All About the World's Cheapest Michelin-Starred Meal

We quizzed Chef Chan Hon Meng, or Hawker Chan, on running his stall during the pandemic, his favourite Indian food and more
Chef Chan Hon Meng got a Michelin star in 2016
Chef Chan Hon Meng got a Michelin star in 2016

After close to a year of COVID-19 being first heard of, one of the biggest incentives for one to fly down to Singapore as soon as it's safe, is decidedly its delicious street food. Gee, wouldn&rsquot love to dig into some of that delicious Soya Sauce Chicken that legendary hawker Chan Hon Meng sells for dirt cheap (Rs 100, we are told) The historical city has seen these hawkers plying on its streets for two centuries now. And after they were granted UNESCO intangible heritage status, we caught up with the super-busy Hawker Chan for a quick chat.

We ask Chan about the state of operations at his outlets ever since the pandemic broke out. Initially, the city&rsquos hawkers were forced to fall back on partnering with delivery apps, an idea that proved unprofitable before long because of the high commissions. As the &lsquocircuit breakers&rsquo implemented by the authorities, stalls began reopening with greater caution and hygiene. Chan says, &ldquoFor us, maintaining vigilance and safety is a priority for both our internal and external customers. The pandemic is an unprecedented situation and we have made efforts to scrutinize our business costs and manpower with extra care to ensure business runs as usual.&rdquo

And he intends to continue in the same manner. &ldquoWe look to maintain our food quality, remain consistent on the food that we deliver, and hopefully [come up] with more new dishes to serve the community. It's a daily effort of the team,&rdquo he says, just like his ever-humble self.

Adaptability and the will to survive through every adversity are an undeniable part of Singapore&rsquos shining street-food legacy. For the city&rsquos hawkers, the UNESCO intangible heritage status has come in a year when street-food was the least on the world&rsquos mind. &ldquoIt is a historical moment to me and I am equally proud of the recognition. It enforces hawker culture to be more vibrant and a significant heritage in Singapore,&rdquo says Chan, who came to the city as a fifteen-year-old and still wakes up really early in the morning to prepare the sauce for marination.

Relishing his world-famous Soya Sauce Chicken at the iconic Chinatown Complex Food Centre might not be immediately possible but we toyed with the idea of making it at home as part of a fun pretend-travel list (it is that synonymous with Singapore), and it turns out the recipe is in the public domain, very much in line with the idea of accessibility. And if you&rsquore trying, Chan has a simple scrap of advice

&ldquoEveryone can make their own Soya Sauce Chicken. They just have to find their own recipe and maybe take my recipe for the dish as a general guideline if they do not mind. The only thing is that the taste of authentic soya sauce has to be maintained in the dish&mdashthat's my advice to them,&rdquo Chan shares, and upon prodded on what other offering on his menu would he strongly recommend after Soya Sauce Chicken, says, &ldquoIt would be a Cantonese delicacy known as the Char Siew, also known as barbeque pork.&rdquo

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Chan surely has inspired a lot of younger people who would like to make their mark as restaurateurs or even simply as owners of small but successful eateries. Not one to pontificate as to the tricks and hacks of running a &lsquoprofitable&rsquo venture, Chan has a short and sweet reply &ldquoPassion and consistency are the most important qualities. Never give up on what you love and care about.&rdquo

The 55-year-old was in India exactly a year ago, and with Indians widely believed to be obsessed with spices and chillies, one wonders what Chan thinks of Indian fare. &ldquoI like plenty of them, more of curry dishes,&rdquo he shares.

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