Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles goes to Esplanade: Other hawkers revamping for a new generation

A dish from Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles at Pek Kio Market & Food Centre in Cambridge Road.
A dish from Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles at Pek Kio Market & Food Centre in Cambridge Road.PHOTO: WAH KEE

The popular Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles at Pek Kio Market & Food Centre in Cambridge Road is stepping out of its traditional hawker space, with a new restaurant in Esplanade.

There has been much handwringing in recent years over Singapore's ageing hawkers, as the older generation retire without passing on their recipes, and young people eschewing hard toil in a hot kitchen. But some hawkers are taking their businesses upscale while others are reinventing traditional hawker dishes.

We look at some hawkers who are revamping their businesses for new generations of consumers.

1. Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles

Prawn noodles from Wah Kee Big Prawn Noodles at Pek Kio Market and Food Centre. PHOTO: ANDRE HOEDEN

Known for serving prawn noodles topped with large deep-sea prawns, freshly fried shallots and pork lard in a robust soup, the stall at Pek Kio Market & Food Centre in Cambridge Road will be expanding with a restaurant opening at the Esplanade on Saturday (Dec 3).

The modern 2,100-sq ft Wah Kee restaurant is a partnership between Mr Kevin Lau, 45, whose parents run the Wah Kee stall, and Mr Andrew Tan, 55, who is behind Japanese restaurant Tomo Izakaya in Clarke Quay and Esplanade Mall as well as Japanese food arena Eat At Seven in Suntec City.

The 60-seat restaurant costs $600,000 to set up - complete with an iPad ordering system - and it will also sell the same big prawn noodles priced from $6. At Pek Kio, the price of a bowl starts at $5.

Address: 01-13C Esplanade Mall, 8 Raffles Avenue

Opening hours: 11am to 2.30pm daily, 5pm to 10.30pm (Sundays to Thursdays), 5pm to 11.30pm (Fridays, Saturdays, and eve of public holidays)

Website: https://www.facebook.com/Wahkeebigprawnnoodles


2. The Coconut Club

Nasi lemak from The Coconut Club. PHOTO: THE COCONUT CLUB

Located at Ann Siang Hill, the restaurant, like most hawkers, serves only one dish - nasi lemak. Chef Lee Eng Su, 37, studied at the French Culinary Institute (now the International Culinary Center) in New York.

He had visited a nasi lemak convention in Malaysia in 2014 where he discovered the variety of traditional dishes still eaten with nasi lemak which have disappeared in Singapore. These included the tempoyak ikan patin - a fish curry made with fermented durian.

He experimented with different kinds of coconuts to make nasi lemak, eventually settling on a variety known as MAWA (a Malaysian West African hybrid), and opening The Coconut Club with two friends.

Address: 6 Ann Siang Hill

Opening hours: 11am to 3pm (Tuesdays to Saturdays)

Website: http://www.thecoconutclub.sg/


3. Hawker Chan

Mr Chan Hon Meng, owner-chef of Michelin-starred hawker stall, Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, at Chinatown Food Complex. PHOTO: LIANHE WANBAO

He made international news in July as the cheapest Michelin-starred eatery in the world. Since then, Mr Chan Hon Meng, 51, joined forces with a bigger company, Hersing Culinary, to expand his humble Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle business in Chinatown Food Centre.

Hawker Chan is a 2,000 sq ft, air-conditioned restaurant that can seat 80 diners.

Hersing Culinary, which owns the franchise rights to Tim Ho Wan, helped finance the $1 million setup and has plans to expand the brand globally.

Address: 78 Smith Street

Opening hours: 11am to 9pm (Mondays to Sundays)


4. Coffee Break

The Sai siblings (from left) - Anna, Faye and Jack at their hawker centre drinks stall, Coffee Break at Amoy Street Food Centre. PHOTO: ST FILE

This stall at Amoy Street Food Centre is run by Mr Jack Sai, 32, and his twin sisters Faye and Anna, both 29. The three university graduates took over the 15-year-old stall from their father James, 64, half a decade ago, expanding the drinks menu beyond the almond and peppermint-flavoured coffee their father brewed.

Like most young Singaporeans, this trio travel and their journeys have inspired the new coffee flavours they serve, such as a pumpkin spice drink inspired by a coffee they tasted in France, and their sea salt mint coffee inspired by doogh, a yogurt mint drink that Mr Sai enjoyed on a holiday to Iran.

The menu changes every three months. Mr Sai hopes that by modernising the flavours of kopi, they can "continue an important part of Singapore's heritage".

Address: Amoy Street Food Centre, 7 Maxwell Road, 02-78

Opening hours: 7.30am to 2.30pm (weekdays), closed on weekends

Website: https://www.facebook.com/coffeebreakamoystreet

5. A Noodle Story

Mr Gwern Khoo (left), 35, owner of A Noodle Story and Mr Ben Tham, 34, co-owner of A Noodle Story. PHOTO: ST FILE

Singapore-style ramen anyone? Gwern Khoo, 35, and Ben Tham, 34, chose to start a hawker stall at Amoy Street Food Centre as a cheap platform to experiment. Khoo, who has worked at high-end restaurants such as Waku Ghin and Iggy's, serves his ramen dry to cater to local tastebuds familiar with dishes such as dry bak chor mee.

For their rendition of the dish, braised char siew, Hong Kong-style wontons, a potato-wrapped prawn, spring onions and an onsen egg, all sit atop mee kia tossed with chilli oil.

Address: Amoy Street Food Centre, 7 Maxwell Road, 01-39

Opening hours: 11.15am to 2.30pm, 5.30pm to 7.30pm (Mondays to Fridays), 10.30am to 1.30pm (Saturdays)

Website: https://www.facebook.com/ANoodleStory


6. Fish & Chicks

Salted egg yolk & chilli crab fish and Chips from Fish & Chicks. PHOTO: CLAUDIA NG

This Western food stall at a hawker centre at Block 531, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10, jazzes up its fish and chips with special sauces. Founder Justin Lim, 26, together with chef Albert Tan, created the salted egg yolk and chilli crab sauces to go with the food they serve.

Mr Lim told TimeOut Singapore that the biggest struggle he faces is manpower, because people would rather take a comfortable job in an air-conditioned office than work in a coffeeshop. Fish & Chicks opened a second outlet at the basement of Cathay Cineleisure Orchard this year.

Address: Block 531, Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10; B1-01, Cathay Cineleisure Orchard, 8 Grange Road

Opening hours: 11am to 9.30pm daily

Website: https://www.facebook.com/fishnchickssg/

7. Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck and Kway Chap

The Bento Combo Jumbo set, consisting of yam rice balls with kway chap, pork belly, tau kwa, tau pok, cucumber chunks, radish, kiam chye and an onsen egg. PHOTO: FACEBOOK / MELVIN CHEW

Mr Melvin Chew, 38, took over the business when his father died in 2014. His father had run the stall at Chinatown Complex for over three decades.

The traditional dish of braised pig innards is also more popular with older customers. With an ageing customer base in mind, Mr Chew created a Bento Combo Jumbo set to attract younger and more social media-savvy customers, he told TimeOut Singapore.

It is an Instagram-worthy platter of yam rice balls with kway chap, pork belly, tau kwa, tau pok, cucumber chunks, radish, kiam chye and an onsen egg.

Address: Chinatown Complex, 335 Smith Street, 02-156

Opening hours: 10am to 7pm daily, closed on Fridays

Website: https://www.facebook.com/jinjiteochewbraisedduck/

SOURCES: TimeOut, The Straits Times