Hawker award boosted business for promising ramen cook

Mr Carmal Ahmad runs a halal ramen stall Mad Bros SG at Tanjong Pagar Plaza Food Centre. PHOTO: NICKY LOH

SINGAPORE - A year after he was named a promising new hawker, Mr Carmal Ahmad is still getting new customers at his halal ramen stall in Tanjong Pagar, all eager for a taste after reading about his award.

He said the accolade at the first Singapore Hawkers Awards last year has boosted earnings by 30 per cent at his stall Mad Bros SG at Tanjong Pagar Plaza Food Centre, which he opened in 2019.

Mr Carmal, 35, a finance graduate, told The Straits Times on Thursday (Feb 17): "Till now, people are still walking in and saying they read an article on us a while back, but haven't been in the area because of Covid-19. The pandemic put a lot of limitations on footfall, but the award helped."

His success could inspire hawkers thinking about signing up for the second instalment of the annual awards organised by the Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore (FMAS). Nominations are open till Feb 27 and the winners will be named on April 11.

FMAS on Thursday called on the public to tell their favourite hawkers about the awards and help them fill out the nomination form if needed. The form can be found at https://singaporehawkers.com.sg/singapore-hawkers-awards/

The Singapore Hawkers Awards recognises new entrants, innovators and family members who have taken over the business with three award categories - the Promising New Hawker Award, the Hawker Heritage Award, and the Enterprising Hawker Award.

The awards are supported by the National Environment Agency. Winners will each get $500 in cash.

The 15 hawkers who won the awards last year were chosen from more than 110 applications by a panel of seven judges, who included celebrity chefs Eric Teo and Mel Dean. Mr Dean and chef S.R. Bala will be among the judges this year.

The Straits Times, Lianhe Zaobao, Berita Harian and Tamil Murasu are media partners for the awards.

Singapore's hawker culture was added to the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2020.

Mr Carmal said the award came as a surprise. "It was unexpected. I didn't know about the award till I was nominated. I was jittery during the interviews with celebrity chefs, as I'm not trained in culinary arts. It was quite daunting."

He said he saw a 40 per cent rise in online engagement after he won the award and was featured in ST and Chinese daily Lianhe Zaobao. "The stark increase in traffic on our Instagram and Facebook pages translated into an increase of around 30 per cent in walk-ins," he said.

He added that while his stall's offerings appeal mostly to younger people, being featured in the papers has drawn older people to his stall as well.

Ms Faye Sai, 35, another winner of last year's awards, runs her family business Coffee Break at Amoy Street and Hong Lim food centres with her two siblings.

Ms Faye Sai runs her family business Coffee Break at Amoy Street and Hong Lim food centres with her two siblings. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

She is a marketing graduate, but said that in the trade, there is a perception that young hawkers cannot make it.

She told ST that winning the Hawker Heritage Award has been a confidence booster.

"The award shows people that we've been here for three generations already," she said.

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.