This hawker serves up Taiwanese roast chicken and other poultry dishes, but he's vegetarian

This hawker serves up Taiwanese roast chicken and other poultry dishes, but he's vegetarian
Gilbert serves up a Taiwanese speciality chicken dish called tong zai ji, which translates literally as 'chicken in a bucket', at his stall in 118 Depot Lane.
PHOTO: Facebook/Mark Tan, Facebook/Chicken House

Can one cook a dish that one can't taste?

The answer is yes, if you ask the owner of Chicken House, Gilbert Chua.

Gilbert serves up a Taiwanese speciality chicken dish called tong zai ji, which translates literally as 'chicken in a bucket', at his stall in 118 Depot Lane, nestled within an industrial estate.

But KFC this is not.

Instead, an entire 1.6kg kampung chicken is placed in a metal barrel and slow-roasted over a charcoal fire, to which sugar cane is thrown in.

According to a TikTok video that showed the laborious cooking process, the bird has to be lifted out of the barrel and brushed with a special marinade every 10 minutes.

@taozi.sg 🇸🇬台湾美食桶仔鸡来新加坡啦!就在YUE HUA 118的Chichen House哟😋 #sg #sgtiktok #sgfoodie #新加坡美食 #新加坡台湾美食 ♬ 原声 - 桃子酱在新加坡 - 🇸🇬Momoko

Besides this signature item, there is also a large variety of other chicken dishes on the menu, such as Sesame Oil Chicken in Claypot, Taiwanese 3 Cup Chicken in Claypot and Spicy Thai Basil Chicken.

Vegetarian for 12 years

The 54-year-old former serial entrepreneur explained in an interview with Shin Min Daily News that he became a vegetarian 12 years ago, after his weight ballooned to 78kg.

As he had to entertain clients regularly for work, his diet was not the healthiest and consisted of lots of seafood, pork lard and other high-caloric foods, said Gilbert, who's also a Buddhist.

The passionate cook and foodie now maintains his weight at around 62kg to 63kg and says he no longer has the urge to eat meat.

This begs the question then, how does he know his food is good?

Gilbert shared how taste is not the only way to know if a dish is cooked well.

"Tasting the marinade, controlling the fire, smelling the aroma are all the other ways," he told Shin Min.

"Before starting this, I also invited 40 to 50 friends over for a taste-test and everyone loved it."

Due to limited manpower, he is only able to take 10 to 20 orders for his Taiwanese Chicken in the Bucket on weekdays from Monday to Thursday, with the number ramped up over the weekends.

Customers will also have to preorder the dish at least a day in advance.

Came out of semi-retirement

According to the Chinese evening daily, Gilbert had come out of semi-retirement just to become a hawker.

He had been involved in the property and facilities management business for more than 20 years and currently still takes on a role as consultant for his previous company.

According to Shin Min and 8days, he had also opened a chain of 11 optical stores in Malaysia with his wife and dabbled in F&B businesses before the pandemic. He closed the eateries and moved back to Singapore in 2021.

With his business acumen and love for food, Gilbert mulled over the idea of setting up a hawker stall two years ago.

He contacted a Taiwanese friend for the recipe for the barrel-smoked chicken and made some tweaks to it. Chicken House opened in late December last year.

Gilbert also owns food court stall Fortune In Your Mouth, located at Koufu in Singapore Management University. It opened in January 2023 and serves up Taiwanese street food and other dishes.

But why not start a vegetarian stall?

Gilbert shared that he found chicken to be a highly versatile ingredient which many Singaporeans enjoy eating.

But he doesn't rule out opening a vegetarian eatery some time in the future.

Gilbert told Shin Min that he's also in talks with a local chain supermarket, where he hopes to supply his Taiwanese roast chicken.

For now though, finding suitable manpower to staff his businesses is at the top of his mind.

"Being a hawker is a tough job. You can't survive for long if you don't have passion for the work or the food. I only have four employees to man both stalls. Singaporeans don't work for long and there's a quota for foreign workers. It's a headache," said Gilbert.

ALSO READ: Young hawker values forming bonds with elderly customers, even attends their wake: 'It's heart-wrenching'

candicecai@asiaone.com

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