His mee goreng is a winner

It came as a surprise to Mr Abdulaleem Abdul Latiff when he read the papers and found that his stall in Marine Parade, Hass Bawa Mee Stall, was one of the contenders in the mee goreng category of the Singapore Hawker Masters 2014 contest.

"I wasn't informed about it," he said with a laugh. "I was quite surprised when The Straits Times came down to talk to me about it. I guess my regular customers voted for me."

Now in its fifth year, six new Hawker Masters were lauded at the contest organised by The Straits Times and Lianhe Zaobao.

Over 600 nominations were received in August and subsequently shortlisted by public voting in September, following which three finalists were announced for each category - lor mee, beef noodles, mee goreng, popiah, fish soup and mee soto.

Hass Bawa Mee Stall was founded by Mr Abdulaleem's late father, Mr Abdul Latiff Mohammed Kassim, who started out selling mee goreng out of a pushcart in Ceylon Road.

In 1978, he received a licence to run a stall in Marine Parade Central Market and Food Centre and the shop has been there ever since.

Mr Abdulaleem, 43, started helping his father out at the stall in 1982 when he was still in primary school.

"I was quite a naughty boy," he explained, "so my father asked me to help out." His father even paid him a salary right from the start.

Slowly, his father started teaching him how to cook. Aside from this, he has not had any formal training in cooking. The recipes he uses are his father's - and this has paid off.

One of the judges, Mr Steven Yeong, chief operating officer and director of restaurant chain River Inn Group, explained that he liked the stall's mee goreng because "traditional ingredients are used and the noodles are fried just nice - not too dry and not too oily. The presentation is appetising and the fragrance hits your nose once the plate is placed in front of you."

Many of Mr Abdulaleem's customers are satisfied with his mee goreng, although some want it to be less oily.

"But I explain to them that it is already less oily. You cannot fry the mee goreng with water," he said.

The mee goreng is not their only bestseller. Their sup tulang (mutton bone marrow soup) and kway teow goreng kichap (fried kway teow noodles with black sauce) are also popular.

Although Mr Abdulaleem has been involved with the stall from a young age, he did not always want to work there, he said. After serving his National Service (NS), he intended to join the army.

However, his father fell ill and was too sick to work. He asked his son to carry on the business. In 1993, Mr Abdulaleem took over and has been running it since.

"I have no regrets," he said. "I'm doing fine, I'm comfortable. There's nobody to tell me what to do. I am my own boss."

Although he has two sons, he does not ask them to help out at the shop. "It is their choice whether they want to join my lifestyle or study," he said, "but I would prefer them to study hard and live an easier life than work my long hours."

This is despite being short on manpower - many Singaporeans do not like having to work long hours, so Mr Abdulaleem runs the stall with the help of his nephew, Mr Sheikh Arafat Syed Ibrahim, who joined him after completing his NS.

On weekends, when business is about 30 per cent more than weekdays, he ropes in friends to help.

Because of the manpower shortage, Mr Abdulaleem has no plans to expand or open up new stalls anytime soon, he said.


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