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Niu Bi - Lincoln Peck
Photograph: Daniel IskandarNiu Bi - Lincoln Peck

Hawker spotlight: Niu Bi

A young aspiring hawker perseveres to keep a 120-year-old traditional Teochew Beef Noodle recipe alive

Dawson Tan
Written by
Dawson Tan

Raising its shutters in Amoy Street Food Centre for the first time, Niu Bi serves up bowls of beef noodles steeped in Teochew traditions.

And right off the bat, it has all the makings of a comforting bowl: a clean yet flavourful broth; tender cuts of beef from sliced fresh beef and fluffy honeycomb tripe to tendons braised over 8 hours; fresh silky kway teow; and a vibrant chilli that strings together a balance of spicy, sour and savoury sensations. Priced affordably from just $6, foodies can enjoy either the classic soup or dry chilli version with the alternative carb options of egg noodles or ramen.

Niu Bi Teochew Beef Noodle Soup
Photograph: Dawson TanNiu Bi Teochew Beef Noodle Soup

But take a quick glance into the stall and you’ll find a rather uncommon sight – a tall young chap single-handedly manning the steaming hot station. At 28 years young, Lincoln Peck’s hawkering ambitions didn't just come at a whim. 

Six years ago, he first had a proper taste of traditional Teochew style beef noodles at the cult favourite Empress Place Beef in Siglap – the third-generation hawker was known for its affiliations with the legendary Hock Lam Beef and the only one who stayed true to style. And it just so happens to be a friend’s family stall. He fell head over heels with the bowl and its historic significance.

Peck is one who feels strongly about Singapore’s hawker culture. He always felt that if hawkers were to go extinct as the country modernises, it would have been such a pity. There and then, in hopes to keep the legacy alive, he decided to take it upon himself and committed to staging at the now-defunct Empress Place Beef to pick up the tricks of the traits.

“Someone’s got to do it and I decided that it was going to be me”

In 2017, he leveraged his learnings and went into a food truck stint with a friend that harked from the Empress Place bloodline. And Gubak Kia (loosely translates to beef boy in Hokkien) was born. Together, they dished out traditional Teochew beef noodles and other modern riffs of the classic. Success followed shortly after but as the lore goes, the looming pandemic quickly turned the smooth journey into a white-knuckle ride. 

The young hawkers struggled with rent and the general lack of foot traffic caused by crowd restrictions which led to the closure of the stall. Even the well-loved Empress Place Beef was not spared as it eventually folded in 2021. Peck confessed that these setbacks weren't easy. He took a short break and shifted his focus to sales work which turned out to be rather fruitful.

Though all this time, he held on to his unwavering passion for hawkering, taking up kitchen gigs in hopes to hone his culinary skills. 

“Gubak Kia and Empress Place didn’t deserve to close for good. I hope to come back stronger to revive it.”

And come back he did with his latest hawker venture which leads us back to Amoy Street Food Centre. Peck is determined to make it work this time –  sharing in retrospect that he has definitely sharpened his business and hawkering perspectives since the Gubak Kia days. Today, he is insistent that Niu Bi’s main recipe sticks to its traditional Teochew roots, in hopes to serve up a nostalgic taste for purists.

Niu Bi - Lincoln Peck
Photograph: Dawson TanNiu Bi - Lincoln Peck

On the other hand, Peck also understands the need to reach out to younger audiences who may be looking out for variety and aesthetics. And he isn’t afraid to blend in modern techniques. He began browning the bones for the broth to attain its flavourful character, using infused tallow to coat his noodles and even made his own chilli recipe that incorporates hand-chopped fresh pineapples.

There is also a monthly specials program where he teases elevated creations such as smoked beef brisket ramen and braised beef "Paofan" bowls. 

While it is easy to pass judgement on new hawkers with scepticism, you’ll never know if they might just be your next hawker muse until you actually have a taste. And if there’s anything you can take away from the young hawker besides a comforting bowl of beef noodle soup, it is that hard work and perseverance do pay off.

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