Inside a Grab driver’s power-packed food trail, with Esso savings to boot

September 23, 2022 By Toh Ee Ming
Inside a Grab driver’s power-packed food trail, with Esso savings to boot
Grab driver Tan Choon Lye. Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

Every time Grab driver Tan Choon Lye ventures into a new hawker centre, he’s on the prowl. He scans the venue expertly, observing which stall draws snaking queues and sussing out the various food options. He makes a mental note, and the next time, returns to the same place during off-peak hours.

A driver for the last 24 years, Tan has ventured to all corners of Singapore in search of the best hawker fare. As a result, the avid foodie has amassed a near-encyclopaedic knowledge of Singapore’s most famous eats, underrated finds and best-kept secrets — no mean feat in this food-obsessed city-state.

“There are some people who eat to live, but for me, I live to eat,” says the 57-year-old, who has been driving with Grab since 2014.

In late August, Tan took us on a food trail around his Jurong neighbourhood in a trusty Toyota he rents from Grab’s rental arm, GrabRentals.

Energetic, friendly and chatty, Tan tells us he enjoys the freedom of driving around the island and meeting people from different walks of life. His daily routine involves hitting the roads from 10am till nighttime on weekdays, and sometimes, till 3am on busy weekends.

The father of three takes his food seriously. Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

Whenever he picks up tourists in his car, he’s happy to give them the low-down on tourist-friendly spots to visit, such as Lau Pa Sat and Tiong Bahru Market, which he feels are gateways into Singapore’s multicultural cuisine.

Throughout the day, Tan keeps up a running commentary on where to find the best claypot rice, char kway teow, chwee kueh, curry fishhead, Nyonya food, and laksa, rattling off street names and famous hawker centres, such as the ABC Brickworks Market & Food Centre and Ghim Moh Market & Food Centre. Even on his days off, Tan often takes his friends out to enjoy a meal.

Tan may come across as an unlikely food influencer, but we like how unassuming and authentic it is. (He jokes that participating in this story might raise his star power and get him noticed by national media network Mediacorp.)

Here’s how our day went, as Tan proudly shows us around his home turf.


Stop 1: Esso Jurong East

150 Jurong East Avenue 1
Open: 24 hours

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

The day starts with a heavy downpour. We meet Tan at Grab’s One-North headquarters, before setting off on our journey to Esso Jurong East.

Under the Esso Smiles Loyalty Program, when motorists top up their fuel, they can accumulate 1 Esso Smiles point with every litre of Esso Synergy petrol pumped.

Members can use 750 Esso Smiles points, in exchange for S$30 instant fuel redemption. On top of that, they can get 35 per cent bonus Esso Smiles points with more than 250L of Esso Synergy petrol pumped in a month.

Members can also save more with the occasional fuel e-vouchers available via the Esso app.

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

Private-hire car drivers who are Esso Smiles Private Hire card members have also been enjoying a 22 per cent upfront fuel discount since Aug 1. That’s an increase from the previous 21 per cent.

Photo: Esso

Spending long hours on the road can take a toll, so Tan typically keeps some snacks on hand in the car if he feels peckish. 

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

Esso Smiles members can use 180 Smiles points for S$5 instant mart redemption.

They can redeem rewards and track their points seamlessly via the Esso app.

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

Stop 2: Bai Li Xiang Economic Bee Hoon

651 Jurong West Street 61, 01-01
Nearest MRT station: Pioneer
Open: Monday to Sunday (6pm to 11am)

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

To Tan, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so he usually has a hearty one to power him up for the long drive.

We make our way to Bai Li Xiang Economic Bee Hoon, or more endearingly nicknamed Ah Lian Bee Hoon after the notoriously unfriendly owner.

A late-night supper stomping ground for Nanyang Technological University students since the 80s, it’s also a frequent breakfast spot among residents.

We arrive at 10.30am, just in time before the stall closes.

Under the golden glow of the stall lamps, the ingredients look absolutely sinful. You can almost feel the oil clogging up the arteries.

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

Tan orders a plate laden with golden-brown bee hoon and fried mee, deep-fried and well-marinated chicken wings, fish fillet, and fried egg (S$4.50), accompanied by a dollop of chilli.

After studying the plate intently, Tan says that just by looking at the colour of the dish alone, he can tell if it’s worth the hype. In his view, the stall offers “moderately” decent fare, but he’s had tastier nosh elsewhere, he says cheekily.

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

Stop 3: Boon Lay Power Nasi Lemak

Boon Lay Place Market and Food Village, 01-106
Nearest MRT station: Lakeside
Open: Monday to Sunday (6.30am to 3.30am)

 

When it comes to his favourite cuisine, it’s Malay food, hands-down.

