Today, the pushcart has been replaced by a permanent space in Chinatown, but it’s equally, if not more, elusive as his ‘illegal’ pushcart days.
Want to grab some Hainanese-style pork satay from Ah Pui at 195 Pearl Hill Cafe? You may need to wait till October as there is currently a six-month waiting list.
According to ieatishootipost, this is because Ah Pui insists on making the satay the same way as his master did, which involves slicing and skewering the meat by hand.
Despite having a team of chefs helping him out at his central kitchen, this is no easy feat and the amount of satay that can be produced in one day is limited.
Prior to the cafe’s opening in 2018, Ah Pui had been running a one-man show, making sporadic appearances around the Tiong Bahru estate since the 1980s.
Here’s a fun fact: his satay is shaped like a pear with an extra-long piece of fat near the base of the satay, which is said to reflect Ah Pui’s own body shape!
How it all started and hiccups along the way
According to The Straits Times, Ah Pui was just a teenager when he first picked up his skills from his master who worked at a Hainanese-run satay stall in Tiong Bahru.
After completing national service, he decided to start his career as a street hawker and his older brother had helped him build his iconic wooden pushcart.
He started out by selling satay at 10 cents per stick around Telok Ayer in the 1970s and a few years later, he moved on to do so at Tiong Bahru.
Whenever he made an appearance with his pushcart, people would flock to his stall to get their hands on his delicious satay.
Although business was good, Ah Pui was fined repeatedly for selling food without a proper license. To avoid being caught by the authorities, he had to sell his satay between 4pm and 6pm.
When asked why he did not set up a hawker stall to save himself the hassle, he told The Straits Times: “[I live] day by day and did not have extra help, which made it difficult to run a stall”.
A hefty fine of $400 in 2015 pushed him to retire his pushcart and for a while, Ah Pui had turned to catering satay for private events and took part in other collaborations so that people could still enjoy his food.
Eventually, the folks behind 195 Pearl Hill Cafe asked if he wanted to set up shop at their establishment, and he agreed.
One of the cafe founders, Ben Tan, also requested to become Ah Pui’s satay disciple so that his legacy can be carried on to future generations.
If you still want to try Ah Pui’s legendary satay despite the insanely long waiting list, you can pre-order his pork satay by WhatsApp-ing 9748 9904. The handmade satay is going at $9 for 10 sticks.
Do note that if you want your satay to be grilled by Ah Pui himself, you will have to come down on a Saturday as that is the only day he will be available to do so.
Text: Melissa Teo/Asia One