Hawker Centre 3.0 proposals: 'Incubation stalls' can help budding hawkers

ST VIDEO: LIM YAOHUI
Mr Wong, who owns the Mr Salad stall in Amoy Street Food Centre, welcomed the idea of having incubation stalls with basic equipment for aspiring hawkers.
Mr Wong, who owns the Mr Salad stall in Amoy Street Food Centre, welcomed the idea of having incubation stalls with basic equipment for aspiring hawkers.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Aspiring hawkers may get a chance to see if they can make the cut at "incubation stalls", where they will be provided with basic equipment and learn the trade from more experienced hawkers.

This was one of the recommendations in the report submitted by the Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee to the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources yesterday.

Mr Wong Kok Weng, 36, who quit selling mobile phones to start a salad stall in Amoy Street Food Centre in 2015, said having incubation stalls is a great idea.

The first six months were an uphill struggle, he said. "At first, I wasted a lot of food and time as I didn't know how much and when to prepare."

Despite being surrounded by food, he was eating one meal a day. "I didn't dare to eat as I didn't know when customers would turn up," he recalled.

"Over time, fellow hawkers gave me advice on the peak hours, and I also learnt that some items can be prepared the night before. But not all stalls are so helpful, as they may be worried that you will take business away from them," added Mr Wong, who runs a one-man show.

 

Mr Douglas Ng, 26, who started a fishball noodle stall in Golden Mile Food Centre in 2014, said the incubation stalls would be a good start.

He said that whether they really help budding hawkers would depend on whether the hawkers would need to pay rent and other costs during their stint. This was not specified in the recommendations.

When he started out, Mr Ng forked out $2,500 a month in rent from his savings, and broke even after 11/2 years.

Mr Fabian Toh, 36, who sells Cantonese dessert in Chinatown food centre, represents the latest generation in a family business that goes back to 1966. He said many new hawkers try too hard to be creative, offer too many varietiesor are overconfident about recipes, which could lead to disappointment.

"If you want to cook something, just cook that something and make sure you do a good job. The rest doesn't really matter," said Mr Toh.

Mr K.F. Seetoh, founder of food guide Makansutra, said implementing the incubation stalls idea would not be simple, as "some dishes require more than basics as a start".

"For example, a bak chor mee (stall) requires blanching stations, mise en place sections and a back wok station to make sauces and sambal, differing from, say, a chicken rice stall," he noted. "So, this has to be properly managed to meet the expectations of a new and eager set of street food chefs."

• Additional reporting by Samantha Boh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 04, 2017, with the headline ''Incubation stalls' can help budding hawkers'. Print Edition | Subscribe