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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Gourmet street food a hit

Ultimate Hawker Fest's food was sold out in hours.
The Straits Times - October 22, 2012
By: John Lui
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Gourmet street food a hit A customer with two bowls of Boston Lobster Laksa by Chef Eric Teo, which took an average of an hour to queue for. -- ST PHOTOS: KUA CHEE SIONG

An outdoor feast billed as a gathering of Singapore's top hawkers became as soggy as overcooked pasta when a furious downpour lashed the streets on Saturday night.

The event, the first Ultimate Hawker Fest 2012, almost ground to a halt after power had to be shut off to several stalls at the Millenia Walk location because electrical cables were soaked.

As drops pelted down from 6 to 7.30pm, hundreds of diners, many already miffed at the shortage of tables, had to flee the exposed outdoor dining areas for nearby malls and building corridors, where entire families ate standing up.

Despite the hiccups - which included top hawker stalls selling out early, disappointing foodies who had queued for more than an hour - the organisers considered the charity event, held from 5 to 10pm, a success.

An estimated 5,000 diners turned up, helping organisers hit its goal of $150,000 in dining coupons sold. After costs, most of that sum will be going to non-profit welfare organisation Touch Community Services, which offers crisis relief and community services to children from low-income families, the elderly and those with special needs.

Dr Leslie Tay, 43, blogger of ieatishootipost.sg and one of the event's organisers, acknowledged the "teething problems" of long lines, sold-out food and the lack of shelter. This was the team's first try at holding an event of this scale, he said.

"We did not expect such a big turnout. About a third of the diners bought coupons at the door," he said. He added that he chose an alfresco setting because the experience would feel more unique than holding it in a large, characterless hall.

Ironically, "before the event, some hawkers were worried if anyone would come because the prices were so high", he said.

Dr Tay had gathered some of Singapore's most famous coffee-shop and food-centre cooks with the aim of proving that local street food can be as worthy of acclaim as any cuisine in the world. He got sponsors such as food supplier Angliss to provide top-shelf ingredients such as Iberico pork belly and then brainstormed with the chefs on fancier versions of their usual recipes.

Madam Foo Kui Lian, 63, founder of Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, was given hormone- and antibiotic-free poultry of the "naked neck" breed, donated by Toh Thye San Farm from its pens in Johor Baru. She found the meat of these slow- maturing birds to be "sweeter and more tender" than the ones she is used to buying for her four outlets across the island, she said.

A plate of chicken rice at one of her outlets costs $3.80. The same portion at Saturday's event, made with the special meat, cost $10. "I doubt my regular customers would pay that amount, even if the chicken meat is of higher quality. But who knows? It's something to think about for the future," she said.

Everyone that Life! spoke to gave the thumbs-up to the moist, flavourful chicken.

The other hot sellers were the fried carrot cake by Chef William Soh, Boston Lobster Laksa by Chef Eric Teo, Hill Street Fried Kway Teow and City Satay, selling pork belly and wagyu beef satay.

Madam Anastasia Lee, 52, was among those in the long line for the chicken rice. She had come to the event with her son and sister, expecting to try the Geylang Lorong 29 Hokkien mee. But after waiting for more than an hour, the stall ran out of ingredients and, along with other hot sellers like the Hill Street Char Kway Teow, had to close by 8.30pm.

"I'm hungry. I've had nothing to eat. But it's okay - this is all for charity," she said. She would have to pin her hopes on food being available at other stalls, including Fatty Cheong Roast Meats and City Satay.

Mr S.V. Gunalan, 38, founder of The Prata Place, was offering an Ultimate Murtabak featuring tandoori chicken and lamb. On Saturday, he had run the gamut of problems - rain had soaked his cooking area and his power had to be cut for half an hour - but he could still see the lighter side. "If people came here to feel what it was like to eat outside in the old days, they got it," he said.

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