It’s rare to find authentic Korean food in Singapore, especially in the hawker scene, but Chelabela changed the game in 2017 when the Suh family, who were born and raised in Korea, opened their hawker stall in Marsiling.
The Suh family made the move to migrate from Seoul to Singapore in 2006. While the family’s two children, Chela and Lino, enrolled in the local education system, the patriarch of the family, Chin Won, decided to embark on a career in the hawker trade.
Chin Won had no experience in the F&B business— back in Seoul, he was a logistics manager for a printing company. “He was wondering what he could offer to Singaporeans, and faced with a language barrier, he felt that being a hawker was the best thing he could do at that time,” shared Chela.
After seven to eight years of intensive R&D, which included patronising Korean eateries in Singapore, coupled with help from his family, Chin Won developed his recipes from scratch and finally opened his first Korean stall in a food court in Tiong Bahru.
The stall has made several moves since then— Yew Tee, its well-loved two-unit stall at Marsiling, and finally its present location at 603 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 5.
What I tried at Chelabela
While Chelabela is most known for its expanded menu in Marsiling, with over 22 authentic Korean dishes ranging from bibimbap to budaejjigae, you might notice that its menu in Ang Mo Kio is much smaller.
Despite the occasional help from his family (such as Chela, who helps out as a cashier on weekends when she’s not in school), Chin Won is the only one manning the stall. Thus, to cater to the lack of manpower, its Ang Mo Kio menu features only six main dishes and four side dishes.
The first thing that I got was Chelabela’s Army Stew (S$18), which came in a large silver bowl and was accompanied by two bowls of white rice.
Don’t belittle its simple and no-fuss appearance.
This Army Stew tastes like home-cooked comfort food— it was relatively light on the salt with a light, velvety and drinkable texture, but it was packed with a good depth of savouriness from the beef bone broth. I could taste a hint of gochujang and a pleasant milkiness from the melted cheese.
Its ingredients were pretty nondescript, with the usual culprits such as tteokpokki (Korean rice cakes), chicken sausage, spam, tofu, kimchi, assorted vegetables and a packet of instant noodles, but my favourite was definitely the spam. It wasn’t your average piece of luncheon meat and came with plenty of meaty textures and even reminded me of turkey ham!
Later, Chela shared that they source almost all of their ingredients from Korean suppliers (except for the fresh vegetables and radish), thus ensuring that their dishes are authentic to the core.
Chelabela also sells three types of tteokpokki: Tteokboggi (S$5), Pork Tteokboggi (S$7) amnd Chicken Tteokboggi (S$7).
We decided to try the plain Tteokboggi, which comes with Chin Won’s homemade sauce.
This was an absolute bomb.
The thick sauce was smokey and rich, with a good punch of heat and pepper from the gochujang. It paired fantastically well with the chewy tteokpokki, which was cooked just right— not too soft that it would disintegrate upon picking up, and also not too hard that I had problems biting into it.
Despite having two main components— sauce and tteokpokki— this simple dish proved to be the most addictive out of the entire lot. I found myself reaching for piece after piece, relishing in the tasty yet peppery sauce.
I also decided to try Chelabela’s BBQ Chicken (S$6), which is available in three spice levels: Non-spicy, Less Spicy and Normal Spicy. We opted for the Normal Spicy option.
The BBQ Chicken came with white rice and homemade side dishes such as kimchi and anchovies.
The marinated chicken slices were surprisingly light in terms of flavour, with subtle umami, smoky and sweet notes coming from the marinade. Yet, the one thing that impressed me was its texture— soft and tender, with plenty of natural juices dripping from each piece.
Most Korean food stalls tend to overcook their protein, especially when they’re served on hotplates, so I genuinely appreciated how Chin Won cooked the chicken slices just right.
I fell in love with the kimchi right away.
It was crunchy and refreshing, and more importantly, without that bright acidity or sourness that comes with store bought or commercial kimchi. I loved how well-balanced it was in terms of flavour, with a touch of sweetness and a subtle piquant zestiness that made it all the more appetising.
Last but not least, my favourite banchan (or Korean side dish)— the anchovies, which were marinated in Chin Won’s secret homemade sauce.
While store bought or commercial anchovies tend to be tossed with artificial sweeteners or coated in a thick sweet and spicy sauce, Chin Won’s rendition was addictively briny and packed with umami and salty flavours.
You might be pleased to know that Chelabela sells Anchovies and Kimchi on their own, and both items are available for purchase in larger quantities at S$5/S$9.
Getting to know Chela and Chin Won was a real delight. Their story is an inspiring one and speaks volumes about how much effort and hard work has gone into the making of the humble Korean food stall.
And yes, if you’ve been wondering, the name of the stall is indeed a nod to Chin Won’s daughter, Chela. She adds: “It used to be my nickname when I was a kid, so he thought it was quite cute and decided to use that as the name of the stall.”
If you’re looking for authentic Korean food in the heartlands, Chelabela is your best bet. While they don’t have the capacity to cater to a bigger menu just yet, you’ll be surprised as to how well they execute the handful of items that are currently on their menu. I’ll definitely be back for the tteokpokki one day.
Expected damage: S$5 – S$18 per pax
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