“I Used To Work In A Suit & Tie, Now I Wash Dishes,” Says Hotel Manager Turned Cuttlefish Bee Hoon Hawker - 8days Skip to main content



“I Used To Work In A Suit & Tie, Now I Wash Dishes,” Says Hotel Manager Turned Cuttlefish Bee Hoon Hawker

“When my son saw me collecting and washing bowls, his face turned ‘black’. He feels that people look down on him now that his father is a hawker," says the 37-year-old who sells Seremban dishes from his hometown, including lai fun (rice noodles).


Tucked away in a corner of a quiet coffee shop in sleepy Potong Pasir is six-week-old hawker stall Taste of Home, offering Malaysian-style noodle dishes like cuttlefish bee hoon topped with braised pork, a popular street food in Seremban, and lai fun, a bouncy thick rice noodle commonly used in Penang assam laksa. Situated behind the drinks stall and obstructed by a pillar, it’s quite the hidden gem.

Seremban-born Lim Leong Yew, 37, who used to work as an events service assistant manager at The Grand Hyatt, hand-makes his lai fun here. Crafted from rice flour and tapioca flour, the thick, short, slippery noodles resemble mee tai mak but with a better bite. The Singapore PR tells 8days.sg that in Seremban, the noodles are typically served with fishballs, meatballs or minced meat, in thick savoury black sauce.

To offer something different, he pairs his lai fun with toppings like braised pork, curry pork or nan ru pork, aka fried fermented beancurd pork. Also available are almond beancurd dessert and pork trotter vinegar, offered only on weekends.

No part of this story or photos can be reproduced without permission from 8days.sg.

From hotel to kopitiam

Before starting Taste of Home in April, Leong Yew, who has been in the hotel service line since he came to Singapore in 2005, worked as an events service assistant manager at The Grand Hyatt. He quit his job last year before the hotel underwent renovations, so he could spend more time with his sons, aged seven and 11.

“I was doing events and the hours were very long, so I wanted to take a break. I got bored after being a stay-at-home dad for a year and decided to start my own business. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for many years,” he shares. 

Despite having no experience in F&B, he invested $20K to start the stall peddling cuttlefish bee hoon and lai fun as these noodle dishes are rare in Singapore. He learned how to make lai fun via YouTube videos when he missed food from his hometown during the pandemic. 

As for the cuttlefish beehoon, it’s a recipe he learned from an elderly hawker who ran a popular cuttlefish bee hoon stall in Malaysia.

“I used to eat at the stall which was around for three decades. The hawker had cancer [and was going to retire], so my mum asked him if he wanted to pass down his skills and recipe. I went to learn from him. I paid 5K ringgit (S$1.5K) for the recipe and he trained me for three days last November,” says Leong Yew.

“I tweaked the recipe for the broth, which is used to make the gravy, as the uncle used da tou cai (preserved mustard greens), which I don’t like. I use ikan bilis, chicken bones and onions for my broth, and my hometown friends and family said I have nailed the taste of the dish.”

Son’s face “turned black” when he saw dad collecting & washing bowls

While Leong Yew’s wife, Ashley Tan, 41, who works as an executive secretary, is supportive of his venture and helps out at the stall on weekends, his older son “does not like” his new profession. 

“’Cos I used to go to work in a suit and tie — now I have to wash dishes,” explains Leong Yew. 

“When my son saw me collecting and washing bowls, his face 'turned black'. He feels that people look down on him now that his father is a hawker. He asked me why I want to work like that and said I should go back to the hotel line, it’s a better life."

Even Leong Yew’s friends, especially those in F&B, urged him to get a stable job instead of joining the hawker trade. 

“I feel shy to tell some of my friends that I am doing this ’cos I know 90 percent of them will say ‘Just ‘play’ for a few months and when the hotel reopens after renovation, come back. There’s a job waiting for you,’” he shares. 

“Yes, being a hawker is tougher than my previous job, but this is something I’ve been considering doing for a few years and I should at least give it a try. If it doesn’t work out, I can always go back to the hotel industry. But I think my son is starting to understand and accept my new job.”

His work day starts at 4am

Leong Yew admits that running the biz has been a lot tougher than expected. From the lai fun to the meats, chilli, and even dessert, he makes everything from scratch. Due to teething issues and challenging workload, coupled with stress, he was unable to make any lai fun on his opening week. He is still getting used to life as a hawker.

“I can make the lai fun in two hours at home, so initially I thought it would be very easy and I can start my day at 6am. But in reality, it’s very different. I come in at 4am to start prepping and after I close the stall at 3pm, I have to wash the dishes, prepare for the next day, and only leave at around 8pm. Now my kids complain that they hardly see me anymore,” he sighs. 

Biz slow with gross earnings of only $60 on some days 

It doesn’t help that response to his food has been less than ideal and he can’t help but feel discouraged and questions himself sometimes.

