'Regular customers are like family'

'Regular customers are like family'
Mr Sulaiman Abu, owner of D’Authentic Nasi Lemak stall at Block 84, Marine Parade Central. He is one of the Hawker Master Trainers in the Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme, launched to preserve Singapore’s hawker heritage.

When flooding occurred at the Marine Parade Food Centre in November 2013, it was so bad that even the walkways were submerged.

But that did not stop loyal customers from queueing at the D'Authentic Nasi Lemak stall.

So determined they were that they sat on the tables to keep their feet dry and enjoy their food.

This is just one of the many memorable moments for stall owner Sulaiman Abu in his 20 years there.

The Marine Parade Central Market And Food Centre will undergo major renovations once the lease runs out in 2017.

The other two centres - Geylang Bahru Market And Food Centre and Bukit Merah Central Market And Food Centre - will close in November next year.

Several hawkers told The New Paper that they were unsure about the future of their businesses once the centres close.

"I have no concrete plans as of now," said Mr Sulaiman.

"I may move to another centre during the renovations but it really depends on how many stalls are available.

"I think the best solution would be to have a temporary food centre."

Ms Annie Lau, who is in her 50s and runs her mother-in-law's Soon Huat Lor Mee stall at Bukit Merah Central, said: "I am not sure whether my mother-in-law wants to continue the business after the centre closes. We will see how things go."

Various hawkers, whose businesses have been around for more than 10 years, said that they have many loyal customers, most of whom live or work around the area.

"Some of my regulars come so often we know what their orders are before they are placed," said Madam Irene Koh, 54. She has been operating her Mei Ji Fishball Noodles stall for 35 years.

Mr Sulaiman added: "I have many regular customers who are now working adults but have been frequenting my stall since they were in primary school.

"Some even have their own families now and bring their families here for meals. These regular customers are like family to me."

A second-generation co-owner of Katong Chicken Curry Puff at Marine Parade Central, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Koh, said she even has foreign fans.

"A few of my customers are from the US. They would visit our stall whenever they visit Singapore," said Mrs Koh, who co-owns the stall with her husband, Mr Koh Jee Kok. They are both 64.

PECULIAR ORDERS

The hawkers have also received some peculiar orders.

Mr Sulaiman said: "Some customers would order mee rebus without the noodles. And there were a couple of customers who ordered only the nasi lemak's sambal (chili paste)."

Another hawker, who wanted to be known only as Mrs Ho, said she has had customers who woud order noodles from her Hui Wei Ban Mian stall at the Geylang Bahru Food Centre without the good stuff - meat, eggs and vegetables.

But the 42-year-old woman, like most of the other hawkers from the three places, hopes to return after the renovation.

Madam Siti, 59, who owns Warong Mak Esah& Pak Bakar at the Geylang Bahru Market And Food Centre, said: "I have set up my business in other centres but I still think this food centre is the best place to be.

"I have made so many friends here, especially with my regular customers. I would like to return."

Mr Sulaiman added: "I would like to come back to continue serving the best food to my regular customers."

Patrons also hope that their favourite food stalls will return.

Madam Candy Ong, 52, who goes to the Marine Parade Food Centre every day for lunch, said: "I will definitely miss my favourite food here, such as sliced fish noodles and yong tau foo.

"I don't know where I will go when the centre closes. I hope the hawkers will return and the prices stay the same."

A 67-year old retiree, who declined to be named, also said: "I have been visiting this centre since my younger days. I would miss coming here."


This article was first published on June 9, 2015.
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