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Not your typical hawker

F & BTrendsOpinions

These young hawkerpreneurs are making waves in our local hawker scene.

An integral part of Singapore's culture, our hawker scene has evolved over the years.

However, a handful of young hawkerpreneurs in Singapore are determined to preserve the dying trade in their own creative ways.

Due to the increasing interest in hawkerpreneurs among young Singaporeans recently, one organisation even had to suspend its hawker-training programmesIn fact, many millennials are now choosing to start their businesses at "less desirable" locations such as coffee shops, and new-age hawker centres like Timbre+.

Among them are the three young owners behind Truly Test Kitchen: brothers Joel Chia and Joshua Chia, and Deniece Tan.


FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: JOSHUA CHIA, DENIECE TAN, AND JOEL CHIA.

Before opening Truly Test Kitchen, 26-year-old Deniece and 30-year-old Joel worked as Forex traders, each drawing a five-figure salary monthly.

Spurred by their love for hawker food, they eventually left in 2013 to start Truly Test Kitchen, which offers hearty and affordable hawker fares.


KNOWN FOR THEIR CHEAP PRICES AND HUGE PORTIONS, TRULY TEST KITCHEN HOUSES A TOTAL OF FIVE STALLS.

While their menu offers traditional hawker favourites, such as fried yam cake and meatball porridge, you can also find "hipster" dishes like chicken waffles, a hot dish among their youth customers.

"We want to introduce a welcoming environment that can cater to people of all age groups," said Deniece, a Nanyang Technological University (NTU) business graduate.


CURRY RICE IS ONE OF THE POPULAR DISHES ON THE TRULY TEST KITCHEN MENU.

When asked about their thoughts on the dying hawker trade in Singapore, the trio lamented over how hawker food is beginning to lose its relevance.

"Singaporeans are definitely more health-conscious now. As nostalgic, cheap, and delicious a plate of char kway teow can get, how often will a young person eat it for lunch?" said Joel, a business graduate from National University of Singapore (NUS).

He added: "Just like everything else, hawker food needs to learn to get ahead with the times too."

To cater to the growing trend of food delivery services, Truly Test Kitchen told Youth.SG that customers can soon place their orders through popular brands like Deliveroo, UberEATS, Foodpanda, and What to Eat Delivery. They are hoping to get their deliveries started on Aug 1.

At the same time, hawkerpreneurs offering local cuisines with a modern twist are on the rise too. Also known as "hipster hawkers", Justin Lim opened Fish & Chicks at Ang Mo Kio this year to attract a younger crowd.


JUSTIN HAS ALWAYS WANTED TO START OUT HIS OWN F&B BUSINESS.

When he first opened Fish & Chicks, he did not expect it to draw long queues that snaked for up to two hours.

"I think social media played a part in building up this hype, but customers were mainly drawn to the fusion dishes we offer," explained the 26-year-old boss.

To draw more Singaporean foodies to his stall, Justin recently jumped onto the salted egg yolk trend by introducing Fish & Chicks' own salted egg yolk dishes.


BESIDES THE REGULAR WESTERN CUISINE, FISH & CHICKS OFFERS ASIAN-INSPIRED DISHES
LIKE SALTED EGG YOLK AND CHILLI CRAB FISH & CHIPS.

Justin also believes it is essential for food businesses to be creative, by revamping their menu constantly to keep their customers coming.

"I think new-age hawkerpreneurs may be able to sustain; the younger generation is usually more creative, and they have different ideas of doing F&B. As long as they can withstand the long hours and harsh conditions in the kitchen, they are fine," Justin added, with a laugh.

The good folks behind Truly Test Kitchen shared the same sentiments as well.

Joel said: "Be prepared to make lots of sacrifices, and ready yourselves for a hazardous working environment. Success doesn’t come overnight!"

With these courageous and creative young hawkerpreneurs in our food scene, maybe our hawker culture may not be dying after all.