One of my proudest achievements of blogging is to start the “Best 50 Plates of [Hawker Food].” I eat each and every bowl of food myself, and sometimes I have to visit a place three times because it is not open. On weekends, I wake up at 6am to avoid the long queues at some of the popular stalls. However, on second thought, the hawkers work harder than I do, so I shan’t complain.
I wish I could say that my purpose is to give publicity to hawkers; I’m not so noble, my purpose is a selfish one. I want to educate myself about hawker food, and I want to learn by experience through eating.
Why do I want to educate myself? Because hawker food is uniquely Singapore, because I’m a Singaporean, and because I want to know my roots, and my heritage. In this crazy, confusing, fast-paced world, it is so difficult to find yourself, and to find yourself, you must first know where you come from.
His name is Chia Soon Kia
Some people ask, “Why eat 50 plates? Why queue at the famous stalls? All chicken rice are the same, just eat the one nearby can already.” To a great extent, I agree with them. I’m a lazy person, and I hate queuing.
But not all chicken rice is the same. When you eat a plate of chicken rice, and two months later, eat another plate of chicken rice, you will think that they taste the same because your memory is fuzzy. But when you eat 50 plates of something in a short period of time, you can tell the difference. If you give me 50 bowls of wanton mee to eat, I can taste the one cooked by Kok Kee.
In the video featuring Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee (Hong Lim Park), the hawker uncle uses an analogy: cooking is like handwriting, and everybody has different handwriting, so his char kway teow is different from others.
The short film is told from a real customer’s point of view. Created as part of Tiger Beer’s recently launched street food movement, the film is one of three short narratives featuring our hawker heroes and their unique stories, and it aims to deepen Singaporeans’ appreciation for our iconic street food. The customer has been eating the char kway teow for over 30 years and is worried when the hawker retires. The hawker’s sons have their own careers. And honestly, who wants a job whereby you have to wake up at 3am, knock off at 4pm, with few rest days?
Because of the short film, I woke up at 5.30am to visit the char kway teow stall to beat the hour-long queue. YES! There was eyeshit in my eyes, but at least there wasn’t a queue.
Because it was so early, the auntie told me to get a seat and she would bring the food to me. How is the plate of $3 char kway teow? In the video, the customer says the secret is that each strand of kway teow is coated generously with egg. Well, that is true, but I think the secret is lard, lots of delicious, gorgeous lard. The style is the dry kind, but the lard lubricates the kway teow. Crunchy beansprouts offset the soft kway teow, which has a seafood-like sweetness.
How do I feel if this char kway teow is gone? Actually, I’ve experienced a similar loss before. Kim Bak Chor Mee, the #1 bak chor mee on my Best BCM list, is now closed because the hawker has retired, and I heard that he went to England where his son is working. It’s a pity that future generations cannot eat his bak chor mee anymore.
But hawker food will evolve to suit the needs of our society. It is a supply-and-demand situation. If a certain hawker food is gone, it is sad but the positive side is that one can download an online recipe and cook.
Which is why writing and blogging about food is so important. It leaves a trace for our future generations to read about how we live, to know our heritage, and to understand our culture. Food is not dead just because it isn’t sold at hawker centres; food lives on in words, blogs, recipes. Shakespeare was afraid that his lover might grow old and die, and nobody would remember their love. His solution is to write a sonnet to eternalize his love and the lover’s beauty in words:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
Shakespeare means that as long as his sonnet survives, their love and the lover’s beauty will be remember. Nothing lives forever, not even diamond. Change will come to our hawker heritage. But as long as we write down our memories of them, our words give them life.
* * * * *
Hashtag #uncagestreetfood on your instagram photos of our local street food to share your thoughts on whether we should preserve our street food culture and support this movement championed by Tiger Beer.
For more information on Tiger Beer’s new street food movement to celebrate and preserve our nation’s unique food heritage, visit http://www.tigerbeer.com.sg.
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.