Big lines in front of food stalls at Singapore’s Chinatown Complex are not a strange sight — however, a seemingly endless line, which has become a tourist attraction itself, is.
Chan Hon Meng, the owner of Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, now popularly known as the street food stall with a Michelin star, had no idea that his unremarkable, open-air stall would become an overnight sensation, thanks to his mouth-watering, restaurant quality chicken and noodles.
Although Chan never had any problems drawing in customers, since he was awarded a star by the Singapore Michelin guide in late July, his usual 150 customers have increased exponentially. Another reason for the huge line of customers is the price that makes his food the most affordable Michelin-starred meals in the world — a plate of soya sauce chicken and rice costs just around $1.50 and comes up to only half the price of Big Mac at McDonald’s.
“I asked them, are you joking?” said a skeptical Chan. “Why would Michelin come to my stall? Can a hawker even be nominated?”
However, the fame has taken a toll on the chef’s small frame. Since the announcement of the honor on July 21, the 51-year-old has been putting in 17-hour shifts to try to satisfy the hungry customers, but it still isn’t enough.
“I now start at 5 a.m. or 6 a.m. when previously, I’m at my stall only at 7 a.m.,” he shared in Mandarin. “I now prepare 30 more chickens. That’s a total of 180 each day.”
“Of course, I want to retain my star or even get one or two more. But, honestly, how? I wouldn’t know where to start,” he said, during a short break, when the first things he did were to lean against the wall and sink into a squat. “They (Michelin) say just do what I’m doing. But I don’t even know what got me my Michelin star in the first place; my guess is the chicken, of course.”
When asked by Michael Ellis, the international director of the Michelin Guides, how one retains their Michelin star, he said to keep up the high quality and get creative with the food.
But Chan states that his customers banked on the consistency of his food and he might lose them if he tried something new and they don’t like it — and that’s why he thinks he won’t be able to keep his Michelin star for forever.
“I feel bad when I’ve to turn people away. I just do my best,” said the hardworking and selfless Chan, who has been stretching himself to accommodate his customers. “As for prices, it’s not fair to raise them just because I won an award. In fact, my suppliers have increased prices four times in the last seven years and I’ve not changed my prices at all. I will continue trying to absorb the price increases until I really can’t do it.”