So, it is with this backdrop that I was introduced to the hawker duo of Joel and Deniece that took me totally by surprise. They both quit their daytime jobs to take over a curry rice stall.
They both had comfortable jobs working in air conditioned environments, but today, they work in a space that is cramped and hot and operate from as early as 4am in the morning.
This is indeed not the type of life that a typical 20something or 30something is accustomed to. Nor will they likely want to. Yet, there is a sense of purpose and passion displayed in both Joel and Deniece that is so unlike their peers.
Their stall is found in a typical hawker centre in Telok Blangah, and their offering is curry rice. As neither of them is Hainanese, it is not authentic hainanese curry rice here, but it is a sort of an amalgamation of hainanese curry rice, mixed with some other home styled dishes that some of us will find familiar.
A curry rice standard is pork chop and here, the nicely sliced pork chop was really quite decent. The bread crumbed exterior was crumbly and had the requisite texture, but the overall dish could do with a little more seasoning and a tad more crunch.
|Bitter Gourd Omelette|
The bitter gourd omelette was surprisingly good. I like how the outside was golden crisp and yet internally, it had a lovely thick texture that showed a certain amount of finesse in manipulating the eggs mixture whilst cooking. The bitter gourds were also nicely caramelized and not only were they not overly bitterly, the extracted sugars actually give it a tinge of sweetness.
The meatballs were huge and succulent and well seasoned. Though the sauce was a bit sweet and could have done with a more savory hit, I really enjoyed the texture of the meatballs. There was just enough fat in the minced pork to give it that punch of flavor that is so important in a good meatball.
Another requisite of curry rice was this beautifully made chap chye dish. It looked well cut and even better when presented. The natural sweetness of the cabbage and the tow kee really came through and the dish had a nice balance about it and I also like the different textures that they put together here.
This dish did look somewhat out of place for a curry rice stall, but it was actually quite tasty on its own. The addition of lemongrass gave it a refreshing lift and the combination of sweet and spicy was also quite well done. The calamari though, was just that slightly overcooked, but it never distracted from the overall impact of the dish.
The eggplant dish was our favorite for the morning. Cut into lengthy chunks, the sweetness of the eggplants was beautifully extracted, and when coupled with the robustness of the hei bee hiam, it was just a lovely combination. Simple and effective, the way I always like it.
As for the curry rice itself, it was quite superb. The flavor of the curry was robust, full bodied and had the right consistency. The spices came through really well, and had just the right balance of flavors. I actually felt that this is the best part of the entire meal.
|Joel and Deniece|
Deniece's dad was working at the curry rice stall before the pair of them decided to take over completely. Now, Joel does most of the cooking and judging from the way he talked about his food, it's clear he has a real sense of purpose doing this hawker gig.
It's also clear that food and cooking is an important part of his life. The desire to go through his mum's recipes is another factor in him wanting to make a go at this. And how often do you find a young lady like Deniece working so hard to help with the chopping and serving of the food in a hawker centre? Not very often I venture.
It is indeed quite a sacrifice to be young hawkers, and just for that, I have immense admiration for both Joel and Deniece in what they are doing today. The fact that they are serving better than average food is also a testament that the young generation can also produce good food.
As for hawker culture dying, I never believe it will die. All food evolves, and no matter how you think that there is no one in the young generation will continue our street food cuisine, there are always people like Joel and Deniece to prove us wrong time and again.
Young hawkers will eventually be great hawkers if they work hard at it.
Truly Curry Rice
79 Telok Blangah Drive