It’s been a challenging journey as a young hawker, and it’s not because of the long hours I put in. People have asked me because of my age: “You know how to cook or not?” and “Your food is edible or not?”
It sounds discouraging, but I prefer to let my food do the talking. I sell traditional desserts like cheng tng, chendol and red bean soup at Ci Yuan Community Club Hawker Centre in Hougang. I sell about 400 bowls a day. Some are homemade recipes, others are self-taught creations.
I’ve always wanted to run a cafe, but like many Singaporeans, I grew up eating at hawker centres. I thought, “If the younger generation can step up to keep this hawker culture alive for future generations, why not?” So I quit my job as a clinic assistant a few years ago to get into Hawkerpreneurs under the Fei Siong Entrepreneurship Program. It provides local entrepreneurs a chance to operate their own cooked food stalls and to preserve our hawker heritage.
The three-month training was tough! I had my first taste of what life would be like as a hawker. I toiled from 7am to 11pm at two stalls, managing the business operations, from sales, planning the stall layout, buying equipment, dealing with suppliers, to learning and improving the recipes.
I remember having to deshell hard boiled eggs every morning. The eggs were very fresh so the egg white would stick to the shell. Each time I peeled an egg, the yolk would be exposed and I couldn’t sell them! So I ate them… by the time I ruined the third egg, I couldn’t swallow it anymore!
My parents were initially shocked by my decision to become a hawker. I didn’t have any F&B experience. I graduated with a Food Science and Nutrition certificate from Institute of Technical Education College East, and a Pharmaceutical Science diploma from Republic Polytechnic. I put in $5,000 of my savings to take over the dessert stall.
My folks later quit their jobs to help me as both of them had some F&B experience, and business was also picking up. They taught me how to make hot home-cooked desserts. My dad has since retired, while my mum still helps me.
My working hours are very long and I try to find time to have a social life. Being a hawker brings me so much joy… I get to meet all kinds of people…the good, the bad, the weird, and even the troublemakers! But what matters is, I’m doing what I love most.
This article was first published in Her World’s July issue. Grab a copy today!