In their hawker business, a brother-sister duo aren’t winging it – they’ve spent more than a year perfecting a recipe to dish up the best har cheong gai chicken wings in Yishun, and some say Singapore.
A pair of siblings want to #MakeYishunGreatAgain, one fried chicken wing at a time. The hashtag, emblazoned on Tan Wee Yang and Tan Yu Yan’s business card, is a playful jibe at the media for branding Yishun as a bizarre neighbourhood filled with strange happenings.
But at Ah Tan Wings (#01-40) at the Yishun Park Hawker Centre, the siblings take their har cheong gai (prawn paste) chicken wing business very seriously. Wee Yang, 25, and Yu Yan, 28, spent more than a year developing the har cheong gai crust of their hot-selling wings. They tried up to 800 variations of the recipe before finally arriving at a version that “is something special,” says Wee Yang.
The chicken wings are marinated in their har cheong gai paste for two days before getting coated in a batter that they also specially made. Then, the wings go into the deep fryer. How the siblings achieve the crispy netting-like crust – which traps pockets of air to give the wings more crunch, volume and oomph – is, of course, a secret we’ll never be let in on. But we’re thankful that we get to savour their creation anyway.
Recalling the recipe development, Wee Yang says that it was “a challenging but fruitful process, filled with many ups and downs”. He used to lock himself away in the kitchen after work to tweak the marinade and batter recipe till late. “A small variation in a particular spice can change the taste of the crust drastically,” Wee Yang explains. In other words, he often had to go back to the drawing board and rework the proportions in the recipe from scratch.
Yu Yan adds that family and friends were their “guinea pigs” – this was important for them to collect data on each recipe version. In the end, perfecting the recipe is a combination of research, hard work and even luck, the siblings say.
But the challenges didn’t end there. After nailing the recipe, the business part of their project kicked in: they had to find a way to sell their wings and market them. While Wee Yang kept on improving the recipe, Yu Yan took charge of the marketing.
“It was a struggle for us to find a permanent stall,” she says. “Our chicken wing idea didn’t appeal to the older hawker centres, and at coffeeshops, our dish became a conflict of interest among existing tze char, chicken rice and Western food stalls.”
The enterprising siblings decided not to wait. They launched their chicken wings at pop-up events. They spent sleepless nights preparing the wings, which sold out at their various booths. These became good opportunities for them to fine-tune the recipe and get feedback quickly.
Eventually, after a good six months’ search, the siblings found a stall at the Yishun Park Hawker Centre. It has been a perfect match: the centre supports young hawkers and new food ideas, and the siblings’ project hits the sweet spot.
Apart from the exceptional chicken wings, Wee Yang and Yu Yan have also introduced a day-and-night concept in their menu. During the day, they dish up har cheong gai chicken wings and chicken cutlets with rice; at night, they serve them with salad in the Western food manner.
So what keeps the siblings persistent and motivated in their business?
“We’re passionate about street food,” Wee Yang says. He describes their travels abroad and how they have always been drawn to the wide variety of local fare in different countries. Yu Yan nods her head and says that colourful street food around the world play a big part in defining a place and bringing it to life, and this notion energises them.
“We realised that we wanted to be a part of the street food culture in Singapore too, and the hawker centre is it,” she says. “Along the way, we’ve met many young and like-minded hawkerpreneurs. The community is very open and encouraging. It’s an exciting space to be in.”
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