While growing up, life revolved around raising ducks and pigs and growing produce in the farm for Chan Hon Meng and his farmer parents at a kampong (village) in Ipoh, Malaysia. This was also when his culinary journey began. “I would prepare meals for my family, and grew up eating and cooking casual home-cooked dishes such as stir-fried chicken, fish and vegetables,” he says. This early exposure to cooking developed his passion for it. “The foundation was based strongly on the belief that good food should be made simple and affordable. Whenever people eat the food that I serve, I feel a sense of satisfaction,” says the chef, who is popularly called Hawker Chan.
In 2016, he won a Michelin star for his stall — Liao Fan Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at the Chinatown Complex Food Centre in Singapore. Long queues build up early in the morning, much before Chan opens the stall. Apart from locals, people from all over the world line up to experience what became ‘The World’s First Hawker Michelin-starred Meal’ and ‘The Cheapest Michelin-starred Meal in the World’. Chef Chan will be in Delhi this weekend to dish out his popular meals at the food festival, Zomaland, organised in collobaration with Singapore Tourism Board.
Chan was 15 when he left school and his hometown for Singapore. During the early years of his apprenticeship under a Hong Kong chef, he learnt and developed his signature recipe of soya sauce chicken, and opened his stall in 2009. “I gathered a lot of feedback from my customers, did a lot of research on my food to explore in depth and know what the preferred tastes are. Through continuous improvisation, I came up with my own recipe,” he says.
His day starts early in the morning, when he prepares the sauce for marination. “To achieve the signature flavour and tenderness, hours of manual braising is required, and to perfect this dish, the key factor is a good control of the fire,” he says, adding that the unique combination of soya sauce and various kinds of herbs make the dish stand out. “The Michelin Star has also played a role in my popularity,” he says. When he was first invited for the gala night for the award, it took him by surprise. “I thought they were joking, why would Michelin come to my stall,” he recalls.
But he points out that hawker culture is an integral part of the Singaporean way of life and offers numerous cuisines at affordable prices. “Running a stall gives me an opportunity to interact with people from all walks of life. But managing a hawker stall requires long hours of hard work to prepare dishes for so many people within a short period of time. I encourage people to explore the hawker stall business, as it helps preserve more unique food cultures,” he says.
Zomaland will take place from December 13 to 15 at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium. Tickets on insider.in