Stall owner Mohamed is thankful for his customers for making his hawker journey an adventure of a lifetime.
For more than 20 years, Mohamed Baruk, 52, and his wife have been running SJ Sickander Ammal Muslim Foods at the Eunos Crescent Market and Food Centre.
They gradually won many fans, which gave them the boost that they needed to set up a second outlet with their children.
Foodies in the north of Singapore can now be seen forming a queue at their Indian Muslim cuisine stall at the Yishun Park Hawker Centre (#01-10).
Mohamed has honed the dishes through the years, which are based on family recipes that are at least three decades old.
The signature dishes are the prata with fish or mutton curry and mee goreng. Mohamed says that what goes into these favourites is a secret, but he stresses that quality ingredients are important.
He regularly visits the Tekka Market at Little India to personally hand-pick some of them. “There is a difference in the food when it is made with the best stuff, and when it is cooked fresh,” he says.
Mohamed is also proud of the family’s handmade sambal tumis, which he says is becoming a rarer condiment in stalls of his kind.
“Many hawkers feel that it can be a waste of time to make a sauce that doesn’t seem important,” he explains, “but our customers return because of our sambal tumis!”
To make the dishes more exciting, Mohamed came up with “combo meals”, which offer a bit of this and that from the stall’s extensive menu.
For $15 and fit for two pax, the murtabak combo comes with murtabak, mee goreng and mutton chop. The mee goreng combo, also $15 for two pax, is a rich combination of mee goreng, mutton chop and tulang.
Mohamed’s sons run and help out at the family’s two stalls, and they hope to expand the business.
Though they are more than capable of helming the stalls independently, Mohamed continues to help out, enjoying the laborious but rewarding hawker trade instead of thinking of retirement.
“What’s exciting to me is seeing our customers enjoy our meals,” he says. “They become our regular customers, and they give us suggestions, which we use to experiment in our cooking and improve our dishes.”
The family’s dishes have even grown legs: they sometimes travel to regular customers that the family saw grow up, and who are now working overseas.
A Singaporean regular customer, recently based in China, gets his mother to dabao at least 10 pieces of Mohamed’s prata in an aluminium container, as well as the mutton curry and sambal tumis, and these are then shipped over quickly via DHL Express.
Another regular customer, currently staying in Dubai, is assisted by her sister, who buys 20 packets of mee goreng and hand-carries them each time she boards a flight to the Middle East.
Mohamed says: “My family has formed many close ties with our customers, and we invite them to special occasions, such as my children’s weddings and my grandson’s birthday party.”
When he first started out in the trade more than two decades ago, Mohamed could not have imagined how his life would be changed by his customers – there is also one that has invited him to India for travels.
Over time, he learnt that while he stays true to consistently delivering great flavours and value, it’s the customers who complete the picture of a hawker’s life.
“Being a hawker is very satisfying,” Mohamed says, “thanks to our customers.”
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