It's all in the name

Habib's Rojak 503, West Coast Drive, Stall 68, Ayer Rajah Food Centre

The hawker business Mr Habib Mohamed's father ran had his name on it - literally.

When Mr Habib was born, his father opened an Indian rojak stall at Ayer Rajah Food Centre and named it after his second son.

In a way, this has paved the path for Mr Habib.

The 28-year-old was about to sit his private O-level examinations when shortage of manpower at the stall led him to stop his education and help his father out instead.

"I didn't really want to then, but I felt I had to," says Mr Habib, who has been peeling potatoes at the stall and going on marketing trips with his father since he was five.

Decision made, Mr Habib spent a few weeks learning from his father.

He described his father as a fierce teacher who expected him to learn quickly.

In 2013, he went on to serve Indian rojak at Hawker Heritage - The Next Chapter, an event organised by The Shangri-la Hotel Singapore.

It was there that Mr Habib learnt the importance of quality produce, like a certain brand of yeast that not only makes the flour texture finer but also reduces preparation time.

"Usually, the flour takes about four hours to be ready. With this yeast, it takes only one and a half hours at most for it to rise," says Mr Habib.

Even so, he still reaches the stall at 2am every day.

The morning starts with him preparing the different flour mixes - egg, coconut, potato - and getting fresh produce like prawns from the wet market in the compound where his stall is located.

Peanuts are also freshly ground to a slightly coarse texture "so they stick to the rojak when it is dipped into the sauce".

It is hard work behind the scenes, invisible to the throngs who come to his stall.

Yet times have been even tougher.

Mr Habib once survived on just an hour of sleep every day for two weeks when one of his workers went on urgent leave. He ended up going to work at 2am and going home past midnight.

"Those two weeks were hell for me," says Mr Habib.

"I kept asking why I had to kill myself this way; I thought I hated this line and didn't want to do it anymore."


But tough times do not last - tough people do.

He says: "Now I am not worried even if I don't have enough manpower - I know I can do it on my own, if I have to."

A good thing, too, because many come for the tantalising spread of items on display at this stall, which is open from 11am to midnight. Popular items include vadai (crispy prawn fritters), potato and coconut fritters.

Asked if he would name the stall after his son, Mr Habib says with a laugh: "The stall has had my name for so many years. Customers recognise it, so it is better to carry on with my name."

But he would like his son to take over the business one day.

He adds: "To me, doing this is sustainable. After all, I grew up on a hawker's income."