Pang Che Chyi and Maggie Bhet dedicate themselves to the art of prawn noodles.
“We want our customers to feel great after eating our food. No matter how bad a day they’re having, we hope that our food will lift their spirits,” says Pang Che Chyi.
Che Chyi, 43, runs JJ Prawn Noodles (#01-21) at the Yishun Park Hawker Centre with his wife, Maggie Bhet, 59. The couple serves prawn noodles in soup and dry versions. Their menu also includes noodles with braised pork soft bones or braised pork tails.
Asked to name the stall’s signature and Che Chyi says: “Our dry noodles have an intense prawn flavour, which you may not find in other hawkers’ versions.” He adds that many hawkers serve dry prawn noodles that taste little different from wanton or fishball noodles.
This depth of flavour is all thanks to the sauce, which is made with prawn meat, prawn shells and pork bones. “To be honest, our recipes are nothing special,” Che Chyi says. “It’s just that they are prepared with painstaking effort.”
When the couple launched their prawn noodle business at the Beo Crescent Food Centre, where they still operate a stall, some customers told them point-blank that their broth was not up to scratch. “We were disappointed to hear that, but at the same time, it gave us the motivation to improve,” recalls Che Chyi.
So they ate their way through countless bowls of prawn noodles across Singapore, and experimented with different recipes and cooking techniques. Six months later, they came up with a stock that they could be proud of – a rich, complex and addictive broth flavoured by fresh sea prawns, pork bones, dried prawns and herbs.
The Pangs have not stopped there. They continue to fine-tune their recipe, inching closer and closer to that elusive guzao wei (literally, “old flavour”). Their goal is to recapture the bygone flavour of the prawn noodles that Singaporeans loved in the past.
Che Chyi, who grew up in Segamat, Johor, worked in the kitchen of the Cantonese restaurant Crystal Jade for more than a decade. For his pork soft bones, he has adapted a braising technique for beef that he learnt from a master chef there.
“It’s all about the control of time and temperature,” he says. “If we rush it and use heat that is too high, the meat will disintegrate. We want a texture that is melt-in-your-mouth and yet still has some bite.”
The Pangs work long 20-hour days, rising at 2am to prep and shop for ingredients, then serving an endless stream of customers, and calling it a night only at 10pm after their stock and braises for the next day are made. “We are always so busy that we lose track of the years,” says Che Chyi.
The life of a hawker is indeed exhausting. But even if they have thought of giving it up, their customers’ support has given them pause. “We have customers who enjoy our food so much that they will bring their friends to our stall. When that happens, we feel so good,” says Che Chyi. “That feeling is something money can’t buy.”
Monday to Sunday | 7.30am to 8.30pm
Closed on Tuesday