A Beautiful Mess: Toa Payoh Rojak


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At the age of 82, Mr Cheng is still happy and proud of what he does; preparing Chinese Rojak. And he’s still going strong! After 43 years of stirring and tossing (30 years at Toa Payoh and 13 years at Old Airport Road), he says he is 开心 and will do it for as long as he can! Under his apprenticeship is his son-in-law who is starts preparing the stall at 8am everyday even though they only start selling at 12pm.

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I had the privilige of trying both the rojak made by Mr Cheng himself and his son-in-law and i must say….i can’t tell the difference! Both are equally delicious, with the thick and savoury hae kor, and the chilli sauce and assam water that Mr Cheng says are important ingredients to a good rojak.

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And when you’ve got good rojak, a long queue is inevitable. But where’s the queue? Mr Cheng’s daughter came up with an ingenious idea of taking away the need to stand and pyshically wait in a long queue. With a number slip in your hand, you can enjoy your plate of Nam Sing Hokkien Mee while ‘queueing’ at the same time. You place your order only when your number is flashed digitally on a screen. Just like how you’d wait for your bubble tea! Less physical obstruction, less crowd around the stall, happier customers (:

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I was reminded of a painter at work as i watched my plate of rojak being prepared by Mr Cheng. Surrounding the mixing bowl were smaller porcelain bowls, each with a different condiment, from grounded peanuts, to the special hae kor, to chilli sauce. Rojak..it can’t be that difficult to prepare. It’s just mixing different ingredients together! But i couldn’t bring myself to say the same thing when i saw him so immersed into what seemed like an easy task. The way the uncle made each stir, each toss, just made the dish seem that more sophisticated in its preparation.

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When i paint, i let my feelings take over. I let my feelings decide what colour to use, and how much force should be applied into each stroke of the brush. What makes the rojak at Toa Payoh Rojak so different from the rest was not just the ingredients, but the amount of passion put into the dish too. Digest that passion with your heart!

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Address: 51 Old Airport Road, #01-108 Old Airport Road Food Centre

Opening Hours: 12pm to 8pm, closed on Sun

Prices: Rojak – $3 >

 

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