SINGAPORE - He is a self-proclaimed traditionalist who swears by the recipes handed down by his grandmother.
"Everything I know was handed down to me by (her). When I was learning how to cook, if the results were not good enough she wouldn't finish it," said Mr Sulaiman Abu, 52, with a laugh.
He was a teenager then and the lessons, he remembers, were hard.
There was constant criticism because "my grandmother was a perfectionist", said Mr Sulaiman. But he never gave up.
From her, he learnt to cook traditional Malay dishes like nasi lemak, mee rebus and nasi padang, using recipes handed down from his great-grandparents.
"I was scolded if I didn't get it right," said Mr Sulaiman, a father of four children aged between 26 and 12.
He set up the D'Authentic Nasi Lemak stall at Block 84, Marine Parade Central 15 years ago.
He added: "She also insisted on using only fresh products. She always used to say, if the ingredients are good and cooked well, customers will keep coming for more."
Mr Sulaiman is one of the Hawker Master Trainers in the Hawker Master Trainer Pilot Programme, launched last week, to preserve Singapore's hawker heritage.
Other veteran hawkers involved include Mr Thian Boon Hua, who owns chicken rice chain Boon Tong Kee and Madam Lai Yau Kiew of Ji Ji Wanton Noodle Specialist at Upper Cross Street.
"The lessons were harsh, but that's how I learnt," said Mr Sulaiman with a smile.
"But I am grateful they taught me the hard way. These days, it is hard to find authentic traditional food here.
"Keeping the recipe traditional is something very important to our business," said Mr Sulaiman, who lives in a three-room HDB flat in the Paya Lebar area with his family.
Freshness is a must...
He uses fresh coconut milk for his nasi lemak which comes with sambal chilli, a fried egg, a slice of cucumber, fried chicken and ikan bilis and fried fish. It costs $3.50 a plate.
He also uses an old stone grinder to mix his fiery chilli, just as his grandmother did some 40 years ago.
These old methods have made his stall a hit with foodies here.
Given his adherence to old cooking styles, it is perhaps not surprising that preserving Singapore's hawker traditions is a topic close to Mr Sulaiman's heart.
"Too many times, the recipes die once the owners decide to give up their business," he said.
"So just like how my grandmother handed down her recipes to me, I want to do to the younger generation to keep the tradition alive," said Mr Sulaiman, who started helping out at his parents' stall at Tanglin Halt when he was eight years old.
His kids will join him
When most children were out playing, Mr Sulaiman, who dropped out of school when he was 12, spent his youth picking up tips in the kitchen.
By the time he was 20, he had struck out on his own, raising "a few hundred dollars" to open his own mee rebus stall, also in the Tanglin Halt area.
He and his wife Madam Noraini Sinwin, 48, had several stalls in Pasir Panjang and Bedok before settling at their current Marine Parade Central location.
When asked what makes him happiest now, he said: "I am happy my children want to learn to take over the business."
Even though they have graduated from a polytechnic, two of his children, aged 24 and 25, as well as his 24-year-old nephew are at the stall every day.
"They see me working hard and making it as a hawker and they are keen to join the trade," he said.
His recipe for success
IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT NASI LEMAK
Recipes can be downloaded, but to really succeed, you must have passion, said Mr Sulaiman.
Making a profit is important but so is giving customers value for money.
DON'T CHANGE WHAT WORKS
Mr Sulaiman said he has offered the same few dishes with nasi lemak since his grandmother's days.
Customers are served quickly. He also encourages them to call ahead to place their order.
USE FRESH INGREDIENTS
It maybe slightly expensive, but using the freshest ingredients in your dishes always brings out the best results.
LISTEN TO CUSTOMERS
His sambal chilli, for example, has been tweaked over the years to cater to the customers' tastes.
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