The once-familiar sight of recurring food events like Twilight, Laloolalang, and Geylang Serai Ramadan Bazaar — the mother of all pasar malams — looks unlikely to return soon, even with Phase 3 well under way.
Not knowing when roving fairs will return, some food vendors, like sought-after brand Perghh, have moved on from the nomadic nature of the trade and opened a permanent shop.
Yet, a physical venue is not quite the same for the events-based company which specializes in carnival food like corn dogs, fried Mars bars and chilli beef fries.
Failed many times before finding success
Perghh was one of the more familiar names to appear in numerous trade shows, particularly where halal food was the main draw.
The family-owned business was first established in 2015, where they consistently participated in major events held in prime locations such as Singapore Expo. Perghh had also opened its first shop in East Village the same year.
Prior to that, Perghh’s owner, Khairul (Khai) Rahman, 35, was working as an engineer in Singapore Sports Hub. Perghh was not his first foray into business, though.
Before landing on Perghh, Khai dabbled in several other businesses like customised T-shirts, decal printing and even a skateboard brand at one point.
In terms of F&B, he’s tried his hands at least twice before; once when he was still in polytechnic at age 21, and another time post-NS. Both times, he opened shop at Arab Street, but unfortunately, both businesses failed.
Even so, Khai does not believe F&B to be his passion. “When people ask my interest or passion is, it isn’t F&B…or retail. I’m just interested in business overall,” he says, attributing his first customised T-shirt sale at age 16 as the spark to running his own business.
With all his various passions, one would either assume that starting yet another business is extremely bold or extremely reckless of Khai. But the truth is, Khai was apprehensive about starting up Perghh.
“I actually didn’t want to start Perghh; I was scared,” he recalls, citing his two failed attempts at F&B as a major roadblock.
However, with the encouragement of his family and wife, Khai eventually started Perghh, which remains as his longest-running business to date. Yet, it wasn’t always smooth sailing.
Perghh’s early days were particularly tough for Khai. In the first year, they lost about S$100,000 of his and his wife’s savings. “We’re new, nobody knew us,” says Khai. For Khai, losing money before the business could become profitable was something almost every businessman has to go through, and Perghh was no exception.
Making corn dog a new staple
When Perggh was first established, they had a physical store at East Village in Bedok. However, according to Khai, it wasn’t sustainable as the human traffic to the shop was poor.
So, they began looking at events as a Plan B. “It forces us to venture outside, to try events and exhibitions,” he recalls. “But we needed to create something…a product that would capture the attention of people.”
After some time, they settled on the corn dog, which is essentially a sausage on a stick coated in a thick layer of cornmeal batter and deep fried.
At the time, the corn dog, which originated in the United States, was unpopular here in Singapore. Khai first chanced upon a corn dog in Universal Studios Singapore, where a small piece sold for S$8. Knowing that he could make bigger ones for less, Khai was inspired to sell them at Perghh.
However, at major halal food events like MegaExpress where traditional food like satay and otak-otak are commonplace, corn dogs were still a rarity.
According to Khai, the corn dog was a new discovery for most event attendees then. “One makcik stared for a long time and asked if I was selling ubi (tapioca),” Khai recalls fondly. It was then that he knew more marketing needed to be done if he wanted to make the corn dog a new staple for the Malay-Muslim community here.
He even sold the corn dogs at an introductory price with low profit margins to attract more people to try them. Soon, the corn dogs began to sell like hotcakes.
With the corn dog as its star product, Perghh went on to include other finger foods into its carnival-themed menu such as beef fries, nachos, popcorn and fried Mars bars.
And like a roving carnival, Perghh also hopped from one venue to another, setting up shop and peddling their easily consumable food at events where customers arrived in droves.
Then, Covid-19 struck.
With the pandemic causing events to be shut down almost indefinitely, vendors like Perghh had to look elsewhere to survive.
A fresh start post-Covid
Like most roving food vendors, Perghh was yet another victim of Covid-19. Unlike brick-and-mortar shops that could still earn some revenue, Perghh’s cash flow came to a standstill. “I was extremely nervous,” Khai recalls ruefully.
