If there is one thing Singaporean foodies can agree on, it is that the HDB heartland is the place to hunt for good, cheap food. MyNiceHome speaks to three stalls to find out how they’re striving to serve up local favourites during the circuit breaker period despite the challenges they face.
Fishball Noodle, Dabao
Nestled amongst residential housing blocks in Toa Payoh is Li Na Fishball Noodle. “Our noodles and handmade ingredients are the main draws, but some customers visit us because they want to see Jeevan cook,” May laughs, referring to her fiancé and co-owner of their hawker stall. Delicious food aside, an ethnically Indian chef is a rarity for stalls specialising in fishball noodles and bak chor mee, adding to the reasons why Li Na Fishball Noodle attracts customers from beyond the neighbourhood.
In the days leading up to the circuit breaker, the couple noticed an increase in customers, especially among regulars, as some prefer to eat the noodles freshly prepared, or are less inclined to fork out more for delivery charges. “Despite knowing that the stall will remain open for takeaways, some even visited us twice on the same day,” Jeevan says.
“While we prepared for circuit breaker by stocking up on takeaway boxes, approximately 30% of our customers bring along their containers and tingkats. We appreciate this gesture as it is eco-friendly and helps with lowering operational costs for hawkers like us,” May explains.
May and Jeevan have been running Li Na Fishball Noodle by themselves since they started the stall last year. While being a two-man team has its limitations, the couple finds the silver lining in their small operation. “While more time and effort are required to run the stall, we don’t have to worry about the cost of additional manpower – something we’re thankful for, especially during difficult times.”
Kopi Anytime, Anywhere
Kopifellas, a food and beverage stall also located in Toa Payoh, caters to all cravings— from cold brew and earl grey milk tea, to traditional toasts and kopi c.
To ensure everyone gets their daily dose of caffeine during the circuit breaker period, the stall decided to make its maiden foray into food delivery service.
“As not all our customers live nearby, we decided to put our menu online,” co-founder Terry explains. “We have to be extra meticulous, especially when sorting through multiple orders, to ensure all food customisations are accounted for.”
Terry adds that while brick-and-mortar transactions have declined, their decision to move into food delivery has helped buoy sales— almost 80% of their online orders are from regulars.
In addition, being a tenant in an HDB commercial property, Kopifellas received two months of rental rebates from HDB to help cushion the impact of the circuit breaker. “The rental rebate has definitely helped us cope with the revenue fall,” Terry says.
As part of its community engagement efforts, Kopifellas has also joined Belanja Eat, a ground-up initiative that lets the needy redeem meals that have been pre-purchased by donors.
“The redemption process is simple – just let us know that you’re redeeming a meal,” says Lixuan, a member of the Kopifellas team. “Currently, Kopifellas is giving out 10 meals per week, but we’ll gladly provide more even if they are fully redeemed. It’s a challenging time for everyone, and we thought this initiative is the perfect way for us to help the less fortunate.”
Cooking for the Community
Also doing his part for the community is 21-year-old Ray Sheng, an undergraduate at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) and founder of Raydy Beehoon, an eatery located at the university’s Canteen 13.
Business at Raydy Beehoon was brisk when it opened its doors earlier this year, but operations ground to a halt after the circuit breaker measures were announced. “Students were told to stay home,” Ray Sheng explains. “We lost over 95% of our customers and decided to shut our operations temporarily.”
However, the temporary closure of Raydy Beehoon hasn’t kept Ray Sheng away from the kitchen as he felt moved to provide meals to those in need, and thus started a fundraising campaign to raise money for the endeavour. The media picked up on their initiative, and the number of volunteers packing and delivering food grew beyond the initial Raydy Beehoon crew. Ray Sheng also received a donation of ingredients and offers to use catering kitchen spaces for free. “It’s heart-warming to see Singaporeans uniting in times of difficulty,” Ray Sheng says.
The team starts work before dawn, cooking and packing, so they can deliver the beehoon to charity organisations such as Food Bank and Willing Hearts by 10am. “We provide meals to approximately 6,200 people every day. Our beneficiaries are mainly the elderly who live alone, and low-income families in rental flats,” volunteer Jordan shares.
With increasing support from the community, Raydy Beehoon decided to hire chefs to cater to more beneficiaries.
“Uncle Ben, the owner of our neighbouring stall in NTU, was our first hire. His stall was also temporarily closed and he responded to our job advertisement not knowing that we’re acquainted,” Ray Sheng laughs. “Since then, we have welcomed three more chefs who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.”
“You don’t have to be able to cook to volunteer,” Ray Sheng adds. “Individuals can sign up as food packers, delivery drivers and even mask donors. They can also help by contributing to our fundraising campaign.”
(Photos courtesy of Li Na Fishball Noodle, Kopifellas, and Raydy Beehoon)