The latest crop of Singapore Hawker Masters have emerged, but diners will have to wait until March to taste food from two of the six winning stalls.
Yuan Chun Famous Lor Mee and Piao Ji Fish Porridge are in the famous Amoy Street Food Centre, which is closed for renovation until Feb 28 next year.
However, that still leaves the winning beef noodles, Indian mee goreng, popiah and mee soto stalls for foodies to seek out and compare with their personal favourites.
Yuan Chun's owner Koh Hock Ann, 53, who is taking a break during the closure, believes it is his lor mee's authentic recipe and hae cho (fried prawn rolls) that stood out. He sells about 400 bowls a day.
He was an insurance agent before he took over the stall from the previous owner earlier this year. He spent four months mastering the recipe. "The recipe has not changed at all," he said.
"Nowadays, not many stalls have hae cho in the lor mee. I start making it from 4.30am every day, three hours before the stall opens."
He was one of the six Hawker Masters who were lauded last night at an award ceremony at Far East Square. The annual search for Singapore's best hawkers is organised by The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao.
Some 100 guests were at the event, at which Professor Tommy Koh, ambassador-at-large at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was guest of honour.
The hawker hunt, now in its fifth year, kicked off in late August. More than 600 nominations were received from the public, and more than 2,000 readers cast their votes to determine the finalists for each category.
A panel of eight judges then made their rounds of the finalists in each category to decide on the winners. This year's judges were Prof Koh, food consultant and restaurateur Violet Oon; Mr Steven Yeong, chief operating officer and director of restaurant chain River Inn Group; Mr Dennis Wee, chairman of real estate agency Dennis Wee Group; Mr Chia Boon Pin, president of Far East Food Concepts; Ms Tan Hsueh Yun, ST food editor; Mr Wong Ah Yoke, ST food critic and executive sub-editor; and Lianhe Zaobao zbNOW food correspondent Marcus Yeo.
Mr Danny Yeo, assistant vice-president of branding and promotions for Singapore Press Holdings, said: "The decisions on who would be named Hawker Masters winners were mostly unanimous, although there was a tough fight between two stalls in the lor mee category. This competition is also great for finding hidden gems. We embarked on this search to give deserving hawkers national recognition and we hope that it will spur them to keep up food standards."
Zheng Yi Hainanese Beef Noodle in Tai Thong Crescent won in the Beef Noodle category. Mr Roy Phua, 46, who runs the stall with his mother, Madam Hong Siew Fong, 74, calls her a "master of beef noodles". He said: "It is all about the gravy. You need to get the right texture so that it sticks onto the noodles."
Prof Koh said: "The six winners are all master chefs. The awards have helped to raise their social status, and I hope that we will also succeed in raising their incomes so that these hardworking people will be able to make a decent living.
"Singapore's hawker food scene is very vibrant, and, given a choice, Singaporeans from all walks of life and of all age groups will choose to eat hawker food."