Two young hawkers keeping food traditions alive
He used to wear suits in an office meeting clients and discussing sales targets. Mr Walter Tay, 28, now dons an apron instead.
About a year ago, he hung up his suits and ties and started selling fried carrot cake and Hokkien mee at his father's hawker stall, then in Toa Payoh.
Mr Tay, who now helps to run hawker stall Father & Son in Bukit Panjang, tells The New Paper on Sunday: "It gets hot and oily. Plus, the days are long, sometimes stretching to 12 hours.
"But really, it is all about family and the passing down of tradition."
Working as a hawker is a far removed from Mr Tay's previous job as a property salesman, but one could say he spent his early years preparing for it.
Mr Tay, who was born in Australia, moved here with his family when he was six.
His family started selling hawker food as soon as they arrived.
Mr Walter Tay,posing in front Father & Son, sells carrot cake, hokkien mee and char kway teow. TNP PHOTO: Jeremy Long.
Growing up, Mr Tay watched his parents perfect their recipes for fried carrot cake, char kway teow and Hokkien mee.
"I grew up with hawker food all around me and to see it die out will be such a shame," says Mr Tay, who is Singaporean.
"If we don't try, no one will cook for us in the future."
The resistance the hawker culture faces from his generation is understandable, says Mr Tay.
"While it is fulfilling for me, it is also tough and not for everyone. You need to commit the hours, and you have to love it," he says.
But there is a way to increase the appeal of being a hawker among the younger generation.
When his parents moved their stall to Bukit Panjang last December, Mr Tay spent the first two months improving its systems so that being a hawker would be less demanding but still profitable.
Says Mr Tay: "My previous work experience came in useful. I introduced ways to help speed things up and make them better."
Mr Walter Tay hard at work at his stall. TNP PHOTO: JEREMY LONG.
To boost efficiency, Mr Tay developed a coloured peg system so that orders can be prepared faster.
Knowing it was important to reach out to potential customers, he took to social media to market the stall.
When asked about the Michelin stars that were recently awarded to two hawkers here, Mr Tay says the stars are something hawkers can aspire to achieve.
"An award like that boosts the name of hawkers and they should push out their brand," he says.
Does Mr Tay dream of being awarded Michelin stars?
With a grin, he says: "Having a bit of coverage from the media here and there helps.
"Who knows, in the future? Maybe next year, I'll go for it."
His parents' stall is doing well even without the Michelin stars.
The older Mr Tay, 66, says they serve more than 400 customers a day and attributes their success to his son.
He says: "He tells us how to talk to different kinds of customers. It makes me happy to see that he is helping to preserve our food culture."
With a laugh, he adds: "It also helps that he has many fans who keep coming back."
No doubts over hawkering
Mr Benjamin Aw, 27, is a young hawkers continuing the hawker traditions that he grew up in. His stall sells vegetarian versions of local delicacies. TNP PHOTO: JEREMY LONG
He knew what he wanted to do even before completing his national service.
Mr Benjamin Aw, 27, tells The New Paper on Sunday: "Food has always been my passion.
"I knew that I wanted to sell hawker food. My parents have been doing it for so long, and I want to take over."
Mr Aw's parents have been selling vegetarian food at various stalls, including one in Kallang and another in a school canteen.
Late last year, they moved to their current stall in Bukit Panjang.
Their stall sells vegetarian versions of local favourites such as fried rice, mee siam and even chicken rice.
Being surrounded by food influenced Mr Aw's decisions early on.
He says that watching his parents cook and serve people persuaded him to take up a diploma in hospitality.
"I was raised in what you can call a hawker culture, which gave me an interest in cooking and serving people," he says.
And this "hawker culture" is not to be underestimated.
Two hawker stalls in Singapore were awarded the highly coveted Michelin stars last week.
Hearing the news made Mr Aw proud - it was an "honour" for all hawkers.
"A Michelin star is not easily achieved. They must have achieved a certain standard to get it," he says.
Inspired, Mr Aw says: "I'll focus on what I should do now. The stalls that were awarded have been around for so many years.
"I am just a newbie in the playground, so I'll keep serving my food and do what I do."
While Mr Aw's friends hold office jobs, he says being deskbound has never crossed his mind.
"I like to move around, and I can't imagine myself sitting at a desk. There is no doubt about it, I am just not that kind of person," he says.
Mr Aw wanted to do more than just helping out at his parents' stall.
He decided to work there full-time after completing his national service around three years ago.
But he confesses that there are challenging moments which require hard work.
He says: "Negotiating between the customers and our need for profit is always tough, especially when the cost of food is always rising."
And there is the issue of travelling for Mr Aw, who lives in Sengkang.
He wakes up at 5am daily for the one-hour journey to prepare the food in time.
There is also the worry of not having enough customers, especially since the stall is located in a food centre that opened only recently.
"But there is a satisfaction from being a hawker that keeps me happy," he says.
"I am going to be doing this all my life."
About Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre And Market
Bukit Panjang Hawker Centre And Market was the first of 20 new centres the Government announced it will build by 2027.
The centre, which will be officially opened on Saturday, boasts 28 food stalls and a seating capacity of 500.
It also has special features including 24 seats allocated for family dining, as well as larger "family toilets".
The centre operates from 6am to 10.30pm daily.