Denise Deanna Chew or Chew Pei Ling (as her Chinese name goes) has always loved Prawn Mee as young as she could remember. Whenever the specialty prawn broth was boiling in the kitchen, the aroma would waft through the house, prompting Deanna to take a bowl of her grandmother’s piping hot Prawn Mee and savour every bite. Deanna would finish all of its prawn meat, leaving only fishcakes for the others in the family.
When Deanna reverted to Islam upon marrying her husband, finding the perfect Halal Prawn Mee became a quest. Indeed, Deanna’s Kitchen would not be what it is it today without her determination to fulfill that quest.
However, like all other quests in life, the journey to success for Deanna’s kitchen was paved with many years of trials and errors.
Firstly, finding a Halal version of her favourite dish proved to be very challenging right from the start. When one became available, the taste was not “quite right”. Deanna struggled to find the “taste” of authentic Prawn Mee.
This eventually prompted Deanna to find the defined flavour of what she “used to eat”. And that also meant she could not cut corners because other reverts like herself were equally determined to find authentic Halal Prawn Mee.
In her tiny kitchen, Deanna spend countless hours perfecting her recipe without the use of pork bones for its broth. Finding the perfect balance of flavour and texture for Prawn Mee was tedious but with fresh, quality ingredients sourced from reliable suppliers, Deanna finally cracked it. After six years of experimenting, Deanna finally came up with a well-balanced flavour of rich and creamy broth of crustaceans that proved to be delicious but most importantly, addictive.
Sharing her newly-found Prawn Mee on Instagram, it quickly became a hit as many including reverts started to try and eventually loved it. “They would come from all over Singapore and drop by my house to collect their orders”, Deanna shared. It then became a monthly affair and when it got more traction, Deanna started a weekly pop-up sale. This was all done in the comfort of her own home.
The quality ingredients, as Deanna emphasized, were ultimately the winning factor to her now-famous Prawn Mee. First-time customers have complained in the past about her overpriced Prawn Mee but that is because a lot of premium ingredients including freshly cooked frozen prawns were used in preparing the dish.
“Freshly-caught prawns are processed, cooked, vacuum-sealed in a bag and frozen all in 15 hours. There is no other way for fresh prawns to retain its sweetness and juiciness if they were not processed in this manner,” explained Deanna, who also emphasized she is selective with the suppliers she works with.
Using these cooked frozen seafood ensures the consistency of the flavour of the broth, allowing Deanna to serve only the best of quality to her customers.
Indeed, Deanna’s quality of Prawn Mee speaks for itself. Even some Chinese patrons prefer Deanna’s Prawn Mee to the non-Halal versions. “I’ve been told that they truly enjoy the broth made with a crazy amount of prawns, clams, anchovies and dried shrimps instead of the typical pork bones!” said an excited Deanna.
Such satisfaction derived from serving customers was in fact an intangible motivating factor that kept Deanna going despite earning much less.
“My husband and I were bankers for years before this. The drastic change from an air-conditioned, desk job to one that is hot and requires physical labour was as equally tough!”
Even when Deanna finally succeeded in attaining a Halal food stall at Toa Payoh Hawker Centre, transitioning from her home kitchen to a hawker one proved to be a tremendous challenge. Deanna had underestimated the ratio of the recipe’s ingredients in making the broth. “I thought that by multiplying everything by 10, the recipe would turn out perfect!
“But boy was I so wrong! It took us another two months of experimenting before we finally got the correct formula. But owning a stall and putting a smile on my customers face is truly satisfying,” Deanna said.
Nevertheless, Deanna and her husband are still amazed at how everything has panned out. From setting up orders through Instagram in 2016, owning their first stall just opposite of their flat in 2017, being the first successful Muslim stall in a Chinese-dominated hawker centre, getting numerous publicity offers from big names such as The Straits Times and StarHub to owning another stall in Jurong East in 2018, they are thankful to God.
“We were just talking about it and we were saying, you know, this must be God’s will”, Deanna shared.
When asked what advice she would give to aspiring hawkers and small business owners, she said,
“Find something you are passionate about. Passion will get you through lousy periods.
If you believe that your food can sell after you let people taste and they say that this is a good dish, follow your heart. Do it. Start small. The key is to start small. Believe in God, start small, take lesser risks.
Don’t open a big café, a big restaurant with the high overheads. Gain your followers, gain your regulars, and then get your name out there. And then people will start to come”.
Deanna and her husband hope that one day, they can own their own private limited company. For now, they are looking forward to opening their third stall in Bedok this year.
The challenge now perhaps is to secure sufficient manpower.
If you are a Muslim Singapore Resident and you want to be a part of Deanna’s Kitchen’s story, you can contact Deanna’s husband, Asri at 94245496.
If you are ever in the Jurong East or Toa Payoh area, do yourself a favour and head down to Deanna’s Kitchen.
Jurong East outlet: 214 Jurong East Street 21, Padi Emas Coffee Shop, Singapore 600214
Toa Payoh outlet: 127 Lorong 1 Toa Payoh, #02-25, Singapore 310127
The Halalke team wishes them the best of luck.