This is not my usual food review - I am taking the liberty to also share some of my personal observations of Singapore social media, traditional media and aspiring young hawkers.
It all started in May 2014 with a Facebook post by top social media influencer Dr Leslie Tay about Penang Kia 仔 prawn mee stall run by a youthful couple, Gerald and Julyn, who quit their SIA cabin crew jobs to be hawkers.
Leslie's legion of fans descended on Penang Kia 仔 on cue. Traditional media and other bloggers followed in their wake.
I was dragged along by my bloggie friend Ian, the Silver Chef (two months after the initial media hype).
The first taste was underwhelming. The broth was off balance - it was too sweet and the prawny flavour was too meek for my taste buds. The yellow noodles were soggy and limp but that could be blamed on my obsessive photo taking.
I also noted that the energy level at the stall was low, perhaps because this was a rather isolated corner of Sengkang new town, which was itself not exactly at Singapore's heart beat.
The buzz from successive bursts of media clamour came and fizzled out rather quickly like in rushing and receding waves.
(I did not blog about Penang Kia then, as it is my policy not to post about food that I did not enjoy.)
My second visit was about three months later, again with Ian as part of our visits on hawkers participating in the Ultimate Hawker Fest 2014.
The prawn broth suited my taste buds a lot better this time. The balance between sweetness and crustacean savouriness was much better. While I have tasted better broth, Penang Kia's broth was still commendable. The yellow noodles though were still flaccid and lifeless, but that was again because I am incurably obsessive about my photo taking.
A lot had happened during the six months of Gerald and Julyn's hawker journey.
A few more media personalities and various Media Corp print and television channels swooped in for the scoop and photo opportunity. The story of a SIA cabin crew couple hanging up their kabaya and jacket to become hawkers was still newsworthy.
The media exposure brought customers to this quiet coffee shop in laid back Sengkang.
Penang Kia had the benefit of multiple free nation wide media publicity. They did not have to invest marketing dollars to procure reviews and media coverage.
Despite the glamour and benefit of several free publicity boosts, Julyn had returned to a salaried job, at least for the time being. Now only Gerald soldiers on at the stall, assisted by two hardworking foreign workers.
Gerald is very down to earth and determined to make Penang Kia 仔 a success. He spoke candidly about the challenges he and Julyn faced as novice hawkers.
Maintaining consistency in the face of tidal waves of customers with each mass (social or traditional) media mention had been challenging, especially in the beginning when they lacked experience.
I respect Gerald for looking for ways to cope with uncertainly of supply, as Penang Kia 仔 insists on fresh, wild caught sua lor sea prawns, instead of resorting to pond raised shrimps.
Gerald is still tweaking the recipe from Julyn's father (who used to run a Hokkien mee stall in Tanjung Bungah, Penang) to suit local palates. (Prawn mee is known as Hokkien mee in Penang, where the dish originated.)
We touched upon the high cost of operating even a simple hawker stall in Singapore. Operational cost even in quiet suburban Singapore is more than SGD10,000 a month. Even just breaking-even creates a lot of pressure for budding hawkers.
It had not been an easy ride for Gerald and Julyn, yet that had not stopped Penang Kia 仔 from participating in Ultimate Hawker Fest 2014 (an annual charity food fair in support of the 32,000 needy Singaporeans under Touch Community Services).
I take my hat off to Gerald and Julyn for their fighting spirit and still remembering our community's needy people.
If you like to support Gerald and Julyn as well as 20 over other hawker heroes, come to:
Singapore Ultimate Hawker Fest 2014
Venue: SUNTEC Convention Centre & Exhibition Centre Halls 401/ 402
Date: 22 Nov 2014 (Saturday)
Time: 11:00am to 5:00pm.
Get your Singapore Ultimate Hawker Fest 2014 coupons here.
May I take this opportunity to wish Gerald and Julyn the best.
Restaurant name: Penang Kia 仔
Address: Blk 205D, Compassvale Lane, #01-02, Singapore
Hours: 10:00am to 9:00pm
Date visited: 4 Jul 2014, 14 Oct 2014
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