Willin Low, chef-owner of Wild Rocket, had patronised Roxy Laksa for over 20 years. “Its recipe is different from others’ which are very strong, spicy, punchy and rich. I find this laksa more feminine and balanced. You still get all the notes of laksa but it’s lighter,” he says.
Roxy Laksa’s owner, Mike Lim, had been dishing out this creation from 1981 until 2017. Low says: “The recipe belonged to Lim’s grandfather (Lim Kok Seng) and has a history of over 60 years.” The business originally operated out of a pushcart, alongside others, outside Roxy Theatre. When it rained, there was no business. So the theatre’s kind boss gave the hawkers a space indoors to sell their food.
When the theatre closed in 1978, Roxy Laksa moved to East Coast Lagoon Food Centre. Third-generation Lim started working with his father (Lim Eng Hock) at the stall after he completed national service. In 2016, the stall relocated to Timbre+ at onenorth, but ceased operations after a year. Lim, who is now 57 years old, says that his children are not interested to carry on the business. Furthermore, as he was cautious of buyers who wanted to purchase his business and recipe, other discussions with potential buyers didn’t work out.
Low, who was keen to learn the laksa recipe, as well as take over the brand, asked Lim to show him the ropes back when Roxy Laksa was still at East Coast Lagoon. “Our agreement was that I would buy the recipe and the brand. But to make money, it had to be scalable – whether in a paste or ready-to-eat form.”
Low adds: “In the process of learning, I had to wake up early to follow him to the market to buy ingredients, including freshly squeezed coconut milk.”
As the recipe was such a closely guarded secret, Lim would draw down the shutters in his stall so that no one could see what he was making. There were no measurements involved. Ingredients were scooped using a small container that his father had used.
“I had to follow and absorb everything. I couldn’t ask questions because he didn’t want anyone to hear our conversation. I had to write down whatever I could and take photos,” says Low. But, after going for numerous lessons and bringing along his trusty measuring tools, Low mastered the dish over time.
PRACTICAL & SCALABLE
“However, all the steps of the artisanally made laksa were not very practical (outside the stall). I had to figure out how to make it scalable. There was a lot of R&D until I got the flavours right.”
Eventually, the chef took Lim’s recipe to a production kitchen which prepared it on a much larger scale. “It used high pressure processing to kill the bacteria. There are some molecular changes because of the pressure, so some of the textures and flavours will be different,” he says.
It took Low two years to create the product, which was launched on National Day 2017. “Finally, we have something that’s as close as can be (to the original), given the constraints,” adds Low. In the chilled pack, there are taupok, bean sprouts, laksa leaves, fish cake, hard boiled egg and noodles (bi tai mak).
“Our intent is to eventually bring this product overseas.” Thanks to him, hawker Lim’s laksa legacy now lives on in a readyto- eat meal pack. Furthermore, a wider audience can continue to enjoy one of Singapore’s wellloved heritage recipes.