Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre is one of the best representation of the Singapore Hawker Food Culture. It has the most number of food stalls where veteran hawkers and their children continue their hawker trades, whipping up traditional dishes of the 1950s to 1960s, from Seng Poh Road Market to old Tiong Bahru Market - Fish ball noodles, Chay Kueh Teow, Chwee Kueh, Chye Tau Kueh, Teochew Soon Kueh, Chai Kueh and Png Kueh, Fried Bee Hoon Mee, Yam Cake, Pumpkin Cake, Tau Kwa Pok, Pau, You Cha Kueh, Roast meat rice, Hainanese Crurry Rice, Lor Mee, Fish cake varieties, coffee Tau Suan and desserts ...
The present 2-storey Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre and is undoubtedly the focal of many of Singapore's authentic heritage hawker food sold by veteran pioneer hawkers that were relocated from the wooden structure Seng Poh Road Market and later, the revamped single storey zinc roof-metal structure, sturdier, better layout and cleaner old Tiong Bahru Market, located at the same triangular plot of land along Seng Poh Road. Seng Poh Road was named after Singapore’s first Chinese Municipal Commissioner, Tan Seng Poh (Roots.sg National Heritage Board). While Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre retains the heritage of heyday traditional food, apart from the Art-Decor architecture semi circular building facade that was designed to harmonise with the surrounding SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust) housing estate, it has quite a boring ambience. Many who drive to the open roof carpark have to endure the direct scorching hot sun as the roof is about the same height with the surrounding low rise walk up apartment blocks and shop houses, and the unpleasant big cooking exhaust ducts installed at low height, blowing greasy fumes on the people. Whereas many hawker centres within the HDB estates are connected to the MSCP (Multi Storey Carpark) via sheltered linkways. Residents or visitors may be oblivious that Singapore has the most extensive sheltered linkways, connecting the HDB blocks, HDB Multi Storey Carparks, hawker centres to the bus stops and the MRT stations than, probably, any country in the world. Inside the present Tiong Bahru Food Centre, its ambience, appearance, and the table and floor cleanliness are like many of the other 107 HDB owned and NEWR owned hawker centres where you just want to eat and go, lacking the nostalgia and charm of the old Tiong Bahru market, it's predecessor, which last operated till 2004.
The lands along Tiong Bahru Road, Tiong Bahru estate itself, Singapore General Hospital, stretching up to Leng Kee Road were once a sprawling Chinese cemetery. The name 'Tiong Bahru' was derived from the word 'Tiong' (终) in the Hokkien dialect, meaning die or the end, and the Malay word 'Bahru' meaning new; collectively the 'New Cemetery". Residential blocks at Tiong Bahru estate were built by SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust), the predecessor of HDB, from mid 1930s to 1950s. By late 1950s, the population at Tiong Bahru grew to about 20,000 residents (source: NHB, National Heritage Board). Base on The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) published information of 24 July 2018, Tiong Bahru estate has now about 800 homes and 2,400 residents and a wide range of amenities - a hawker centre, wet market, F&B outlets, restaurants, retail shops and services which make the estate a vibrant lifestyle enclave that draws visitors from around Singapore and tourists. The Bird Singing Corner located outside the end of the Link Hotel building (formerly Block 53 Tiong Bahru Road) is Singapore's well know historical icon. In the evening the Bird Singing Corner was used as an open air dining areas for customers of a popular steamboat eatery at the coffeeshop of Block 53. A pot of steamboat with grouper fish, yam and some vegetables for 2-person portion cost $25 in the late 1990s. It had more fish than current version of steamboat fill with tomatos,Tauhu, artificial crab meat and fish balls.
The old Tiong Bahru market was airy with natural air flow from all sides of the perimeter (except the the warmer clothing stalls alley), the floor and tables were reasonably clean with hardly any litter around. It was popular among Japanese expatriates' wives who were elegantly attired, some wore fashionable hats, buying flowers, fruits, vegetables and other groceries. At the end of the market facing Lim Liak Street was an alley shielded from the sun, formed by 2 rows of about 30 stalls selling all kinds of clothes like the Dongdaemun Market in Seoul, South Korea.
At the junction of Kim Tian Road and Moh Guan Terrace stood an airconditioned King's Theatre 璇宫 Xuán gōng built by Shaw Organisation in the early 1950s and later sold to Eng Wah Group (Source:National Heritage Board). In the earlier days, it ran black and white cantonese movies acted by Shek Kien, Josephine Siao, Fong Po Po and various artists. Linda Teo, a neighbour at Block 55 Alexandra Road, now Carrie Model Agency owner, used to bring her mother, siblings and myself, when I was a kid, to watch movies such as popular Taiwanese tear-jerker 负心的人 Fùxīn de rén and L-O-V-E by the Wynners (Hong Kong quintet of Alan Tam, Kenny Bee, Anthony Chan, Bennett Pang and Danny Yip). Some of the hawkers now at Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre were itinerant (street) hawkers selling food, Kacang Puteh and ting-ting candy outside King’s Theatre. There were times of uneasiness when visiting King's Theatre (popularly known as Suan Keong among the majority Hokkien speaking community ) as it was a gangster hangout. King's Theatre closed in 1984 to make way for a commercial and residential complex development, Kim Tian Plaza which was later enbloc and developed into a condominium, Regency Suites at 36/38 Kim Tian Road.
Tiong Ba Lu (Tiong Bahru), Ang Shua (Redhill), Aw Kio Tao (Havelock/Beo Crescent), Ho Chwee Shua (Bukit Ho Swee) were notorious gangster areas which also had some influence in Brickworks Estate (ABC), where there were occasional incidents of gang fight and rumours of impending fights. Ordinary people were uneasy hearing the names of these places especially in the Hokkien dialect. Block 48 (Tua Pai Si Chap Puay) Lower Delta Road, which was also referred to as part of Aw Kio Tao, was a fearsome place where some gangsters lived and it was also where my Primary School English teacher Ms Looi lived. Miss Looi and Mr Seetoh, a Mathematics teacher from the same school fell in love and got married. Large red police trucks, known as "Ang Chia" in Hokkien dialect were common sight. The Ang Chia police and the "Umpai", a Hokkien name for plain clothes usually big belly detectives, were fearsome forces to the gangsters who would dispersed on seeing their arrivals. Some gangsters who had tattoes on their bear body were medium, usually possessing the "Guang Kong" character, the fierce warrior in Chinese history. Tattoes were done manually using a needle heated up over fire-in-can, dipped into the colour liquid and the needle poked on the flesh to create the desired design.
CG Ang 2021-01-21