Celebrity Hawker: Toa Payoh Rojak
Featured Dish: Rojak
If there is one dish that could culturally represent Singapore’s harmonious mix of races and religions, and her crisscrossing of cultures and languages, it would be rojak.
So it is apt that celebrity hawkers, Mr Cheng Kong Sang and son-in-law Mr Lim Swee Seng, from the Toa Payoh Rojak stall make a special appearance at SG Day in New York, to add a savoury zing to the eclectic mix of hawker offerings.
To create this dish comprising an array of ingredients, Mr Cheng says the most important goal is to achieve proportion and balance. No single taste should overpower the dish’s multitude of flavours. And the perk of writing this story was I got to try the dish myself.
What goes into that mixing bowl?
The spicy chilli sat nicely amidst the consistently thick salty hei kor or prawn paste sauce. It was neither too hot nor too thick that I had to reach out for water. I was also pleasantly surprised how the zesty calamansi and the sweet aromatic ginger flower punctuated the feast.
I especially liked the contrasting ‘chewability’ of the soft fibrous pineapples, cool refreshing cucumbers, crispy you tiao and bouncy tau pok, all topped with a generous serving of crunchy peanuts.
Perhaps I’m meditating on this too much, but there was savoury cosmic harmony in a gastronomical existential sort of way as the tastes blend and contrast, balance and counter-balance in an agreeable and palatable fashion. I was in food nirvana.
From Toa Payoh to Old Airport
The stall has so many Malay fans that the signboard includes its Arabic name for easy identification
The stall at Old Airport Road serves between 200 and 300 customers a day, until the ingredients run out. If there’s anything to testify to the stall’s popularity, it’s their digital queuing system. Thanks to this technology, customers need not stand in snaking queues for 45 minutes. Instead they sit patiently at nearby tables before being called to give their orders – a kind consideration especially for the elderly folk, many of whom are Mr Cheng’s loyal fans from the many years at Toa Payoh.
Pick a tag at the stall and wait for your number to pop up for your turn to order. Meanwhile, read the stalls many accolades as you wait.
Mixing age up with ability?
And don’t let Mr Cheng’s grand age of 81 fool you into thinking that he will let his seniority get in the way of serving up 1,500 portions of rojak. While you won’t see the sweat and effort in the four days of pre-event preparation, do stand and watch in amazement how Mr Cheng rigorously whips up a plate in 2 minutes, as the video footage we captured will testify.
Celebrity Hawker Mr Cheng Kong Sang has been whipping up rojak since 1971.
Beaming with pride, Mr Cheng and Mr Lim expressed how honoured they felt to be invited to SG Day once again after their first experience at SG Day 2009 in London. They hope after attendees have a taste of their food, they would visit the stall at Old Airport Road to have another round when they next return home.
Asked if Mr Cheng had any concerns about travelling halfway across the world, he said, “No matter how difficult and challenging it will be, I will be very happy to serve Singaporeans there.” If there’s anything Mr Cheng will be mixing into his rojak, that would be a lot of heart.
Toa Payoh Rojak
Blk 51 Old Airport Road, #01-108
Old Airport Road Market Hawker's Food Centre
Opening Hours: 11am till approximately 7pm