It was the event cancellations and non-refundable cash deposits for said events that eventually did him in. When news broke that Ramadan bazaars were cancelled last year, Khai was devastated.
“For one to two months, I was very emotional. Ramadan is typically my main source of income. So when that was gone, I wondered how I was going to live.”– Khai
To ensure he earned at least some income for his wife and two children, Khai worked as a delivery rider for GrabFood for a few months.
However, he got into an accident and hurt his shoulder, affecting his ability to continue riding.
He then discussed opening Perghh as a permanent shop once again with his wife, and against all odds, they opened a small takeaway shop in October.
Perghh is now located in a HDB block in Bedok North, where the vibe is decidedly residential, a far cry from the hustle and bustle of food fairs it used to call home.
Khai’s initial plan was to use the space as a central kitchen and only take in pre-orders. To his surprise, the neighbourhood residents were receptive of the new entrant to their community.
“It was more than I expected,” he says. Soon, Khai decided to allow walk-ins and also partnered with GrabFood and Foodpanda to extend his reach to more customers.
Within three months, Khai’s new venture is doing reasonably well. His humble shop has a steady flow of customers who come in to buy beverages and snacks.
At noon on the Tuesday we visited him, customers came in pretty consistently. His first customer that day was a lady who arrived five minutes before opening time, placed her order and returned later to collect.
Behind the counter, ‘pings’ from delivery app notifications could be heard every once in a while, keeping the kitchen staff consistently busy.
Watching numerous orders leaving the kitchen got us all very hungry, so thankfully Khai prepared a few of his bestsellers for us to try.
Here’s what we had:
Corn Dog with Cheese, 1 for S$6; 2 for S$11 (Editor’s Pick!)
There isn’t any refined way to eat this. Attempts to keep our mouths mess-free were futile as the corn dogs were generously drenched in salsa nachos cheese, chilli sauce and mayo.
The batter sticks to the sausage well, giving us a nice equal balance of meat and cornbread with every bite. Cornbread also gives the snack a moreish quality, making it the perfect in-between-meals filler grub.
Fried Mars Bar, 1 for S$5
This chewy, sticky, greasy delight is our latest guilty pleasure. The light batter coating the snack acts as a counter balance to the sweetness of the Mars bar within.
When eaten piping hot from the deep fryer, the chocolate and caramel of the Mars bar ooze out the minute you bite into it. Foolish, maybe. Delicious, absolutely! The caramel does stick to the teeth a bit, but you would know that if you’re familiar with Mars bars anyway.
Fiery Beefy Cheesy Fries, S$7
These fried French fries doused in Khai’s homemade version of a chilli con carne are the epitome of comfort food. The aroma of the beef stew is light, but where it lacks in aromatics, it makes up for it in flavour. It is savoury and toothsome, and every bite comes loaded with minced beef. However, the spice level is not to our liking; more chilli would be much preferred.
Purple Lion Paddlepop, S$4
Alongside Perghh’s menu of carnival snacks is also their drinks menu which falls under the 1L Satu Liter brand. Out of the drinks we tried that day, the Purple Lion Paddlepop is our absolute favourite.
As its name suggests, the drink is well, purple and it tastes very, very similar to the rainbow-coloured ice-cream of our childhood. And yes, it comes in a huge 1 litre cup so you can prolong your drinking pleasure.
The new staple
While Perghh’s snacks may be more suited for sunny days in an outdoor carnival, they are the closest thing to a food bazaar experience we can get right now. Their signature corn dogs are highly recommended, the Mars bar absolutely irresistible and humongous beverages affordable thirst-quenchers.
Perghh strangely reminds us a little about our rather unpleasant memories pushing through throngs of people in bazaars, but who knows when else we’ll get to experience that again. Thankfully, we don’t have to rub shoulders with strangers anymore just to get a snack.
As for Khai, he wishes to run the business for as long as possible so that he can pass it to his children one day. But what if his children decide to try their hands in various other interests and passions, just like he did in his younger days?
“If their dream is not this, if their dream is to become an architect, lawyer or anything else, I will still wish them all the best lah,” he says cordially.
Perghh is also available via GrabFood and FoodPanda or Whatsapp them at 82993746 to pre-order.
This article is brought to you in partnership with Perghh.