By Solomon Lim
At first glance, the name of the stall, tucked away in an industrial park canteen in a corner of Eunos, seems rude and almost derogatory.
But it’s not, reassures its owner Lim Boon Kian. The 44-year-old foodie says that only Singaporeans think that it is a racist term.
“Bangla is how most Bangladeshi workers refer to themselves. It’s only Singaporeans who’ve used it as a derogatory term,” says Boon Kian.
To confirm, he turns to his chef, Yousof, a Bangladeshi who has been working in Singapore since he was 17.
“I’m a Bangla, and [my] boss is Lim. When people see, and come, and eat, they’ll understand.”
The easy camaraderie between Yousof and Boon Kian is plain to see.
Boon Kian jokes: “I am the boss, but the boss I actually quite poor thing. I’m also the delivery man; he (Yousof) has to order me to buy things… maybe I call him boss next time!”
Yousof’s story is told in a video published on Our Grandfather Story, in a collaboration with Singapore Kindness Movement.
Bonded over makan session
The 31-year-old Yousof used to work as a construction worker at a scaffolding company before he met Boon Kian at an event last August. Then, Yousof was already showing off his skills at Bangladeshi cuisine.
Says Boon Kian: “I got to know Yousof through a very good friend of mine. Yousof happened to be one of their workers. So the first time I had Bangladeshi cuisine was last year when we were having a makan session.”
“Yousof was the one who cooked and I was like ‘wow, that’s quite nice’, so that’s how we started talking.”
The most impressive thing about Yousof’s cooking is that he is entirely self-taught.
Cooking is his dream job, says Yousof, listing an impressive array of dishes. He confesses that he picked up most of his recipes from watching YouTube videos but his secret weapon is actually back in Bangladesh.
“I cannot understand (some of the recipes), so I video call my mother! She teaches me then I can do it!”
You can hear the joy in his voice when he says that when he cooks and tastes the dishes, it’s like eating his mum’s cooking – it gives him a sense of home.
Talking about home makes more wistful, he says. He came to Singapore 14 years ago because his father’s business wasn’t doing so well.
Chimes in Boon Kian: “He (Yousof) is actually supporting his entire family – he still is. His father’s health is not so good.
Yousof says that he is very lucky to have good bosses, adding that this kindness that he gets from Boon Kian is what makes him happy and loyal to the business.
Seeing it from migrant workers’ eyes
Covid opened his eyes towards the plight of migrant workers, says Boon Kian, who says that it was when he worked in the dormitories that he got to see the sadness they went through, being away from their families for a long time.
“Today, when I talk to a migrant worker, it’s different from what you see on the news. You see his tears, you see his pain. It’s entirely different.”
“I get very angry when I see people using not so nice words on them to bring them down because they don’t really appreciate a fellow human being who’s here to help you do the things you don’t want to do.”
As with many other F&B outlets, Bangla Lim has been affected by the heightened alert and the ban on dining-in. Says Boon Kian: “We’re barely two months old and it’s tough going.”
That’s why he’s focusing his efforts online, he says. Bangla Lim is available on all the usual food delivery sites and has its own website at www.banglalim.com.
People ask him why he set up the stall, says Boon Kian – is it to serve foreign workers or target Singaporeans?
“I tell them that it’s both. Food connects people. Through makan, people can connect to something. The workers connect to their home country. I think that alone is enough to make them feel a bit better.”