Cantonese restaurant

This humble oyster omelet stand in JB thrives despite COVID-19



JOHOR BAHRU: Almost all of the food carts along Meldrum Walk have been padlocked and moved to the side.

The alley, located just 500 meters from the immigration complex linked to the Causeway of the Woods, was previously teeming with visitors to Singapore looking for a taste of affordable and delicious Malaysian Chinese street food.

However, with the pandemic forcing borders to close over the past year, only a handful of stalls remained in operation.

JB Fried Oyster was the only booth open on Meldrum Walk during a recent CNA visit in April 2021. (Photo: Amir Yusof)

In an indescribable corner of the alley, the sizzle of a large pot at a stall named JB Fried Oyster broke the silence on a rainy Wednesday afternoon.

An elderly couple – Fong Ah Seng and Go E Cheng – and their son Richard Fong were cramped in a small space of about 5 square meters behind the food cart.

Fong prepared the ingredients and sautéed the omelet on a very hot gas stove, Go wrapped the food in cardboard packaging while Richard ran the checkout and handled orders on his phone.

Orh luak picks up JB

The family starts work at 10 a.m. and ends around 7 p.m. They usually do this four times a week. (Photo: Amir Yusof)

In a city that has been besieged by the economic effects of COVID-19, this booth’s ability to not only survive, but thrive, has made it successful in these troubled times.

The key to that success is his Fluffy Fried Oyster Omelet, which keeps people across the state coming back for more.

Fried Oyster Omelet, more commonly known by its colloquial Teochew term “orh luak,” is a beloved hawker dish sold in many restaurants across Malaysia and Singapore.

But what makes this stand’s dish exceptional, according to many of its fans online, is its wok hei. Wok hei is a Cantonese term that refers to the smoky aroma given to foods that have been thrown and seared over high heat.

Oyster omelet close up

Fong Ah Seng’s recipe has garnered praise for its generous serving of fresh oysters and wok hei aroma. (Photo: Amir Yusof)

Fong said that the very important character comes from knowing how to fry and handle the omelet at the right temperature.

“Practice makes it perfect. I’ve been doing this for over 50 years, ”he said.

DECADES OF EXPERIENCE

The 72-year-old learned to make orh luak as an 18-year-old junior chef working at a restaurant in JB specializing in Chinese cuisine.

The owner of the restaurant, a Chinese national, taught him the recipe. A few years later, Fong left his post and opened his own stand in downtown Johor Bahru.

READ: Taste of home – Malaysian actress offers Kelantan food at Toa Payoh hawker stall

Fong’s technique of frying each batch of omelet is a work of art.

He first pours the milky white dough on the hot pan, and as it sets lightly, he pours over two dozen eggs. With his trusty spatula, Mr. Fong breaks up the yolks and stirs the mixture gracefully, in small concentric circles.

Dipping the spatula into a large bowl of lard nearby, Fong deftly tosses some lard into the pan every now and then. At the right time, he adds chives, garlic or some other seasoning depending on the orders.

orh luak ingredients

Its oyster omelet is made from a variety of fresh ingredients, explains Fong Ah Seng. (Photo: Amir Yusof)

After the omelet is set and golden, Fong throws in fresh oysters the size of 50 cents, which are imported fresh from Thailand that same morning.

He then shares and serves the thick, chewy omelet in brown parchment paper packages inside small cardboard boxes, along with a small container of fish sambal.

“People eat it as a snack or as part of a main meal. That’s the beauty of this dish, ”Fong said.

Go, 63, has been married to Fong for about 40 years and has been a helper throughout their marriage. Yet not once has she held the spatula and made the omelet.

“He is the only one who knows how to fry them perfectly, so it is better not to spoil the quality for our customers,” she added.

Johor Orh Luak stall

The couple first opened a stall near a temple in downtown JB, but later moved to that location in Meldrum Walk as there is no rental fee. (Photo: Amir Yusof)

Richard, their son who quit his career as a computer programmer to help the family business, echoed similar sentiments.

“My dad is the best for deep frying. He taught me how to do it, but he’s still the best at it. Someday I’ll take over, but as long as he’s strong enough to do it, I’ll let him be, ”said Richard.

TAKE ORDERS ONLINE

The trio work four days a week and, on a good day, sell 100-200 packs of oyster omelet for RM12 (US $ 2.90) each.

COVID-19 has reduced tourism from Singapore and reduced local pedestrian traffic along the alley.

However, Richard helped rotate the booth to take online orders, which has kept it running during this pandemic.

“We became popular through word of mouth, so we decided to open a Facebook page (JB Fried Oyster) to let our customers know our hours of operation, and also how to take orders,” said Richard.

READ: Singaporean-fried Hokkien shrimp courting Malaysian foodies in Petaling Jaya

The Facebook page has more than 13,000 followers, both local and Singaporean.

“Since COVID, we have been receiving a lot of wholesale orders. People will buy in huge boxes, 30-40 packs and take them to their hometowns in Kulai, Batu Pahat or wherever and sell them, ”said Richard.

“With the pandemic, people don’t like going out of their homes to buy food. This type of delivery service therefore appeals to many families, ”he added.

He said that when COVID-19 first closed the borders in March 2020, his family store lost around 20% of its business, mostly Singaporean customers.

JB Fried Oyster Customers

Customers from different parts of Johor buy the oyster omelet in bulk and bring it back to their respective hometowns. (Photo: Amir Yusof)

However, their new business strategy of going online and focusing on the local market has paid off, and the store is doing even better than in 2019, before the pandemic.

“We are happy that we can still survive and earn money now. Along this aisle, only one other chicken wing stand is open. The other stalls, especially those that offer meals in options like lok lok or yong tau foo, cannot survive, ”he added.

Richard explained that after the movement control order was implemented in March last year, many of these stalls selling Chinese street food were forced to close and almost all of them did not. still reopened.

Luckily for Richard, his family’s stall continued to receive orders due to its popularity through word of mouth and social media.

The booth also gained fame online after a video of Fong in action, posted by Singapore-based foodie YouTube channel DancingBacons in November 2019, went viral.

The video has garnered 11 million views and garnered numerous comments, including those from internet users around the world. Many praised Fong for his frying skills and for working hard to create a masterpiece.

Fong was shocked at the social media interactions the clip had and said he felt “touched” by most of the responses.

“Someday when the border reopens, I hope many of these people will come to our stall to try the omelet,” Fong said.

“It’s as good as it sounds,” he added.



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