6 things to know about one Michelin-starred Tai Hwa Pork Noodle

6 things to know about one Michelin-starred Tai Hwa Pork Noodle
Bak Chor Mee (left) from Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles at Tai Hwa Eating House.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

The Michelin Guide recognised the iconic Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle with one star on Thursday (July 21).

Here are six things about the brand:

1. Origins

Second son Tang Chay Seng at his Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle stall in Crawford Lane. Photo: The Business Times

Tai Hwa Pork Noodle was founded by Tang Joon Teo, who operated at Hill Street in the 1930s. The late Mr Tang died in 1995 at the age of 89, and left the business to his three sons.

Second son Chay Seng, 69, was the first to work full-time at the stall after dropping out of secondary school when he was 14.

His two brothers followed suit later, with Chay Seng at the helm.

In the 1990s, the stall moved to Marina Square before settling in its current premises at Crawford Lane in 2004.

2. Hokkien or Teochew?

L: Hokkien-style bak chor mee from Seng Hiang at Fengshan Market and Food Centre. R: Teochew-style bak chor mee from Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork noodles. Photos: Andre Hoeden, The New Paper

According to a 2005 Lianhe Zaobao report, a family from China's Fujian province brought the Hokkien-style bak chor mee (minced pork noodles) to our shores.

However, Singaporeans can claim their bragging rights for the Teochew-style bak chor mee, which is uniquely Singapore.

Food critic K.F. Seetoh told The Straits Times in 2009 that the concept of "using sambal and vinegar to flavour the noodles with meat topping" can't be found outside Singapore.

For Tai Hwa's bak chor mee, founder Tang Joon Teo concocted the addictive blend of black vinegar, chilli paste plus other sauces, in which the egg noodles are tossed in.

3. Cheapest Michelin-starred meal, but expect to wait

Mr Chan Hon Meng (left), 51, owner of Hong Kong Soy Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Food Complex with Mr Tang Chay Seng, 70, owner of Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle at Crawford Lane. Both outlets received one Michelin star. Photo: The Straits Times

"For the first time, you would be able to have a Michelin-starred meal for under S$5," said Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin guides in an interview with AFP on Thursday.

Although Mr Tang Chay Seng says he will not increase prices, he told the media that the queue is expected to get longer.

It is not uncommon to queue for up to 45 minutes - or more, for a bowl of Tai Hwa's noodles. According to Channel NewsAsia, queues on Friday (July 22) - a day after the Michelin awards were announced, stretched for more than an hour.

4. Hill Street Tai Hwa? High Street Tai Wah?

Youngest brother Tang Chai Chye at his High Street Tai Wah Pork Noodle (minced pork noodle or bak chor mee) stall in Bestway Building in Prince Edward Road. Photo: The Straits Times

With Chay Seng operating Hill Street Tai Hwa at Crawford Lane, what about his two brothers? They are running other pork noodle stalls loosely tied to the Tai Hwa brand: High Street Tai Wah and Lau Dai Hua.

The youngest brother, Chai Chye, 63, used to run High Street Tai Wah Pork Noodle in Bestway Building in Prince Edward Road which has since closed.

Two of Chai Chye's sons also started their pork noodles stores under the High Street Tai Wah brand.

Gerald Tang, 37, is now running the family's stall at Hong Lim Food Centre, Chinatown, while Jason Tang, 27, had a stall at Singapore Food Trail, a dining concept at the Singapore Flyer.

5. Hill Street Tai Hwa? Lau Dai Hua?

Tung Chye Hong (left) and his son, Arthur, at Lau Dai Hua minced pork noodle (bak chor mee) outlet at Food Republic, VivoCity. Photo: Shin Min

In the 1960s, eldest son Chye Hong, 72, opened an outlet in a Cecil Street coffeeshop at his father's urging. The stall closed in 1978 and Chye Hong returned to run the Hill Street stall with his two younger brothers.

He left the business in the 1980s to become a taxi driver as he was tired of the job and felt that he was unsuited for the business. In the 1990s, he returned to help at the relocated stall at Marina Square for a few years while continuing his daytime job as a taxi driver.

Chye Hong's son, Arthur Tung Yang Wee, 46, is now running Lau Dai Hua Pork Noodle at Straits Food Village in Changi Airport Terminal 2.

6. A blemish on the famous brand

Mr Arthur Tung Yang Wee, owner of the Lau Dai Hua bak chor mee (minced meat noodles) stall in the Food Republic outlet in VivoCity shopping mall. Mr Tung has been accused by his uncle, Mr Tang Chay Seng, owner of the famous Hill Street Tai Hwa bak chor mee stall in Crawford Lane of trying to pass off his stall as the original. Photos: Lianhe Zaobao, The Straits Times

A family feud erupted in 2008 when uncle sued nephew for trademark infringement over the 'Tai Hwa' brand.

Eldest brother Chye Hong's son, Arthur Tung Yang Wee, ran an advertisement in the Chinese newspaper Lianhe Zaobao that his stall Da Hua, "formerly from... Hill Street" had "moved to VivoCity".

Images of awards won by Tai Hwa were also plastered on the advertisement for Da Hua.

Arthur's uncle, Chay Seng, who runs Tai Hwa Pork Noodle at Crawford Lane, told the Chinese newspaper Shin Min that while he did not object to the usage of the brand 'Da Hua', which is the hanyu pinyin pronunciation of Tai Hwa, he slammed the advertisement for being misleading.

"After that, my customers kept calling to ask me if I had really moved, and it caused my business to drop by 20 per cent," he said in the 2008 interview.

While Chay Seng later lost his case, he was awarded nominal damages of $1,000 for loss of goodwill.

grongloh@sph.com.sg

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