A LARGE crowd turned up at a seafood stall in Sin Ming Road yesterday for one last taste of their favourite Teochew dishes cooked by chef Wu Ling Wu.
It was the last day of business for Ah Orh Seafood (Sin Ming Road), which Mr Wu, who is retiring, has run for 23 years.
Since news surfaced earlier this month that it was closing, customers have been showing up in droves. Mr Wu even had to extend his closing time from 9pm to 10.45pm.
"I want to make sure all my customers are served," said the 65-year-old last night.
"This is the last time I will cook for them."
Yesterday, some patrons reached the coffeeshop at 4pm to reserve a table, even though Mr Wu started cooking only at 5.30pm. A two-hour wait did not deter other patrons from joining the queue.
Among the early birds were food consultant Violet Oon, who arrived at 4.50pm to get a seat. Like many, she ordered traditional Teochew dishes such as steamed pomfret and cold crab.
"It's hard to find such authentic Teochew food in a bustling coffeeshop atmosphere.
"The ingredients are very fresh, especially the pomfret," added the 65-year-old, who discovered the place 12 years ago and has been a regular since.
"I had to make one last pilgrimage before it closes."
For secretary Irene Lim, having lunch at Ah Orh yesterday was not enough - she turned up with her husband and two daughters for dinner as well.
"The food here simply has wok hei," she said, referring to the slightly charred taste in food cooked over a strong fire.
Despite the roaring business, Mr Wu decided to close shop because he wanted to retire.
Seven staff, including Mr Wu and his wife and three daughters, served hundreds of people each day. "You can imagine how hectic it is daily," he told The Straits Times. "I'm tired - it's time for a rest."
Mr Wu learnt to cook traditional Teochew dishes from his father, who ran a food stall around Chinatown in the 1950s.
One special recipe, hardly seen in other restaurants, is a "double-cooked fish" - fresh fish is first deep-fried and then braised in a creamy leek sauce with pork fat.
Although second daughter Xiu Fang, 27, has learnt to cook almost all the dishes, Mr Wu believes running the business is too demanding and his children alone "would not be able to handle it".
Mr Wu's older brother, Mr Wu Ling Zhen, 67, runs a restaurant by the same name in Bukit Merah, which is not closing. It serves similar dishes.
While patrons lament the loss of the Sin Ming stall's authentic Teochew cuisine, the Wus are looking forward to a family holiday.
"Maybe to Korea or Taiwan," said eldest daughter Mei Fang, 29.
"But we've been so busy lately that I've hardly had time to go online and look at air tickets."