In my newest book, Singapore Hawker Food, published under the Timmy & Tammy Discover series, I talk a bit about young hawkers. It has been noted that the median age of hawkers today in Singapore is 59, and this is a worrying trend because if more young hawkers do not join the trade today, we may not have a viable and sustainable hawker food culture to speak of.
I really wanted to feature a few young hawkers in the book, but space only permitted for one - A Noodle Story, founded by Gwern Khoo and Ben Tham in 2013. They have been listed on the Michelin Bib Gourmand for three times in a row now, beginning in 2016. Way before that, they had already been selling out their noodle dish daily, to a long queue of customers. And why not, these are two former chefs of fine dining restaurants like Waku Ghin and Jaan, preparing a delicious noodle dish for a fraction of fine dining prices. Their char siew is sous vide for 36 hours! Which other hawker does that in Singapore!
You might be surprised that chefs from a fine dining restaurant would want to start their own hawker food business. Lack of space, heat, and volume of food required are just some differences to deal with. But there are similarities too, says Gwern. "You cook for your customers, you make them happy. You must be proud of your dish. It's irresponsible as a chef otherwise." Gwern says it is most fulfilling when customers give praise for their food. That's the bottom line.
Ben Tham (L) and Gwern Khoo (R) of A Noodle Story, with my book
It was really educational chatting with him about the economics of running a hawker stall. "People assume that hawkers work long hours and make a measly salary, and they think it's not worth it. But if people realise it is possible to earn a decent salary, and afford the nice things in life, I think they will change their minds about the hawker trade," according to Gwern.
Gwern also shared with me about his expansion plans, but I don't think I should share them here. I cannot wait to see it happen though!
(There've been lots of coverage about A Noodle Story's Singapore-style ramen - Google it and you'll find them. The purpose of this post was not to feature their food.)