Street Food Vendor Makes History by Earning a Michelin StarAug 30, 2016
Going to a Michelin Star restaurant isn’t cheap. A prix-fixe lunch at New York City’s Le Bernardin will cost you at least $85. Now, if you’re in Singapore, things are quite different and you can get a Michelin Star-awarded lunch for just about $1.85 – from one of the local food stands.
Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice And Noodle made food history last month when it became the first street food vendor in the world to be awarded a Michelin Star. Singapore has thousands of street food vendors – or “hawker” stalls as they’re called – but Chan Hon Meng’s open-air stand is leaps and bounds above the rest. The rarity of winning the prestigious dining award came as quite a surprise when the 51-year-old chef got the call, inviting him to attend the company’s Singapore Gala Dinner. “I asked them, ‘Are you joking? Why would Michelin come to my stall?’” said Meng. “I said, ‘I’ve never heard of Michelin inspectors visiting a street stall, can even a hawker be nominated?’”
The dish that caught the attention of the respected French restaurant guide was Meng’s chicken slathered in a Hong Kong-style soya sauce. He’s been cooking the dish for over 30 years, going for the unbeatable price of $1.85, making it the cheapest Michelin starred-meal by a long shot. Twenty other eateries in Singapore received the culinary award, but with prices ranging from $22 to $445 USD, Meng has them beat by far.
Since winning the award, business at the Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice And Noodle has shot up, with Meng grilling up an extra 30 chickens a day to meet the demand. The chef sometimes cooks for 17 hours a day, only stopping to send hungry customers away when he runs out of food. “I now start at 5am or 6am when previously, I’m at my stall only at 7am,” Meng told Today.
While Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice And Noodle was one of two street vendors to receive a star, the recognition has spurred some controversey. Food critic and Makansutra guide founder KF Seetoh felt the inclusion of only two stalls out of many was “sad”, and questioned whether Michelin inspectors worked to thoroughly cover all the stalls.
Meng has little time to worry about the critics though. He’s too busy trying to get better and continue to push his recipes, while keeping customers happy. “If I try something new, my old customers may not like it,” said Meng. “But if I keep doing what I’ve been doing, then in a way, I wouldn’t get better.” Keeping customers happy isn’t a problem he seems to be having either, with the line wait sometimes stretching to over an hour. For customers like Roy Seeto, a unbeatable meal at such an unbeatable price is worth the wait. “I think he deserved the award. Really deserved it,” he said.
While some restaurants would jack up prices following the award, Meng doesn’t plan on raising his anytime soon: “It’s not fair to raise them just because I won an award,” he said.