Hawker Chan, a Singapore-based street-food stall run by Chef Chan Hon Meng, was awarded a Michelin star in 2016, soon becoming known as the place that serves the “cheapest Michelin-starred meal in the world”.
The world-famous hawker stall has now come to India for the first time, for Zomaland Season 2, a multicity food and entertainment carnival.
The man behind the humble hawker stall is Chef Liao Fan Hawker Chan. The Singapore Tourism Board, in partnership with Zomato, has brought him here to serve his famous dishes at the JLN Stadium on 15 December (the three-day event began on 13 December). He spoke to Guardian 20 about his passion for cooking, what he aims to achieve with his food stall and his first visit to India.
Chef Chan, or Hawker Chan as he is now known as, started cooking at an early age for his family. This daily exposure in the kitchen further developed his passion to cooking. He said, “My culinary journey began when I first started cooking for my family. At the age of 15, I left school and my home in Ipoh, Malaysia to pursue my passion for cooking. During these early years of my apprenticeship under a Hong Kong chef, I learnt and developed the Soya Sauce Chicken Recipe.” It is his version of this dish—Soya Sauce Chicken Rice—that later won him the prestigious Michelin star in Michelin Guide Singapore in July 2016.
It was in 2009 that Chef Chan opened Liao Fan Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle in Chinatown Complex Food Centre in Singapore. He started the stall because he wanted a change from the common Hainanese-style chicken rice, where the chicken is typically poached and chilled. Instead, he went with a different approach where he first cooks the chicken in the Cantonese style of siu mei (meats roasted on open fire). In this, meats are typically roasted in a wood-burning rotisserie oven. Since then, he has perfected his craft over the course of about 30 years.
The initial years were hard for Hawker Chan, but things have changed massively since the Michelin star. Long queues are always there at the stall, even before opening time. About the journey of what was once a humble food stall to a world-famous hawker point, Chef Chan said, “A lot of hard work and passion has gone into this. I have to wake up early in the morning to prepare the sauce for marination and to achieve the signature flavour and tenderness. Many hours of manual braising is required in the preparation routine. When I opened my stall, I chose the location at Chinatown Complex Food Centre as the rents were cheap at that time. Michelin gave me great pride. It was beyond my imagination that my soya sauce recipe would be recognised by the most prestigious Michelin Guide.”
In addition to developing recipes that appeal to locals and tourists alike, managing the stall has been a big challenge for Chef Chan. It requires long hours of hard work to prepare dishes for so many people and all that within a short period of time. But his philosophy remains the same: “The foundation of my culinary passion is centred on the belief that good food should be made simple and affordable.”
So he has come to India to give foodies here an experience of the authentic taste of Singaporean cuisine at Zomaland’s Singapore Experience Zone. Here, visitors can also indulge in some fun and interactive Singapore-inspired games. In addition to this, they can take photos against iconic visuals of attractions in Singapore and with the Merlion mascot. As part of this food carnival, Hawker Chan will travel to other Indian cities, like Mumbai and Hyderabad, in the coming months.
About his India visit, Chef Chan said, “The Singapore Tourism Board has been doing some interesting collaborations in the Indian market. I am glad that this time I am a part of such an event where foodies will get to experience authentic Singaporean food and taste my popular Soya Sauce Chicken Rice. I am visiting Delhi, Mumbai and Hyderabad as part of Zomaland Season 2. This will give me a chance to explore the cuisine in each of these cities. We hope to give foodies in India a sneak-peek into Singaporean dishes and entice them to visit Singapore to experience the diverse culinary offerings Singapore has to offer.”
The talented chef is a fan of Indian cuisine, which he ranks among the world’s most diverse cuisines. According to him, Indian food is characterised by its sophisticated and subtle use of the many spices, vegetables and grains grown across the country. He said, “I have always been intrigued by the variety of flavours that the country offers, and I am excited as I will get a chance to taste and experience some of it this time during my visit.