Ex-Jumbo Seafood chef opens affordable seafood 'pao fan' stall with prices from S$6

Starting his own business at 58.

Mandy How | November 04, 2020, 04:52 PM

San Pin Paofan (三品海鲜汤泡饭) may be new to Singapore's F&B scene, but the man behind it definitely isn't.

58-year-old Ng Chong Lay has spent a good two decades cutting his teeth at the Jumbo Seafood Group, until as recently as September 2020.

The former head chef/kitchen director tells us that like most businesses, Jumbo has been hit by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The restaurant group also houses a significant number of employees under its umbrella of brands, and it might not be too far off to surmise that the company is navigating tough waters.

When Ng left, it was with two other chefs in tow.

"They've followed me for about 15 years in Jumbo," Ng explains, "And they told me, they want to strike out on their own too, make something for themselves."

In less than two months, Ng, along with his employees, has already set up two stalls of their own.

Photo by Mandy How

San Pin can be found at a coffeeshop in Foch Road, as well as in China Square Food Center.

The stalls sell pao fan, which translates literally to "submerged rice" (not porridge).

Ranging from S$6 - S$7, the pao fan is a savoury concoction of seafood, white rice, crunchy fried grains, and seafood broth.

I got to try the signature Mixed Pao Fan (S$7). Photo by Mandy How

Photo by Mandy How

The chilli helps to cut through the rich broth. Photo by Mandy How.

Choose from clams, prawns, sliced fish, fried fish, or some combination of the above.

Curiously enough, relatively modern sides like Grilled Beef Fillet (S$6) and Iberico Pork Chop (S$6) are also on the menu, in addition to Fried Luncheon Meat (S$5) and Salted Egg Fish Skin (S$5).

Photo by Mandy How

You can view their menu here:

Photo by Mandy How

Preserving local food

Ng joined Jumbo in 2000, at the sprightly age of 38.

During his time there, Ng did the cooking and trained chefs under him, eventually going on to manage the restaurant's rapid expansion, both locally and overseas.

Besides Jumbo Seafood, the restaurant group also encompasses Chui Huay Lim Teochew Cuisine, Singapore Seafood Republic, and Zui Yu Xuan Teochew Cuisine, to name some.

It's a decidedly risky move to start a new F&B business in this pandemic-wrecked climate, but business has exceeded Ng's expectations, although the chef did not provide a specific figure.

Photo by Mandy How

When asked about the impetus behind such a move, Ng replied with two key motivations: That he was thankful for the trust his two employees had put in him, and that he wanted to bring quality local food to "every corner of Singapore".

In fact, if diners are receptive to his pao fan, Ng has plans to make more restaurant food accessible to the masses.

Three to five years from now, the chef intends to be a semi-retiree by handing the business over to the two chefs, who he says "have a long road ahead them."

In the meantime, Ng is cautiously optimistic about the challenge of building his own F&B empire, and particularly enjoys the kind environment he operates in.

"Even though I've only been here for one week, we talk like family here," he glances around the food court.

Indeed, when I asked Ng to pose for a picture beneath his signboard, the other stallholders make fun of him from their spot, jesting that he would look more handsome without the mask.

Photo by Mandy How

The Yong Tau Foo auntie made me a cup butterfly pea juice, which Ng delivered to our table.

Photo by Mandy How

Details

Foch Road outlet

No. 27 Foch Road, Hoa Nam Building #01-02 Coffeeshop Stall No. 4, Singapore 209264

Chinatown outlet

51 Telok Ayer, China Square Food Center #01-18Singapore 048441

Top image by Mandy How