SINGAPORE DAY 2011 SPECIAL FEATURE
Celebrity Hawker: Rafee’s Corner
Featured Dish: Teh Tarik
Think Amoy Street ginger tea, and many will associate it with Rafee’s Corner. Rafee’s Corner is one of the many stalls on the second floor of Amoy Street Food Centre. The stall’s humble beginnings can be traced back to 1958 when tea was sold from a push cart on that same street.
Owner of Rafee’s Corner, Mohamed Rabeek, showing some of the media clippings he’s received
The teh tarik business was owned by Rafee’s father. Rafee, whose real name is Mohamed Rabeek, started helping out at his father’s makeshift stall as a primary six student. This after arriving from India in 1983. He took over the business in 1995 upon his father’s passing and worked hard to grow his customer base. “That was when I delivered drinks to nearby offices. I went building to building, up and down to sell my drinks. That was when I became well-known by many people,” he recounts.
The popularity of the teh tarik he prepares and serves is evident in the sometimes 10 to 15-people deep queues that snake in front of his stall. He makes no compromise when preparing each cup of tea, only making a cup when an order is placed. Rafee says he pays special attention to the customer’s preferred level of sweetness, generally based on ethnicity if it isn’t a regular customer he serves – the Indians like theirs sweet, the Malays like it in-between, while the Chinese usually request for “less sweet”.
A shot with a group of regular customers
He also believes in putting in effort to thoroughly clean, grind and steam ginger for teh halia – a task that can take him up to two hours. Coming back to teh tarik, Rafee differentiates his blend from others because of the choice of tea dust that he blends together. “I have gone to Cameron Highlands and India, but I found the best tea in Indonesia. Then I mix and match the different types of tea dust to make my very own recipe of teh tarik”. Therein lies the key difference in setting his tea apart from the rest.
‘Rest’ is something he won’t have much of come 16 April 2011. Asked his thoughts on being selected to participate in Singapore Day 2011, he says, “I was shocked to be selected to participate in Singapore Day in China. It is my dream come true and now I can do my teh tarik in a different country and share the taste of my teh tarik with Singaporeans there”.
By picking up where his father left off, Rafee’s plunging into the tea trade has earned him a place in Singapore Day’s Hall of Fame, comprising an elite circle of hawkers and restauranters who will treat Singaporeans to easily the nation’s best street dishes to be found in one place.
By Stanley Leong
Telok Ayer Street, #02-85, Amoy Street Food Centre