Singapore—Not every hawker ends up getting written up about by KF Seetoh himself, so Melissa Lim already has some bragging rights. Ms Lim, a former teacher, traded in her books and school supplies for hawker’s tools earlier this year and has not looked back since.
Ms Lim was also recently featured on 8days.sg, for her unusual story of leaving the teaching profession to follow in her father’s footsteps as a hawker, a move many would consider as one that goes against the grain.
Ms Lim, age 35, had been a secondary school science teacher for 10 years when she decided to make this startling career change. She now works side by side with her father, David Lim, 62, at the Empress Place Teochew Beef Kway Teow, which has been in business for 25 years.
Once in Siglap, the Empress Place is now located at Maxwell Food Centre. Ms Lim told 8days.sg, “My dad said they wanted to increase his rent at Siglap, and business was declining over the years. We have to build our business again here, but if you don’t try [branching out], you wouldn’t know [if it’ll work].”
But Ms Lim is not the only one in the family who caught the cooking bug from their father. Younger brother John Paul Lim owns a stall at Gubak Kia at Timbre+ hawker centre, serving mod beef kway teow.
They are all descendants of the people who ran the renowned Original Hock Lam Street Beef Kway Teow chain, where, once upon a time, Ms Lim’s great-grandmother started the eatery.
Unfortunately, the last Hock Lam closed earlier this month.
But you might say that cooking is in Ms Lim’s blood.
KF Seetoh described the Teochew soup in the Lim’s stall earlier this year.
“The arsenal of toppings include beef balls, brisket (melting soft), medium rare beef slices (the hot soup will cook it through in your bowl) and chewy soft tendons…
That spoonful of salted vegetables he plops atop each soupy bowl of noodles is heaven-sent, containing the beefiness without burying it.
So with that piquant spicy chilli that packs a punch, I was delighted he came up with a dry version some time ago.
Today, it is equally popular.
The dry one comes with a little ladle of chilli sauce, a splash of soy sauce and sesame oil. I like this one with the works – brisket, medium rare beef slices, beef balls, and tendons.”
About Ms Lim, Mr Seetoh wrote, “His 35-year-old daughter Melissa left her teaching job to join the family business.
She has known she wanted to do it since her schoolgoing days, and together, they run their Empress Place stall “in the Hock Lam tradition”. So in many ways, the 108-year-old beef kway teow legacy still lives on.”
Mr Lim talked to 8days.sg about his daughter’s career change. “She was holding such a good post. But I’m happy that she’s carrying on my legacy. She’s doing very well now. She can cook, and open and close the stall by herself. A lot of customers come back ’cos they find her very interesting to talk to. They like her.”
Ms Lim said that the past few months have been challenging. “Being a hawker is tougher than what I imagined it to be. I started on 6 May this year, and it has been a tiring few weeks. It’s more than what I had bargained for. We’ve to hunt for our trays and wash our own dishes. But I have good support from my family and friends.”
The former teacher is determined to give the hawker life a chance.“It’s a bit too early to tell if I regret quitting my job, but if we are taking home $1,000 a month, I might as well go work for someone. Would I go back to teaching? Maybe. I still like interacting with students. It depends on whether the Ministry of Education still wants me back. Science teachers are at an excess now because schools are merging.
I still want to give this hawker thing a try ’cos I’m stubborn that way. I don’t want to regret not having done this when I’m 50. Whether this works out or not, I have learnt a lot of things. Even if this doesn’t work out eventually, at least I’ve picked up the recipe and I can still cook it for potluck and Christmas parties,” she told 8days.sg. /TISG
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