After much anticipation, Pasir Ris Central Hawker Centre opened on 25 January 2018 to much fanfare and excitement. The duo-concept hawker centre, managed by NTUC Foodfare, has two storeys – traditional hawker fare can be found on the first storey, and modern, ‘hipster’ food on the second storey which is called Fareground.
Described as a “playground for new generation hawkers with their creative brand of modern cuisine”, Fareground houses 22 new stalls run by young hawkers, offering a diverse range of unique, fusion food that brings out the best of Asian and Western flavours.
Expect to see dishes like Korean army stew, grain bowls with Wagyu beef, pork belly burger, kebabs, Thai boat noodles and more.
The hawker centre, managed by NTUC Foodfare, is also a champion for social objectives. Each stall will provide at least two budget meals and at least one Healthier Choice meal (under 500 calories) as certified by the Health Promotion Board.
This is to ensure that customers can get quality meals without breaking the bank, and that hawkers are well-placed to earn a viable livelihood.
Pasir Ris Central Hawker Centre is also advocating for cashless payments, where customers can pay using Plus! Cards, Plus! Pay or DBS PayLah! on the NTUC Foodfare app.
At Fareground, the hawkers are noticeably younger and have an energetic disposition. Many took great risks before embarking on this path, choosing to become their own bosses instead of pursuing the corporate route.
Two such hawkers are Sherwin Lim and Leslie Lau, both 28, who left corporate jobs to start their very own food venture, Daburu. They serve hot plates and hot buns inspired by Taiwanese beef steak hot plates and New York delis, something Sherwin wanted to bring back to Singapore after travelling extensively during his tenure at an airline. Boss of Seoul Shiok, Cheryl Sou, agrees. The spunky 26 year-old said, “I just didn’t want to work for anyone else, I thought it was very stressful and why did I have to manage the stress for other people? So I decided to come out and take the leap of faith. At least if I fail now it’s okay, I can still go back to work in a corporate nine-to-five job. But if I am young and I don’t do it now, then when would I ever do it again?”
Some are seasoned players in the F&B industry, such as Saddad Haque, 30, of EPIKebabs and Ted Kueo Guo An, 25, of Saap Lah! Thai Boat Noodles. This is Saddad’s third shop, and Ted owns a butchery business.
For Saddad, being his own boss is both a good and bad thing. “You are your own boss and your own slave. You have to do everything, you can’t say that’s not what I’m in charge of. At the same time, that’s the best thing because you control everything. It’s both empowering but also debilitating at the same time because you have to work long hours.”
Like many other young hawkers, Ted also says that manpower is a huge obstacle. “At the start-up stage, hiring manpower is a big issue, especially for this kind of place. You cannot hire foreigners, you can only hire PRs or citizens, making it even harder to find someone who wants to work in this kind of environment.” At least the hawker centre is not too warm, he jokes.
However, all of them unanimously agreed that the smile on the customer’s face is what makes it worthwhile. “I have no social life and no sleep but when people give good feedback, and that’s where I feel it’s all worth it,” said Cheryl.
Opening Hours: 11.30AM – 9PM (Until sold out), Tuesdays off
Boasting a small but specialized menu of hot plates and hot buns, Daburu does an amazing job of what it is good at – succulent grilled-to-order meats, sinful gravies and playful twists on typical Western food-style dishes. Their bestseller, the Champion Chicken Chop Hot Plate Noodles ($7.90), comes in a huge portion of a juicy chicken chop with brown gravy, Hong Kong-style crispy noodles, buttered corn and fresh greens.
The chicken is very well-marinated and the seared skin is very crispy, giving it a perfect bite. The crispy noodles are a genius addition to the dish, as they absorb the black pepper brown sauce well and are a refreshing departure from the usual bland pasta most Western food stalls serve.
Reminiscent of traditional kong bak paus, The Double Pork Belly Hot Bun ($7.90) is a meat-lover’s dream. Sherwin says that the pork belly is cooked sous-vide for 24 hours so that it has a melt-in-your-mouth texture, and is seared before serving so that it would be crispy outside. And he’s right – the meat is soft but has a lightly charred surface, and goes well with the delicious chili mayo sauce and caramelised onions.
The highlight however, is the bread – Daburu customizes its buns with a local bakery. “We made it more buttery, sweet and soft to suit the local palate and of course we toast it as well,” says Sherwin. Buttered and crispy on the inside, the bun is incredibly soft and airy, and the mix of sweet and savoury is a delight.
