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The single mother who opened her own ban mian stall against all odds

“I won't give it up so easily.”

By Tay Shi Ting | Jan 26, 2017

  • The single mother who opened her own ban mian stall against all odds
    Vivian Leong
  • The single mother who opened her own ban mian stall against all odds
    Making of the ban mian
  • The single mother who opened her own ban mian stall against all odds
    Mdm Leong Ban Mian

Singapore’s landmarks continue to disappear to make way for other developments and some iconic, longstanding businesses in Chinatown might close their shutters for good if they can’t find someone to take over. But Vivian Leong sees great responsibility in sharing her mother’s Hakka recipe of ban mian with Singapore. In October 2015, she decided to turn her hobby and passion for cooking into reality and opened a stall, Madam Leong Ban Mian, at a coffee shop in Holland Close during a time when she became a single mother for her 12-year-old daughter. The noodles are entirely handmade, with absolutely no MSG added in the soup. Here, we speak to her about her passion, challenges she’s faced to sustain the business and the essentials of making a great bowl of ban mian.

How is your ban mian different from other ones out there?

I feel that I can't find any ban mian in Singapore that tastes similar to my mother's authentic traditional Hakka recipe. My ban mian is made fresh daily, with no MSG or preservatives.                        

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced as a single mother starting out a business?

As a single mother, I faced with many difficulties during the course of setting up my ban mian stall and while running it as well. For example, getting approvals from the relevant authorities, getting the cash flow needed and the demanding physical strength and stamina needed for the daily buying, cooking and washing up. On top of that, I missed fellowship with friends and relatives (especially during public holidays and festive season). Most importantly, there are responsibilities as a mother that I can’t fulfill like when I am ill; I can't take care of my daughter and I can't open for business, thus affecting the takings from the business. It also pains me that I have to sacrifice the time supervising my daughter after school hours, weekends and during school holidays and not able to monitor my daughter's studies.                        

Why do you still pursue this path, despite those challenges?

Well, I still do it because I feel satisfied when I hear my customers telling me they love eating my ban mian and the encouragement from my friends, relatives and returning customers. I won't give it up so easily. I also sincerely want to share my mother's Hakka's ban mian. Most importantly, I want be an example to my daughter and teach her that she shouldn’t give up so easily despite any difficulties that may come along the way.                        

What do you hope to achieve for yourself/the stall?

For myself, I hope to be able to perfect all my mother's authentic Hakka recipes that she has imparted to me. For my stall, I hope that people from all walks of life and maybe even tourists will drop by my stall to taste my mother's Hakka ban mian recipe, which I cook with passion and love.                        

What makes a bowl of ban mian truly great?

Personally, I feel that a great bowl of ban mian needs to be healthy and have that home-cooked taste. Use fresh ingredients and never compromise when it comes to the soup base, and have no MSG or other additives.. The firmness of the noodles also has to be perfect. And of course, what’s a great bowl without some homemade sambal belachan? Besides that, I also think consistency in food quality is key, along with good personalized service. When you put your heart into your cooking, people can tell.

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