Bringing new food adventure to Muslims

HOT: Mr Neo Siong Hoon says the all-time favourite dish of his Muslim customers is chilli crab. TNP PICTURE: JUDITH TAN

Sembawang Eating House Seafood Restaurant

The sad looks.

Mr Neo Siong Hoon, 34, and his mother could not erase them out of their minds.

"We used to operate beside Wak Hassan, the last Malay kampung mosque in Singapore," recalls the operations manager of Sembawang Eating House Seafood Restaurant.

"Many Muslims would come to the restaurant after their prayers for food and drinks. But because we were not halal, we saw them leave, hungry and disappointed."

That was why eight years ago, mother and son decided that at least one of the restaurants in their chain would be halal. They applied for halal certification when the restaurant moved into Bottle Tree Park in Sembawang.

The catering arm of the business took off at the same time.

"The halal certification makes it easier to cater for big gatherings and conferences," says Mr Neo.

"Today, our clients include Singapore General Hospital and Resort World Sentosa."

A foodie himself, Mr Neo, who started working at his mother's restaurant at the age of nine, feels that by becoming halal, Sembawang Eating House Seafood Restaurant opens up a whole new food adventure for the Muslim community.

"For example, whenever we recommend our Teochew steamed fish to Muslim customers, many will tell us it is the first time they are having their fish steamed," he says.

He says the all-time favourite dish among his Muslim customers is chilli crab.

"We cook it differently. Instead of using vinegar, we use oranges and lemons to give it a natural sour taste," he says.

Costs are higher, he concedes: "We pay about 40 cents more for each chicken."

While others say they see their clientele grow after becoming halal, Mr Neo says it is different for his eatery.

"Being halal, we don't serve pork. We don't serve liquor either," he says.

"That turned some of the Chinese customers away. But making up the shortfall are Muslim patrons and young families who don't drink."