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First Street Teochew Fish Soup
Photograph: Fabian Loo

Hawker spotlight: an exciting new chapter for this family-run business

First Street Teochew Fish Soup went from a humble hawker stall to inking a lucrative expansion deal with the BreadTalk Group

Fabian Loo
Written by
Fabian Loo

William Lim can fillet a fish with his eyes closed. The hawker of First Street Teochew Fish Soup has been serving up piping-hot bowls of the dish since 1988 – and with it comes an intimate understanding of the ingredient.

Here, fresh fish is treated with reverence. Depending on the type, each comes sliced to a precise width. Pomfret, soft and sweet, comes in widths between 0.3 to 0.5 cm to ensure every fragile piece will not fall apart when boiled in the broth; and red garoupa is deliberately served with a thicker cut (0.6 to 0.8 cm) to retain a meatier bite.

But a personal favourite of William’s – and one that he takes pride in serving – is the batang, or mackerel. “It’s tastier,” he shares. Skin from the fish is painstakingly removed before cooking, resulting in a pristine bowl of soup where pearl-white fishes slices are the star. “Without the skin, you don’t get the fishy smell,” he adds.

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Photograph: Fabian Loo

The idea of introducing this extra step first came to William some 20 years ago when clearing after customers. He noticed: many were removing the fish skin and leaving it on the table. When left out for some time, the skin dries and stick to the table. “Like Elephant Glue,” he says.

It is this attention to detail that earned First Street Teochew Fish Soup a loyal following; queues at its Kovan outlet will stretch for hours, and even start to form before the stall opens. The brisk business also spurred William’s two sons to join the business some 10 years ago, marking a new chapter for the family-run stall.

And last year, in November, the stall partnered with food and beverage company BreadTalk Group to expand the business – after over 30 years. The second outlet, located at BreakTalk IHQ’s Food Republic, continues to draw long lines of hungry diners. Despite the change in environment, William assures that the taste and price of the fish soup will remain the same.

“We used to agak agak back then,” he says, using the Malay phrase to refer to the way they used to cook using estimation. “Now we have standard operating procedures – very useful.”

Grab a bowl

  • Restaurants
  • Hawker
  • Hougang

First Street Teochew Fish Soup serves up piping-hot bowls filled with options of pomfret (from $11), red garoupa (from $9), or batang fish (from $6). Don't forget the accompanying dip: crushed fermented soybeans with chilli padi and soya sauce. 

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