Every day at 3.30am, Mr Ng Meng Boon's alarm clock sounds in his four-room Sengkang flat.
The fishball noodle stall owner then catches a cab with with his wife and son to Sims Drive where their frenzied work day begins at 4am.
There is pork to be cut and fish cakes to be sliced. Noodles are unpacked, pulled and sorted into small golden heaps. Fishballs - the dish's cornerstone - are fried until they are crispy and brown.
By 6.45am, the first hungry customers start to stream in for breakfast. For the next nine hours, they serve up more than 100 bowls, each going for $3 to $5.
"There's no time to sit. It can be very tiring," 54-year-old Mr Ng said in Mandarin.
His face and neck are red from the kitchen's stagnant heat and his white T-shirt is soaked in sweat.
At around 3.30pm, the trio start to clean up and they head home around 5pm, do some household chores, eat dinner, and go to bed by about 8pm.
"Other than Monday, when the stall is closed, we don't go out at all. We're just too tired," said Mr Ng.
This is the only life he has ever known, growing up helping at the stall which his father first opened in the 1940s in Serangoon beside the Lim Tua Tow market.
He later took over when he was just 21, after completing national service.
Asked if he has ever thought of quitting, Mr Ng said: "It's our livelihood. Since I was young, I've not been good at studying. I've only depended on these two hands - without them, I would have nothing to eat."
After deducting rent, utility bills and other expenses, the three of them take home around $6,000 a month.
Mr Ng said this is just enough to get by, though rising costs and inflation over the decades have eaten into his takings.
But the customers make all the difference.
"Sometimes they will give us a thumbs-up. And some regulars come a few times each week," he said, smiling. "I feel happy, it's worth it."
His son Ying Xiang, 26, intends to follow in his father's footsteps someday.
"It's passed down from my grandfather, it's important to keep it going," said the father of a nine-month-old son, who studied mechanical engineering at the Institute of Technical Education.
"This job is not easy. But when I see the customers eat, there's a feeling of satisfaction."
This article was first published on March 8, 2015.
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