AdvertisementAdvertisementHis daughter Tina, 37, said: “(He’s) a typical dad figure, like, ‘I can manage.’” “I’ve been here for so many years, and I didn’t want to let it go … I really held on to it for those few months.
But when it was extended for another month, he was ready to admit defeat for the second time. What he did not know, however, was that his children would swing into action when they found out the extent of his losses.
And what was also different now was that his old -school dishes, such as fried intestines, white pepper crab and deep-fried fish roe, could find new customers in this digital era. Despite his doubts about going online, he found a way forward with his children’s help.
That it took Uncle Albert so long to disclose his troubles to his children came as no surprise to Chris, who recognized “that’s exactly him”. It was Tina who first heard from her father that he was thinking of calling it quits.
He also had to pay the medical bills for his wife’s late-stage colorectal cancer, which is now in remission. He figured he could find a job that pays S$4,000 to $5,000 a month, which is not more than half of what he used to earn when times were good.
That would be a blow to someone who takes pride in his “retro dishes” that many others are no longer cooking, and who makes everything himself instead of using ready-made options. Tina, who works in customer service for a multinational company, had some experience from her own online business selling herbs.
But she did not expect her “brief” Facebook appeal for help for her father’s old -fashioned” stall to go viral. Fried fish eggs, one of Uncle Albert's “retro dishes”.
She was flooded with responses via WhatsApp, and what with liaising with one of her father’s workers on the orders as well as with the drivers on the deliveries, she could not reply in time to many “eager” customers. “I was so stressed out because (there were) so many direct messages … I was like, ‘Oh, this could be big for my dad.’ And I wanted to help him,” she recounted.
Then I started crying because I felt that I could’ve done more for my dad,” said an emotional Tina. It was not, however, something she could cope with on a daily basis amid her work, her own business and her three children.
So when her brother called to find out how the first day had gone, she broke down and asked if he could help. The first thing the couple did was to set up a spreadsheet system to streamline the process for customer orders.
Tina also spoke to her husband, Rob Hillock, whose expertise was in marketing, and he decided to create a website for the stall. It was up within days, with photos and videos the children took of their father at work.
To make the system even easier to handle, the children came up with set menus, instead of an à la carte menu with all the many dishes. “Everyone was coming out with a lot of attractive packages, and we were going as low as S$30 with free delivery just to help my dad to get by.
It was, however, enough for their father to realize that selling his food online was “doable” as business “picked up slowly” over a two-week period during the circuit breaker. The one thing he had insisted on was that the food collected by the drivers had to reach the customers within 30 minutes, so that it would not turn cold.
This required Chris to group the deliveries into batches of three and to plan the routes, which “wasn’t easy”, observed his sister. And in some cases, they sent their compliments to the chef by video, to show him their children eating.
Chris discussing Hi Xians Seafood's menu with his father. His sister was equally surprised at how gamely her father responded by, for example, agreeing to being filmed for the website, which includes a thank-you video to his new customers.
He likes to say random things and joke, but that video isn’t something that my dad would do,” she said. Peering behind the lens as this happened, Chris remembers it as a moment when “you sort of had that warm feeling that you’re doing things right”.
My wife and I would go to their homes and buy food that they like to eat,” he said. Tina, Vivian and Chris having lunch with their father in his Bukit Batok flat.
Business returned to about 80 per cent of pre-pandemic levels after the OldAirportRoad coffee shop was closed for renovations throughout August. With that, his stall has temporarily paused online orders because of a manpower issue.
Three of his staff returned to Malaysia during the circuit breaker and “can’t come back”. He is left with four workers and is “trying very hard to find Singaporeans to work”, but to no avail.
With other countries seeing a second wave of infections, Tina thinks it is worth keeping the online operations. The food center located near Dakota MRT Station with over 40 years of history was built in 1972, then to settle street hawkers around Calling Estate area.
The Hawker Center is known for two competing Wanton Me, both facing the roadside. The signature Wanton Me ($4.00, $5.00), has eggs noodles that are chewy yet smooth in texture.
This stall has several names, from “Blanco Court Food Center (3rd Story)”, “Blanco Court Away Chap” (unofficial name) to “Topics Go Shi”, so it may get a bit confusing for newbies or tourists. The favorite part in the entire plate was the intestines, cut in large bite-size pieces, are spongy tender yet not springy.
AIU Long Ban Main has changed locations over the years (previously from Roxy Square), but the stall still has the same friendly couple serving their piping hot bowls. However, a first-time customer may just miss out on their Ban Main offerings, as the signage is more prominently featuring their Pork Ribs Soup and Chicken Me Such in Red Wine ($4.00).
While I thought that their Me Hewn Away’s texture was pretty ‘standard’ and decent, it was their rich, flavorful soup with fried Iran bills that gave a salty kick and crunch that made a difference. I have tried Lao FM ZI Fried Away Tow at OldAirportRoad quite a number of times in the past.
Many customers come here during of its inclusion in the Michelin Guide with a “Bib Gourmand”. There is also Dong Hi Fried Away Tow (#01-138) in the same food center that some of my friends preferred.
Its consistency was more on the dry side, which some diners may like or don’t like, depending on one’s preference. Note: This is a one-man show, so even if the queue may look relatively short, be prepared to wait for your food.
The hawker single-handedly prepares generous servings of Fried Away Tow with egg ($3, $4) upon order with fresh ingredients, and yes wotcha. At $5 or $8 a plate, their Tolkien Me is moist (almost quite wet) with strong seafood flavors coming from the prawn and Iran bills stock.
Another thing to note is that eggs are fried till fluffy with separate pieces, rather than ‘clinging’ on to the noodles. When Beef For Fun is mentioned, the first thing that comes to mind is the strong wok Ha aroma and taste.
The bite-sized Curry Puffs sold here may remind you of those offered by A1, with its flaky skin. Interestingly, while the outer layer was dry, the inside remained rather moist, even to the point of saucy.