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Their signature dish is made with a recipe from a “Taiwanese ah ma”.
Their signature dish is made with a recipe from a “Taiwanese ah ma”.
“My partner is very bu yao lian (Mandarin for shameless),” cheekily quips Joe Cheong (left), 31, when we ask where he and his 28-year-old business partner Donovan Wong (right), got their newly-minted hawker stall’s recipes from.
The younger hawker was in Taichung having his wedding photoshoot a few years ago when he tried a bowl of lu rou fan (braised pork rice) from a “local ah ma” whom they had catered food from. He was blown away, and managed to persuade her to share the recipe with him – now, it’s one of the signature items at Wen Li Taiwanese Food, the millennial duo’s stall in Golden Mile Food Centre. Apart from lu rou fan at $3.50 a bowl, they sell mee sua with pig’s intestines, salt-and-pepper popcorn chicken and braised cabbage.
The stall, which opened on November 1, gets its moniker from the pair’s Mandarin names. It’s an unlikely pairing – Joe, a Singaporean PR born in Kuala Lumpur, spent most of his decade-long career in the service side of F&B, while Donovan had been working in backend operations at a bank for about a year before they met… at burger joint Five Guys.
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Their paths converged in 2019 when they both scored a kitchen gig at Five Guys’ first Singapore outlet in Plaza Singapura. Joe, whose experience in the service line includes five years at mod Australian restaurant Osia Steak and Seafood Grill, wanted to get some experience in the kitchen; while Donovan, who’d taken a break from the banking industry to get married, was also looking to dabble in F&B which had “always been on [his] mind”.
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The two buddies (Donovan is fourth from left in the back row, obscuring Joe from view) enjoyed the experience flipping patties and assembling burgers together for around a year before going their separate ways. Joe got another cooking job with the Les Amis Group, including stints at casual tendon joint Tenjin and Hong Kong import Mui Kee Congee; Donovan returned to banking in a frontline sales role. “But I was always thinking about F&B. In fact, I discussed opening something with my mum, but in the end that didn’t pan out,” Donovan shares.
Instead, he roped in Joe, and they decided to strike out together. “I felt like if I wanted to give opening my own F&B business a try, this would be the right person to partner with. The chemistry is there,” Donovan adds.
Joe explains, “Don and I have limited capital. So we have to start at a hawker centre, to get our fundamentals right first.”
They considered a slew of different cuisines – including burgers – for their first stall, but ultimately decided on Taiwanese food. Joe says, “We felt that [Taiwanese cuisine] was the most suitable for a hawker centre. Plus, Donovan already had it in mind ’cos he had the lu rou fan recipe [from Taiwan]”
As for Donovan, Taiwan cuisine was ideal – it was already one of his “favourite places”, as he’d often visited the country up to three times a year before the pandemic. Lu rou fan recipe in hand, they began experimenting. “We spent around four weeks adapting it to Singaporean tastes and perfecting the recipe,” Donovan says. “We tried it so many times till we got sick of it.”
Both hawkers are at the stall daily, and have seen “okay” sales a month into their biz. For now, they’re focusing on finding their groove as young hawkers.
He adds, “While working at Five Guys, we learnt a lot about the importance of standardisation. You must be precise, you must have standards, then [the food] will be good.”
While we haven’t sampled Wen Li Taiwanese Food’s offerings yet, here’s a look at their signature dishes.
For their lu rou fan, the hawkers braise a blend of pork collar and fattier pork jowl with soy sauce and deep-fried shallots. This is served on a bed of short-grain Taiwanese pearl rice.
A base of bonito, ikan bilis and soy sauce makes up the mee sua’s stock, which is thickened with cornstarch and served with braised pig’s intestines (or shredded chicken breast if you’re not a fan of offal), minced garlic and a splash of vinegar.
A simple veggie dish cooked with hae bee (dried shrimp), pork belly, garlic and mushroom.
Chicken thigh is marinated in soy and oyster sauce before being coated in supplier-bought flour coating; it’s fried to order and dusted in salt-and-pepper seasoning (also store-bought).
Wen Li Taiwanese Food is at #01-65 Golden Mile Food Centre, 505 Beach Rd, S199583. Tel: 8161-5793. Open Tues – Sun, 11am – 7pm. More info via Facebook and Instagram. Delivery via Grabfood and Foodpanda.
Photos: Wen Li Taiwanese Food
All photos cannot be reproduced without permission from 8days.sg
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