Long queues at Bib Gourmand hawker stalls

Business is especially brisk at most of the 17 hawker stalls on the Bib Gourmand list, with many stalls selling out earlier than usual

Hoo Kee Rice Dumpling (above) at Amoy Street Food Centre, which normally closes at 3pm, sold out by 12.45pm. ST PHOTOS: MARCUS TAN
Zhen Shan Mei Claypot Laksa (above) at Alexandra Village Food Centre sold out at 2.30pm, instead of the usual 4pm.

Bib Gourmand hawker stalls in the city drew long queues yesterday. Those in the suburbs also saw better business, but waits were not much longer.

The list of 34 eateries with that rating was released on Thursday, one week ahead of the launch of the inaugural Michelin Guide for Singapore, and recognises establishments offering high-quality meals for less than $45 a person.

All four stalls at Amoy Street Food Centre - A Noodle Story, Famous Crispy Curry Puff, Hong Kee Beef Noodle and Hoo Kee Rice Dumpling - had better business than usual.

The longest queue was at A Noodle Story, which at one point stretched to 35 people. Customers had to wait 45 minutes for their turn.

By 12.45pm, Hoo Kee Rice Dumpling, which normally closes at 3pm, had sold all of its 400 rice dumplings and closed for the day.

Ten minutes later, the food at Hong Kee Beef Noodle - which usually opens until 7pm - also sold out and at least six customers had to be turned away.

Its owner, Mr Tony Tan Tan Tong, 58, said: "In my four years as the owner, today's business is the best. I'm happy so many people came, but I am also very tired. At this rate, I will just do my best.

"I don't think I have the energy to serve more dishes and I'm not sure if I can get more people to help. But this is a happy problem. Today, I am a happy man."

By 1pm, Famous Crispy Curry Puff had sold 400 puffs - 150 more than usual on normal days - and the stall had to turn away customers temporarily to make more puffs.

Ms Kris Goh, 39, an assistant at the stall, said: "We've never seen business like this before in our nine years. At about 9am, 10 people were queuing, which has never happened before."

Many customers were first-timers who had heard the news about the award-winning stalls.

IT manager Roxan Arcangeles, 48, and her husband drove from their home in Simei to Amoy Street Food Centre because they wanted to try food from all four stalls in one trip.

The Singaporean, who was in the queue for beef noodles, said: "I also want to eat the curry puff, the rice dumpling, and even the ramen if I can."

The couple will also go all over the island this weekend to hunt for the other winning stalls, she adds.

"I'm especially looking forward to the biryani at Bismillah Biryani. I will queue however long it takes because the food will be worth the wait."

Over at Maxwell Food Centre, Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice also saw a large turn-out. At 1.20pm, the queue stretched to 49 people.

Owner Foo Kui Lian, 67, said: "We usually close by 8pm, but today, I think we will sell out by 5pm. We have been working non-stop since 10am. Despite having a 20 to 30 per cent increase in business, I will stick to serving about 170 chickens daily as my staff is unable to cope with cooking more food."

One person in the queue was Mr Lawrence Lau, 25, a tourist from Canada who saw the Bib Gourmand list on Thursday.

He said: "The guide is quite renowned and is a time-efficient way of identifying good food in a foreign country. I am sure more tourists will come now."

Stalls outside the city area also had better business than usual.

Business at Zhen Shan Mei Claypot Laksa at Alexandra Village Food Centre, for example, was up by 30 per cent yesterday, with more than 100 servings of laksa sold during lunch time.

The stall sold out at 2.30pm yesterday instead of the usual 4pm.

Liang Zhao Ji Duck Rice in Whampoa also sold out an hour earlier, at 2pm.

But some regular customers were irritated with the longer queue.

Retiree Lim Teo Teck, 70, who has been patronising Hong Kee Beef Noodle for years, said: "Actually, it's not good that it won the award. I normally have to queue for only 10 minutes, but today, I have already queued for 30 minutes.

"I hope the hype dies down in a few days and everything returns to normal."

Mr Richard Ong, 42, who works in the construction industry and was in the queue at Zhen Shan Mei Claypot Laksa, said: "I will avoid visiting the stalls that are recommended by the Michelin Guide as more people will be curious to check them out and the hawkers may become too pressured to handle the growing crowd and the quality of the food will drop."

The Michelin effect

"I didn't really pay much attention to the announcement as I followed the Hong Kong Michelin Guide and found some of the places were of sub-standard and the quality of the food dropped after they got a Michelin mention. I can wait for 40 minutes if the food is good, but if this stall raises prices, I will avoid it as its prices are already on the high side."

Technician Max Kong, 32, a regular customer of The Fishball Story at Timbre+

"I knew that people will be flocking to the stalls today so I decided to find a stall that is closest to my home to go for breakfast before work. I don't mind waiting for 30 minutes for a first try, but I am concerned that the food quality will drop as hawkers strive to meet the expectations of more customers."

Mr Jay Wong, 26, wedding planner and first-time customer at Chey Sua Carrot Cake at Toa Payoh West Market & Food Centre

"We've never seen business like this before. It was a little stressful seeing the queue, but we worked at the same pace to make sure the puffs are up to standard. I don't think we can hire more people because our stall is so small. I guess we just have to be open and inform our customers if we cannot handle the demand."

Ms Kris Goh, 39, assistant at Famous Crispy Curry Puff at Amoy Street Food Centre

"I felt the 'Michelin effect' today and had to prepare more ingredients such as prawns and cockles to cope with the demand."

Mr Zhang Li Jin, 38, owner of Zhen Shan Mei Claypot Laksa at Alexandra Village Food Centre

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2016, with the headline Long queues at Bib Gourmand hawker stalls. Subscribe