Two generations, going on third: Tian Tian Lai Hokkien Mee


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Mr Ng, second gen hawker

I recently had a discussion with my friend who is working on a paper about Singapore’s hawker heritage, and i suppose the biggest question that came to our minds was, is our hawker culture dying? Well, if we stick to the strict sense of the term ‘hawker’, then yes, it died a long time ago, right about when the government clammed down on hygiene and relocated hawkers to designated centres. In Singapore, we don’t exactly find hawkers peddling the streets, unlike in some other Asian countries. I guess the closest we’ve got are our ice cream uncles with their giant umbrellas on motorbikes.

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I think that there is no need to worry about the extinction of dishes like Hokkien Mee, or many of our popular dishes for that matter. To me, the biggest concern is, who will take over our beloved stalls when the hawkers retire. I don’t mean the dish per se, i’m referring specifically to the stalls.Take Tian Tian Lai Hokkien Mee for example, Mr Ng’s father started cooking hokkien mee way back in 1968, and he eventually took over the trade and has garnered a loyal group of patrons ever since. His hokkien mee has lasted two generations.

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To find another hokkien mee stall that cooks it just like the way Mr Ng does is hard. Different recipe; different tastes. But to find any other hokkien mee stall, or place that sells hokkien mee, isn’t much of a problem. If preserving the hokkien mee dish is our biggest concern, food court chains can very much serve the purpose. But what we’ll be left with is a standardised hokkien mee across Singapore. Currently, with all the hawker stalls out there, each with their own recipe and method of preparation, we end up with different of takes of the same dish. And to me, i think the loss of recipes, along with the stories of joys and hardship, are what we should be worried about. When Mr Ng retires, will we ever find another stall that cooks hokkien mee with such rich gooiness? I mean, i enjoy wet versions of hokkien mee, like the one from Nam Sing, and dry versions too, like the one from Hainan Hokkien Mee, but on some days, i enjoy a viscous version too.

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I love his plate of hokkien mee, particularly for its texture; trademarked for its gooey consistency. The sweet aftertaste of the prawn stock lingers beyond each slurp, and for some, the overall richness of flavours might come across as too gelat. For me, two plates will definitely leave me feeling queasy from the richness, but spread it out over lunch and dinner, NO PROBLEM!

 

Alas, the reality of the situation is, not all stalls will pass on their recipes. Some stories and recipes will stay with their generation, and as unfortunate as it may sound, we may only have pictures and memories of that awesome plate of *whatever dish* from *whatever place* to share with our children. But with the loss of old recipes, will come new ones, and i think what’s important is that we continue to support the new hawkers that come into the trade. The recipes will definitely be different, tastes will definitely differ, but i am excited to see what our new generation of hawkers can bring with their fresh ideas. And if there’s one thing that will remain the same, is the long and tiring working hours. Admittedly, it is not easy being a hawker. So rather than complain and demand that the food be super cheap and super good at the same time, why not give these new hawkers support and encouragement? After all, many of our favourite old stalls started off without a following, in fact, many started off failing! With time and experience, and better knowledge of customer tastes, our new generation of hawkers will eventually take our hawker scene by storm (and our taste buds).

As for Tian Tian Lai Hokkien Mee, Mr Ng’s son is already slowly picking up the skills. That means we can enjoy his hokkien mee for another generation! 😀

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Address: #02-27, Toa Payoh West Market and Food Court, 127 Toa Payoh Lorong 1

Opening Hours: 9.30am to 9pm

Prices:

  • Hokkien Mee – $3
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