Tan is eager to let us try Boon Lay Power Nasi Lemak, which he proclaims is the best nasi lemak in the west.

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

Plenty of others seem to think so, too. Around lunchtime, the massively popular spot attracts a long queue of workers and residents, but the line moves forward with clockwork efficiency. There are many accolades plastered over its storefront.

We hear from Tan that the peak times are past midnight, satisfying the late-night cravings of nocturnal creatures.

There are eight options on the menu, ranging from the chicken set and the otah set to the fish fillet set and ayam berempah set.

Tan ordered the pricier saba fish set (S$6) for us.

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

We tuck into a generous helping of rice with the fragrance of coconut, along with saba fish that’s fresh and tender, fried egg, liberal sprinkles of ikan bilis and peanuts, and the magic sauce — sweet yet spicy sambal that delivers a kick.

My only gripe is that the rice’s a tad too dry, but overall, it’s a solid dish through and through.

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

Over lunch, Tan muses on the lengths he has gone to for food. Once, he queued at a Michelin-starred hawker stall for an hour and a half, and forked out S$10 for the bak chor mee dish — the first and last time he would do so.

“At the end of it, it tasted very normal… My heart was very pain. That was the most foolish thing I ever did in my life. I wanted to cry,” he jokes.

The conversation moves to the origins of how the Michelin Guide came about. Though the guide’s now known as the authoritative voice of dining, not many people know the backstory of how brothers Andre and Edouard Michelin in France founded their world-famous tyre company and how the guide was used as a marketing tactic to sell tyres.

Given Tan’s experience as a driver, it all feels very apt.

Stop 4: Enaq The Prata Shop

303 Jurong East Street 32, 01-96
Nearest MRT station: Chinese Garden
Open: Monday to Sunday (7am to 11pm), closed on the last Tuesday of each month

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

When teatime rolled around, we were well and thoroughly stuffed from breakfast and lunch. Still, we soldiered on for this assignment.

Operating as a standalone restaurant since 2008, Enaq The Prata Shop struck upon a winning prata recipe that sets it apart from the others — by a mile. As a result, people from all walks of life flock there to have a taste. Case in point: We spotted groups of professional movers and gym bros fuelling up.

When the plain prata (S$1.30) and onion prata (S$1.80) were freshly served to us, we unanimously declared that this food stop was the real star of the day.

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

Our teeth sank into the thin, crisp exterior and yet fluffy interior, which had an artisanal puff-pastry-like texture.

Unlike other pratas, which feel heavy and drenched in oil, Enaq’s was light and easy on the palate. We were content to enjoy the prata on its own without dipping it in curry, savouring its faint sweetness while washing it down with a thick and frothy teh tarik (S$1.20).

Interestingly, Enaq also serves prata with a tasty sambal sauce.

“I was so full earlier, but having this makes me feel like I can actually go for another round,” Tan admits sheepishly.

He’s already marked this down as a go-to rest stop for future visits, though he declares he’ll come by no later than 8pm for health reasons.

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

Enaq’s offerings include a variety of other prata options, murtabak, thosai, Maggi goreng, roti john, biryani, and rice sets that look equally delicious.

For those reluctant to travel all the way to the west, there’s a second branch at 21 Ghim Moh Road to satisfy your cravings.

Stop 5: Esso Jurong West

10 Jurong West Avenue 1
Open: 24 hours

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

When all’s done and dusted for the day, Tan gets an instant foam car wash at Esso Jurong West.

Members can redeem it for 250 Smiles points.

Photo: Ravin Thiruchelvam/HungryGoWhere

Very much stuffed, Tan bids us farewell, adding that he plans to work off the calories by swimming and brisk walking.

 

All food merchants listed in this article are on the GrabFood delivery service. You can also book a ride to those places.

This article was written in partnership with Esso.

Esso Smiles Driver Rewards Programme

The Esso Smiles Driver Rewards Programme lets you make the most of your journey by turning your miles into savings, with the opportunity to earn and redeem driver rewards at all Esso service stations. Smiles points can also be redeemed at other merchants.

With the Esso Smiles Private Hire card for drivers of private-hire cars, not only will you enjoy an instant 22 per cent discount on Esso Synergy fuels, you can also receive extra savings from occasional fuel e-vouchers via the Esso app.

The Esso Smiles Driver Rewards Programme lets you make the most of your journey by turning your miles into savings, with the opportunity to earn and redeem driver rewards at all Esso service stations. Smiles points can also be redeemed at other merchants.

With the Esso Smiles Private Hire card for drivers of private-hire cars, not only will you enjoy an instant 22 per cent discount on Esso Synergy fuels, you can also receive extra savings from occasional fuel e-vouchers via the Esso app.


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