SAAP LAH! THAI BOAT NOODLES
Opening Hours: 11AM – 9.30PM, Wednesdays off
Ted travelled back and forth to Phuket to perfect his favourite Thai Boat Noodle recipe from a stall that inspired him to start Saap Lah!. The result is an authentic, hearty and comforting bowl of noodles.
I love the Pork Boat Noodle ($4.50), which has chewy Thai sen lek noodles and generous servings of pork in a bowl of hot flavourful soup. Ted makes sure to use 100% Thai ingredients with no Singaporean substitutes, with the exception of the meat which he sources from his other business, a butchery. It shows, as the pork is very fresh and tender, including the pork liver – which is notorious for being overly tough.
The soup is a balanced mixture of salty and sweet, and its flavour has been absorbed by the chewy translucent sen lek noodles. The generous topping of fried shallots gives the soup an extra kick.
The Tom Yum Beef Boat Noodle ($5.00) is also filled with generous servings of fresh beef from Guo An’s butchery, along with the other authentic Thai ingredients. However, I found it lacking in tom yum flavour and could do with more sourness to balance the spice. Guo An recommends that customers come at night: “The beauty of this is that if you come at night, the soup gets thicker and thicker. So a lot of people like to come at night and enjoy the very thick part of the broth.”
Overall, Saap Lah! Thai Boat Noodles is a fantastic choice if you are tired of the usual fishball noodles or prawn noodles at traditional hawker centres.
Opening Hours: 11.30AM – 9.30PM daily
Turkish kebabs are served at an affordable price point here at EPIKebabs. The customisable menu allows customers to choose almost any element in their dish, from the sauce to whether they want it in a roll, sandwich, salad or with rice. The kebabs here are truly epic as the name suggests, with large slabs of meat slathered in homemade sauces and crunchy vegetables, making each bite sinful but delectable.
“For us, big portions and value-for-money are our core values, and we try to keep it simple menu-wise but leave room for customisation,” said Saddad of EPIKebabs.
The Mixed Kebab Rice ($6.50) I ordered came with a mix of chicken and beef, their signature Epik Sauce, fragrant rice pilaf and fresh crunchy vegetables. The meats are juicier than regular kebab stores, but still not as juicy as I would have liked. However, when mixed together with their Epik Sauce, the dish is elevated to a whole new level. The Epik Sauce, a blend of mayo and secret spices, is a must-add item.
For those who prefer their kebabs in a roll, the Mixed Kebab Roll ($6.00) is a great option. All the ingredients are enclosed in a surprisingly crispy and flaky tortilla wrap, and the flavours all come together as the sauces, meats and vegetables are combined within the wrap. The wrap is toasted on a panini grill twice to give it an extra crispy texture.
Opening Hours: 11.30AM – 9.30PM, Wednesdays off
Cheryl Sou wanted to create Korean food that was affordable but also of high quality, after realising that all the good Korean food was in upscale joints at Tanjong Pagar, and there was no army stew to be found at hawker centres.
After a long process of trial-and-error, Seoul Shiok delivers great Korean food comparable to those in town. The Mini Army Stew with Cheese ($9.40) and Kimchi Soup with Pork ($5.90) use the same fragrant soup base, which is made by stir-frying fresh kimchi to bring out the flavour, and then adding gochujang (Korean chili paste) soup into the mixture.
Cheryl says that this process brings out the fragrance of the kimchi, and we did find the soup incredibly flavourful, and not too sour or spicy. The cheddar cheese slice in the Mini Army Stew adds a layer of creaminess to the soup to neutralise the spiciness.
Both soups come with many ingredients – the army stew comes with hotdog, crab meat, pork belly, enoki mushroom, tofu, luncheon meat, ramyun noodles and kimchi. The portion size is made suitable for one person, as army stews are traditionally for a group of people.
The Korean Fried Chicken ($3.90 for 4 pieces of mid-wings and drumsticks) is an affordable option for an otherwise high-quality chicken wing. Comparable to those served in restaurants, it is crispy on the outside and juicy on the inside, and both soy garlic and spicy versions are well marinated, making them extra flavourful. The chicken wings are fried twice and the timings must be perfected, or they will come out too dry, says Cheryl.