Makansutra: Young hawkers dish out the deliciousness at Golden Mile
A few days ago, I had a fruitful chat over kopi with Senior Minister of State Amy Khor, the unofficial "minister" of hawker food in Singapore.
We touched on continuity and sustainability of our hawker culture - how and what we can do to keep that great wok fire going - among other issues.
Comforted in the thought that the powers that be are slowly but surely fixing all they can, I later strolled over to Golden Mile Food Centre and got some answers on my own.
Two young, well-educated people with the freshest of hawker faces - one woman and one man - were buzzing about their stalls.
Miss Jocelyn Yu runs Illuwa (#B1-31, 11am to 7pm, closed Sundays and public holidays), which means "come here" in Korean, serving up a small and specialised menu.
The 24-year-old Korean-Singaporean studied pastry and baking at an established local culinary school but ditched the diploma and went back to her mum's Chinese-Korean restaurant to earn her stripes.
She said that she "needed to take on this challenge" of being a hawker as she does not like the rigidity of a bakery.
I was drawn to her Squid Dumplings ($5) and it was an eye-opening moment.
The minced squid had good flavour and a bouncy texture because of its freshness, and the bits of black fungus and chives inside gave it bite. When dunked in the vinegar sauce, it made me think about how the other items have to be as good.
So I tried the Seaweed Rice with Spicy Chicken and Spicy Squid (both $5). These are restaurant-class, seriously.
The seaweed, sesame seeds and furikake flavouring hugging the pearly grains went comfortingly well with the spicy chicken (which is not very spicy really) and the spicy squid (more like sambal squid). The pickles, broccoli and kimchi in the bowl were mere supporting players in this K-makan act.
If you like lei cha fan (thunder tea rice), this one-ups it.
I will be back to try the Beef Bulgogi and the Jajangmyeon noodles.
Right next to Illuwa is Charlie's Peranakan Food (#B1-30, 11.30am to 7.30pm daily), where fresh-faced 20-year-old Joshua Chen greeted me.
He is the youngest son of Mr Charlie Tan, the former Nonya restaurateur who now helms the only hawker stall in Singapore with the most complex and authentic Nonya menu.
Mr Chen was "pleasantly surprised" that his father asked him to join the business after he had completed his national service "a few months back".
He said yes in a heartbeat as it was his family's rite of passage - all his siblings learnt cooking from dad but "all failed his tests", he said with a laugh.
But this one is "different", according to his dad.
Mr Chen has a thing for cooking as he feels it is similar to his university major - chemical engineering.
"It is toying with ingredients, flavours and heat and getting results that are useful for people", he said, adding that he hopes to continue his father's business after graduating.
He is now adept with the basics such as Buah Keluak, Beef and Chicken Rendang, Babi Pongteh and Chap Chye, but I am sure this list will eventually cover the entire menu.