eventually, he is sad that his relationship with William has turned this sour.

He said with a shake of his head: “After all, people have a chance to be brothers only once.”


5. Siglap mee pok (flat yellow noodles)

In short: At the centre of this war is 132 Mee Poh Kueh Teow Mee, started by Mr Chan Sek Inn at the old Siglap market in the 1970s. Four hawkers were plying their noodle business within a few kilometres from each other. Each stall claimed to be independent, yet all were seemingly associated by name or ownership.


Mee pok war: Clone Wars
By Sandra Leong. First published: Jan 8, 2006


A file photo of 132 Mee Poh Kueh Teow Mee's owner Chan Sek Inn (left) and his son, Choon Wing (right). -- PHOTO: ST

If you live in the East and are an ardent lover of mee pok, chances are, your tastebuds could be confused by now.

Of late, the stretch of road from East Coast Road to Bedok Road has become mee pok central, with at least four noodle-sellers - all operating within 4km or so of each other - slugging it out for business.

It's not far from Katong, where a laksa war heated up in the late 1990s when up to five stalls tussled to claim the title of the 'original Katong Laksa' stall.

In the case of the mee pok war, three of the hawkers are based around Upper East Coast Road while the fourth is some distance away in Simpang Bedok.

The players are: 132 Mee Poh Kueh Teow Mee at 53 Upper East Coast Road; 321 Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee at 727 East Coast Road; Ah Lim Mee Pok You Mian Kway Teow Mee at 15 Upper East Coast Road, and Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee at 308 Bedok Road

For the culinary challenged, mee pok is typical Teochew hawker fare where flat yellow noodles are drowned in chilli sauce and served with fishballs, prawns, fish cake slices, minced pork, pork slices, herkeow (minced pork in fish skin) and sinful cubes of pork lard. 

All four stalls serve this traditional version of mee pok, though the noodles can also come in the form of kway teow (flat white noodles) and mee kia (skinny yellow noodles).

As LifeStyle discovered, the story behind the mee pok war is a tangled web of food feuds and alleged betrayals worthy of a TV soap opera.

Each stall claims to be independent, yet all are seemingly associated by name or ownership.

One may think, for instance, that 321 Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee and 132 Mee Poh Kueh Teow Mee - just 200m apart - are run by the same family with a penchant for auspicious numbers.

The numbers 321 sound like 'sang yee yat' in Cantonese and roughly translate as 'having business every day'. 132, which sounds like 'yat sang yee', means the same thing but in a different syntax.

Then there's Ah Lim Mee Pok You Mian Kway Teow Mee, which, by name, seems related to Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee at Simpang Bedok.

And, hey, isn't the noodle-seller at the latter stall a former worker at 132 Mee Poh Kueh Teow Mee?

Foodies like stockbroker Jenny Tan, 36, are confused. Moans the Siglap resident: 'I no longer know which one is the best or the original.'

Pure coincidence or copycats at work?

Round 1

What LifeStyle uncovered is this: 132 Mee Poh Kueh Teow Mee, run by Mr Chan Sek Inn, 63, is the undisputed pioneer of the area. Not surprisingly, the affable Mr Chan is also the central figure in a series of disputes with the other players.

It turns out that hawkers behind 321 Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee and Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee - two men named Mr George Khoo, 53, and Mr Lim Kim Heong, 40, respectively - used to work alongside Mr Chan before leaving to strike out on their own.

Mr Chan, who runs the stall with his wife, Madam Hia Yam Hua, 62, and their son, Chan Choon Wing, 36, set up a mee pok stall at the old Siglap market in the 1970s. Madam Hia's family was also in the noodle business.

When the market was demolished to make way for Siglap Centre, he moved opposite to a row of HDB flats in 1989.

Between 1990 and 1995, he moved twice again, first to the Star-Leaf Food Paradise coffee shop next to Siglap Centre, and later to the Soy Eu Tua coffee shop in Jalan Tua Kong.

In 1995, he left the area to set up shop in Lengkong Tiga in Kembangan. Last April, he returned to his roots and his current location is along Upper East Coast Road. Business is brisk and he sells up to 400 bowls of mee pok a day, he says.

Despite having left the vicinity for a good 10 years, Mr Chan still boasts of being 'the first in the East Coast'.

'132 is still the original,' he insists in Mandarin when we paid him a visit last week. 'I was the one who initiated the other players into the business.'

Round 2

As it turns out, 321's Mr Khoo is Mr Chan's brother-in-law. Mr Khoo is married to Madam Hia's sister.

