Local delights, Vietnamese touch.
Vietnamese cook Ngo Thi Hoa works her wok like a local.
The next time you order Hokkien prawn mee at Hua Hua Cooking & Eating (#01-41), why not get some cha gio – Vietnamese fried spring rolls – to go with your noodles?
The stall owner and cook is Ngo Thi Hoa, 33, a Vietnamese who is married to a Singaporean and has been living here since 2005. She says in fluent Mandarin: “When I first came to Singapore, it was hard. The cost of living was really high.”
She would begin her day at a Hokkien prawn mee stall at a coffeeshop, taking orders and washing the dishes. When her six-hour shift ended, she would go on to her next job cleaning houses. In the evening, she worked as a server at a tze char stall.
The Hokkien mee stall owner was moved by how hardworking she was. “I put my heart into my work. Three months later, my boss pulled me to the stove, handed me a spatula, and taught me how to cook Hokkien mee and other dishes,” she says. A quick learner with a talent for cooking, she was good enough to helm the stove within a week.
Seven years on, she has opened her own stall at the Yishun Park Hawker Centre, offering a range of wok-fried dishes: Hokkien prawn mee, char kway teow, oyster omelette, carrot cake, and beansprouts and cockles.
“I am very grateful to my ex-boss, who gave me the chance to learn to cook these dishes,” Thia Hoa says. “But my dream is to give my children a better life, so I decided to strike out on my own.” Her children are 10 and 6 years old.
Unlike other hawkers who fry up their noodles ahead in big batches, Thi Hoa says, she cooks each plate individually. “Every order is freshly made,” she adds. She also prides herself on her sauces and condiments, which are her own formulations and made from scratch. Ask her about her recipes, and she stops short of revealing their secrets, whether for her Hokkien mee broth (“Prawn stock, fish sauce and other things”) or her sambal (“It’s made with dried shrimp, buah keras, garlic, onions, and some other things I cannot tell you”).
Thi Hoa was born in Hai Duong, near Hanoi, where her family tends rice paddies and grows garlic. Her family also runs a bun cha (grilled pork with vermicelli) shop, which enjoys brisk business. For now, Thi Hoa offers a few Vietnamese snacks like cha gio at her stall.
“I’d like to sell Vietnamese food, but maybe later. Now, I want to cook what I’ve learnt,” she says. “I simply like to cook, and when people finish the food I cook for them, I feel really happy.”
Monday to Sunday | 8am to 9.30pm