Makansutra: Covid-proof food stalls making it work during tough times
These three stalls offer delicious respite - burgers, Vietnamese fare and ngoh hiang - while the economy reopens slowly
Why do some eateries and hawkers struggle in the current climate, while others are seemingly Covid-proof?
For starters, a good recipe does not necessarily translate into good business.
Besides a dollop of luck, it also boils down to factors such as location, food type, price point, presentation and the customers the eatery is targeting in the area.
Being an established name with a solid reputation helps too - online fame can only get you so far.
These three stalls are still making it work by offering well-cooked comfort favourites.
WILDFIRE CHICKEN & BURGERS
Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, 80 Bencoolen Street, #01-15, 11.30am to 9pm daily (wildfireburgers.com for online orders)
Ms Joanne Toh and Mr Shaun Leong are serial food and beverage entrepreneurs. They have worked in the business and opened Korean barbecue restaurants and they have now revived local burger brand Wildfire Chicken & Burgers, which closed last year.
It may be barely a month old but I was bowled over by the Angus beef Shabu Burger ($13) with bunashimeji mushroom, onion, yakiniku sauce and goma (sesame) sauce. The streaky slices in the burger lent so much texture and airiness to each bite.
Even though Ms Toh and Mr Leong opened their stall in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, they believe their concept of a "handy and hand-size burger" will be popular during and post-Covid - "Just take out and munch in".
The Eggstarter ($9), with crispy bacon, creamy folded egg, cheese, caramelised onion and mayonnaise, is another winner that makes the fast-food version feel underwhelming.
90 Whampoa Drive Food Centre, #01-50, 8am to 9pm. Closed on Mondays
When asked why not set up shop in the popular Joo Chiat area, owner Jade, who came to Singapore from Vietnam six years ago, said: "I want to sell to Singaporeans, not Vietnamese."
When pressed, she reflected: "Maybe this is not the best location, but I have some regulars here now."
Whampoa is an old estate where many residents are not overly adventurous when it comes to food.
Her Bun Nem Nuong, with glutinous beehoon and five lemongrass pork skewers spiked with other aromatics such as laksa leaf, mint and basil, is a runaway hit at $8.
Spoon some of the sweet, sour, salty and spicy fish sauce over it and it is worth the 20-minute wait for that freshly barbecued meat.
Here, the Goi Tom Dua Leo ($5, cucumber and pineapple salad) comes with pork, prawn and laksa leaf, and the sweet, sharp and umami from the pork and prawn make it appealing. It is hard to stop eating this salad.
SIN SIN PRAWN CRACKERS
210 Toa Payoh Lorong 8 Market and Food Centre, #01-46, noon to 8pm. Closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays
They are sold out every business day within three hours - and we are not talking pre-Covid times, but just last week.
They handmake quite a few, but not all, of the items on display shining under the lights.
With just about 17 items beckoning, the patient crowds keep pointing to favourites such as prawn cracker, pink pork sausage, yam-buffed meat roll, fish cake, century egg with pickled ginger and especially its self-made fried spring roll.
The chilli has a piquant and refreshing lift and is a standout.
There is a 15-minute wait for every order but no one is complaining.
Perhaps it is the heartland location and folks there just have a fondness for Teochew ngoh hiang. The traditional household name, quality and consistency are also major factors that keep customers coming back for more, virus or no virus.