One mouthful and the whole experience felt very familiar,
not quite like a “It felt very old school” kind of sensation. I asked and the
30 year teenaged-face hip hawker revealed where they were originally from “it’s
my dad’s stall and he had been at it for forty years.”, said Li Rui Fang, an
economics and finance graduate who decided to walk in the shoes of her hawker parents
in January this year, after a stint as a Shenton Way corporate raider. She
calls herself the “head chef” on her Facebook page. She opened her own stall
here after helping her parents at their old shop for a year.
The original stall at Whampoa Food Centre (currently under
renovation) was my pre-breakfast, post partying supper back in the pre ERP days
of the 80s. When sleepiness, hunger plus the effects of a few beers settled in,
the last thing I noticed then, was the signboard. But I clearly felt that
familiarity in taste. Rui Fang’s version although had that “old school” taste,
also had a distinct sweetness to the stock which was not brought on by the
overuse of shallots. Their all-important make-or-break stock, comes a little
darker and it has that moreish sweetness and umami due to the use of “swa la”
or manila clams in the stock. “Which is why sometimes the stock is a little bit
off” as not all clams tastes the same, Rui Fang shares her street food wisdom.
The other edge is the little prawns, which are full of flavour, that they use.
Logic and economic reality back in the day dictated that you serve halved
prawns with an intense stock - so it was about the soup, not really the
ingredients. But affluence has influenced that thinking and today, they slap on
huge prawns to entice you, not so much the stock.
Rui Fang did not come across as overly ambitious in her
career move nor did she have demands on herself - just like her parents
expectations of her. When asked if they were against the idea of having her
daughter slave at the stall all day, “I let her be what she wants to be, so as
long as she is happy” said her mother Mdm Goh Kwee Lee who helps serve as Rui
Fang cooks. Her father Mr Lee Wong Leong, is fully contented to “just watch and
give some tips along the way”. You can see him standing at the back of the
stall like an invigilator. But he’s satisfied of her performance except for one
part- “she cannot handle the stock pot - too heavy for her to dredge the
ingredients out and she does it slowly.” But when egged on, she let me in on
her dream of one day opening up a café with low street stools “just like the
old days” dishing out their specialty.
While the soup version makes you slurp up the last drop,
their dry rendition is just as popular, if not more so. Their chilli sambal,
has all the attendant sweet, savoury, salty, spicy and dried seafood accents
and it also has a very old school touch - a spoon of ketchup blended in, which
takes the moreish spicy umami sensation to the “shiok” zone.
Make that café happen Rui Fang.
545 Whampoa Prawn
01-326, Tekka Food Centre, Off Serangoon Road
With effect from 1st January 2019..
6.30am-2pm or until sold out (Mondays to Fridays)
Closed on Saturdays & Sundays