“There are queues at all the other stalls at the coffee shop during lunch time except mine, so naturally I am worried. I ask myself why no one wants to try my food? Is it because it’s too expensive? There are people who order the lai fun but barely touch the noodles. Perhaps they are not used to the texture, so I am going to offer other varieties of noodles like hor fun to give customers more options,” he shares.

He earns an average of $100 gross a day and “some days, it can go as low as $60”. He says this doesn’t amount to much profit after taking away the cost of ingredients and rent. “When some regulars see that I don’t have much business, they will come and buy almond beancurd from me. I wonder: am I that pitiful?” he muses.

Despite only making enough to break even last month, Leong Yew is content: “I told my wife that as long as I don’t lose money in the first month, I am happy. No salary, never mind.”

The menu

Taste of Home’s offerings are pretty random. The signature dish is the Seremban cuttlefish bee hoon ($5) served with braised pork, and lai fun. You can have the lai fun with soup or dry, with your choice of toppings: braised pork ($5), curry pork ($5) and nan ru (fermented beancurd) pork ($5.50).

The lai fun is made from scratch on-site daily using an electric mixer. The batter is then poured through a mould into boiling water to form strands of noodles.

The stall also sells almond beancurd ($2) to beef up the menu, and pork trotter vinegar ($7) on weekends. When we ask Leong Yew about the unusual combination of dishes, he explains that these are dishes that he and his family enjoy.

Seremban Cuttlefish Bee Hoon, $5

A Seremban specialty, cuttlefish bee hoon is essentially fried vermicelli smothered in starchy brown gravy, topped with chunks of braised pork, blanched cuttlefish slices, xiao bai cai, and a sprinkling of fried garlic bits.

Despite its name, the tender cuttlefish plays a supporting role here, while the pork, braised a day in advance and so the flavour deepens overnight, is the star. Pork shoulder is seared before stewing in a braising liquid featuring five-spice powder, dark sauce and garlic. The result is pleasantly tender and flavourful meat, though we would have preferred a fattier cut of pork for a juicier bite. That said, it pairs well with the savoury gravy prepared with ikan bilis and chicken-based broth and oyster sauce. 

What we found interesting is the slightly smoky bee hoon, which is first fried to give it wok hei. However, Leong Yew reveals that he’s had to tone down the smokiness after elderly customers complained that it was “chao tar” (burnt). “My Seremban friends said there’s not enough wok hei but no choice, I need to cater to my customers as they are my regulars,” he adds.

Lai Fun With Signature Lu Rou, $5  

Lai fun served with the same braised pork used in the cuttlefish bee hoon, stir-fried minced meat, crispy pork crackling, and fried garlic. The noodles are like more slippery and fatter thick bee hoon, but with an addictive bite to it. Slicked with savoury-sweet dark sauce blend and braising liquid, the smooth, springy strands are toothsome and lovely to slurp up. They also offer soup, which you can request on the side to pair with your noodles. Made from simmering ikan bilis, chicken, and onions, the soup has a comforting, homely taste.

Lai Fun With Curry Pork, $5 (8 DAYS Pick!)

Instead of braised pork, lai fun is served with curry pork cubes. Though not fiery, the curry is bold, with a good hit of spices. Leong Yew makes his own rempah using more than 10 aromatics and spices including galangal, turmeric, and lemongrass. The mix of the curry with the tossing sauce is unexpectedly harmonious and tasty, and the pork succulent, though we dislike the stray lemongrass fibres stuck to them.

Lai Fun With Nan Ru Pork, $5.50 (8 DAYS Pick!)

Crisp, yummy slices of nan ru pork take centrestage here. The tender, juicy pork slices are wonderfully flavourful and umami, the result of marinating it in red fermented beancurd for more than a day. We recommend pairing it with their housemade chilli. Don’t be put off by the odd brownish hue, the thick “Thai-inspired” tangy, zingy chilli, made with minced parsley, garlic, belacan and lime juice, adds a slight kick to everything, making them even more moreish.

Pork Trotter Vinegar, $7 

For $7 we got four big chunks of trotter, plus a hard-boiled egg. The pork has a good fat-to-meat ratio and is fork tender. Our colleague, who is a fan of the dish, nods in approval while slurping up the punchy gravy, though he acknowledges it would be better if it were thicker. It has a good balance of sweet and sour notes and the egg is also well-infused with flavour. Add $1 for rice. Only available on weekends. 

Bottom line

Not the usual Malaysian fare we’re familiar with but don’t let the unusual offerings intimidate you — simple, homely flavours are the draw here. While the cuttlefish bee hoon is not bad, we enjoyed the springy lai fun more. Our favourite is the one topped with deliciously umami pork marinated with fermented beancurd. We’re also moved by the hawker’s passion for his new career and hope business picks up for him soon.

The details

Taste of Home is at #01-152, Jin Hong Coffee Shop, Blk 137, Potong Pasir Ave 3, S350137. Open daily except Tue, 9am – 3pm. More info via Facebook.

No part of this story or photos can be reproduced without permission from 8days.sg.

Photos: Aik Chen




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