Our hawker cuisine has been undergoing a period of maturity in the last decade or so. In the 70’s and 80’s we witnessed the progression of hawkers from pushcarts to hawker centres. Then in the 90’s and 2000s, some of the famous ones moved into the food courts and franchising began. In the last decade or so, we have seen how certain dishes like wanton mee have gone on to open their own specialty restaurants.
This trend is set to continue even as our pioneering generation of hawkers are reaching retirement age. Some stalls will cease due to the lack of succession. Fortunately, others like Nam Sing Hokkien Mee and Hillstreet Char Kway Teow have managed to pass on the wok ladle to the next generation. Yet others, like Wah Kee Prawn mee and Ah Ter Teochew Fishball noodles are taking it to the next level by turning our blue collar dishes into a proper cuisine.
Our protagonist today, Mr Gilbert Lim, 45, has been described as a “hawker hunk” on more than one occasion since he made the news when he entered the hawker trade in 2003. He had been working as a trader and in the construction business prior to becoming a hawker. After 15 years of hard work, our hawkerpreneur is finally ready to take the first step into expanding his father’s 60 year old legacy!
Ah Ter’s story started in 1958 when Gilbert’s grandfather started a fishball noodle stall at Maxwell Road market. His father, Mr Lim Ter Nee, 72, helped out at the stall for a couple of years before taking over the reins. They did well enough to open a coffeeshop in Bukit Merah in the 1980’s. However, in 1997, the financial crisis forced them to close the coffeeshop and Mr Lim spent a few years selling fishball noodles in various locations. In 2003, Gilbert decided to start his own stall under his father’s name at Amoy Street Food Centre.
The beginning was tough and the young hawker was struggling with serving very average noodles even having inherited his father’s recipes. It took him about 5 years before he began to attract media attention. Gilbert tells me that he was constantly tweaking the recipe over the years and it took him 10 years before he felt he had perfected his recipe!
Gilbert tells me that the key to a great bowl of noodles is balance. His chilli is made from 7 different ingredients and takes 6 hours to cook. Pork lard and fried shallots are made fresh daily and this is added to the chilli to make the basic sauce. Then a dash of tomato ketchup is added for sweetness, black vinegar for tartness and tossed together with the mee pok to make an irresistible bowl of mee pok tar!
The soup is especially addictive. It is robust, sweet and very well balanced. A lot of effort has been put into sourcing the best fishballs and minced pork and the quality is quite evident. It is one of the best soups I have come across. 4.5/5
They offer a few side dishes here. The chicken wings are quite good. They are not outstanding, but they make a good accompaniment. 4/5 I am not a fan of the fish cake. I found them a little too dense and doughy. 3/5
The set up is casual and comfortable and most importantly, air-conditioned! I particularly like their bowls and chopsticks which really added to the whole meal experience. This is the way of the future for our hawker dishes and I look forward to the day when one of these new hawker cuisine eateries wins a Michelin Star!
Excellent bowl of mee pok tar! This is now my go to place to bring overseas visitors for a taste of traditional Teochew Fishball noodles!
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