Mr Khoo had a stall in Kembangan for a few years in the early 1990s, in the same spot Mr Chan moved to in 1995.

He says that when 132 was in Jalan Tua Kong, also some time in the early 1990s, he and Mr Chan ran the business together as partners.

The two joined forces briefly, but in a strange case of musical chairs, in 1996, Mr Khoo decided to set up his own stall at Star-Leaf Food Paradise after Mr Chan vacated it.

Not wanting to lose the customer base he had built up with Mr Chan, he named his stall 321 Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee.

When pressed about the separation, the hawker, who is polite and well-spoken, is hazy about details and cites the 'long hours'.

But Mr Khoo does admit that the two are 'not friends anymore'.

He also concedes: 'The ingredients in the mee pok are all the same, but over here my customers come back because of the service I provide them. I have known some customers for so long, I know what their orders are instantly.'

Still, he declines to reveal how many bowls he sells a day, saying 'business isn't as good as it was before'.

He adds, in a huff, that he is 'thinking of quitting' because of the heightened competition from hawkers in the area.

Round 3

When asked about his brother-in-law later, Mr Chan admits - without further elaboration - that the two 'didn't get along well and had to separate'.

But it is not Mr Khoo whom he holds a big grudge against. It is Mr Lim. The latter set up Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim in Simpang Bedok after working with him for 10 years. Mr Chan and Mr Lim's father, who was also in the noodle business, were sworn brothers back in their youth.

So when Madam Hia fell ill and underwent an operation in the early 1990s, Mr Chan began grooming Mr Lim to run his stall, then at Jalan Tua Kong.

He then stopped work at the stall to care for his wife, and Mr Lim took over entirely. In exchange for using the 132 name, Mr Lim paid Mr Chan about $100 to $200 a week.

When Madam Hia recovered, Mr Chan resurrected his business in Kembangan, also under the name 132. Both stalls operated concurrently until Mr Lim stopped paying Mr Chan about two years ago and changed his stall name to Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim.

In December 2004, Mr Lim moved to Simpang Bedok. Much to Mr Chan's dismay, his former worker's business started going head to head with his stall.

Says Mr Chan: '$100 to $200 isn't a lot to pay for using my stall's name. Big stores like 7-Eleven or McDonald's would charge tens of thousands.'

Throughout the interview, he reminds you repeatedly: 'You have to say he was my worker, not my disciple'.'
Asked if he would hire non-family members to help out in his stall again, he spits a vehement 'No'.

Round 4

But Mr Lim, who also sells about 400 bowls a day, gives a different version of the story. He says he agreed to take over Mr Chan's stall and pay the weekly fees because the latter had said he was retiring from the business.

'Imagine how I felt when he set up a stall in Kembangan and began robbing me of my business,' says the jolly, rotund man.

Two years ago, he asked if he could buy over the business. But Mr Chan quoted an exorbitant price of $10,000, he says.

But when questioned about this later, Mr Chan says 'there was no such thing'. He says he offered to sell his business for $10,000 when Mr Lim first took over, but the latter turned it down.

He doesn't think he was wrong in entering the business again. 'We never agreed that I couldn't. And I didn't set up a stall in the East Coast area.'

Round 5

That leaves the question of the Ah Lim Mee Pok You Mian Kway Teow Mee in Jalan Tua Kong, which replaced Mr Lim's old stall there.

When approached, its owners flatly declined to be interviewed but said they had 'no relation' to Mr Lim's stall. But Mr Lim believes the newcomer was recruited by the coffee shop owners to 'mimic my name and style of cooking'.

When asked if he approves of the mee pok there, he says he did 'not want to criticise'.

Complicated food soap opera aside, the more important question to the foodie-in-the-street must be: Which mee pok is the best?

Most popular by far are 132 and Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim. The other two have their following, but long-time mee pok fans are mostly divided about the quality of the former two.

Retiree Philip Chan, 62, eats at 132 almost every week but says Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim's noodles are 'too soggy'.

Human resource company director Desmond Soh, 61, prefers Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim's stall because 'the noodles have a certain crunchiness'. He has tried the other two stalls but says they 'can't match the standard of these two'.

Indeed, perhaps one person who hopes the food feuds will not detract from the quality of the food is Mr Chan's son, Choon Wing.

Set to take over the business once his father retires, the former sales manager says with a sigh: 'This is the squabble of a different generation.

At the end of the day, it all boils down to customers' tastes.'

 

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