Sia Kee Duck Rice is a food haunt that our team at Shentonista frequents almost every month whenever we want a good, comforting plate of duck rice. Think heaps of tender, lovingly-braised duck, covered by lashings of luscious, rich gravy; a soup that’s not so much an afterthought, but a well-executed accompaniment; and of course, bowls of steaming-hot yam rice or silky porridge. We discovered the place when we first moved to the area, and ever since then, we’ve visited the place so often that the three friendly brothers that man the stall, comprising of Ron, Lawrence and Albert, recognise us whenever we come by. And evidently, we’re not the only ones that love their duck rice; there was a constant stream of customers ordering from them when we were last there to photograph and speak to them for this edition of Shentonista Eats.
Shentonista (S): How did you get into the F&B business? Was it always something you wanted to do?
Lawrence (L): This business was our father’s, which he started in 1979. It wasn’t something I’d always wanted to do, but there wasn’t enough manpower so all of us came down to help.
S: What’s your daily routine like?
L: We wake up at 5.30 in the morning to start preparing and start business at around 11.30am. We finish at 6pm latest, but after all the cleaning up, we’ll reach home around 8 plus, 9pm.
S: Do you have a uniform that you wear to work?
Albert (A): Black t-shirt, shorts and slippers.
Ron (R): It’s a unanimous decision to wear black because it makes us look slimmer! (laughs)
S: What are your favourite things to eat, besides duck rice?
All three, unanimously: Anything nice!
R: Look at my figure man, if I was picky I wouldn’t look like this! (gestures affectionately to his tummy)
S: How many ducks do you braise in a day, on average?
L: We’re usually able to sell everything in a day, and we’ll close shop once we’re finished selling the ducks.
S: Which brother does which part of the process?
L: I braise the duck.
A: I wash and prepare the duck.
R: I wash the duck.
L: No, he cooks the rice. (all laugh)
R: Sorry! Was trying to be funny.
S: Does anyone start work first? Or do you all start work together?
L: Albert and I go to the factory, and Ron comes here to open the shop and cook the rice. Preparation starts in the central kitchen in Bedok and we drive over every day by 11am.
S: What’s your favourite part about being a hawker, and what kind of challenges do you face?
A: When the customer comes up to you to say the food is good, it’s nice to hear.
R: I really like working with my brothers and the time we spend together.
L: But there’s also the other side that we have to accept — that different people have different tastebuds. Maybe the majority will like it, but there will still be people who don’t. Also, you have to endure the long working hours. Our kind of stress is different; maybe it’s only during lunch time that we’re stressed, not like other people who might have to bring work home. In our case, the moment we stop there’s really nothing else to do, but we’ll just be very tired.
A: There are also many other food vendors around the area who compete with us for customers.
S: How has working together as brothers affected your relationship with each other? Have you gotten into any fights?
L: Of course! We definitely do, but not very often. Our brotherly relations have gotten better, because we see each other every day.
S: Do you keep work and family separate? If yes, how do you do it?
L: First rule — don’t get the wives involved. You know how women are… (laughs)
R: Sometimes, we’ll bring problems up during work to ask the others for advice.
S: What do you like to do on your days off? What is one thing you wish you could do more of, or could spend more time doing?
R: My brothers and I talked about it and we decided to close on Saturdays. It’s something a lot of our customers ask about, like “Eh, why’re you closed on weekends? It’s the best business!” But we agreed that we should take a rest, so on my rest days I spend time with my kids.
A: Saturday’s usually family day, so I bring the kids to lessons too.
L: My off-day is spent taking my kids to tuition, and eating. I really only enjoy eating, so we’ll go to restaurants to try different foods, but I cannot eat too much; my size is increasing. If there was something I could do more of… I would like to have more time for myself. On weekends, I don’t get time to do things on my own because I spend it with my family, and wherever you go is so crowded.
A: I’d like to go overseas with my family.
R: Sometimes, the three of us will decide to close the shop and go on holidays together. It’s nice, because we’re close, and so are our kids.
S: Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to get into the hawker business?
R: You really have to think twice because working in this industry involves sacrificing a lot of your personal time. Especially time spent with your kids.
L: While I don’t want to discourage them, to be frank, it would be a no-no for me. If you do join, you should stay single and not have a family. You really have to look at how the business is doing; if you have no business, you don’t even need to talk about work-life balance, because you can’t even cover your rent.
S: If you weren’t working as a hawker, what do you think you would be doing?
A: Maybe be a kitchen assistant, maybe a chef, but most likely something related to F&B.
L: At this point in time, I’d say I have no other choice and no alternative plans. Just got to stick with it lah.
R: My poly diploma was in mechanical engineering, so I suppose something along those lines. My brothers have poly diplomas that are quite similar, so I guess we all would be working in jobs related to those. Now, we don’t use the skills we learnt from school at all. (chuckles)
S: If you could change anything about your working environment, what would you change?
R: I would like it if our store occupied a space all by itself. But we don’t want to move now because we don’t want our customers to come over, look for us and be unable to find us. It’ll also be difficult, building a customer base from scratch.
S: Can you tell us a funny or interesting story about an encounter with a customer?
A: We got an order from a nearby camp that was having a training — a customer just walked in and asked to order for 80 persons, and they needed it in a short amount of time. There was also another time when someone who was flying back to Indonesia ordered 10 ducks to bring back on the same day.
S: What are your future plans for the business?
L: Franchising could be one option, but that means we’ll go into management rather than doing the actual cooking and serving. That’s a new thing for us, so we’d have to learn and see how. We’re happy go lucky, so it’s just a thought!
Sia Kee Duck Rice (in Sin Huat Eating House)
2-4 Lorong 35 Geylang, 387936
Opening hours: 1130AM – 6PM
Closed on Saturdays