Food Legacy-Former Brickworks Estate

Brickworks Estate Houses
Brickworks Estate Now

Former Brickworks Estate comprised 26 blocks double-storey two bedroom rental ($26 per month) terrace housing built in the early 1950s by the SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust), located at the present site and demolished in early 1970s. Across the road (Jalan Bukit Merah) were the Alexandra village attap houses - great place to catch spiders near the fringe of the railway track facing Gillman Barracks. Goats were seen crossing the road. A huge fire in the night gutted the entire Alexandra village including Tai Hwa Chinese Primary School. The fire was as huge as the Bukit Ho Swee fire but has been long forgotten.

A Place of fun and excitement: Kite-fighting, fish-fighting, spider fighting, marble (fishball size) shooting, top spinning, catepult (made from twig and rubber-band), hand-made wooden gun, Ninja flying star made from bottle cap, tikam-tikam, kuti-kuti, card games, wooden board pinball "machine" and others. Month long Chinese New Year festive season were celebrated with massive fire crackers, rocket fire crackers, parachute fire crackers, fishball size smelly smoke bombs thrown into “unfriendly” houses. 

The estate was a food paradise where residents sold food on food carts, around a wet market, in the shops, in front of their homes, around and under the Chinese Opera Wayang stage.  Pasar Malam along Jalan Bukit Merah Road was the only "shopping centre" that families enjoyed, where Chinese New Year clothes and goodies were bought from.

Food by the Market, Shop, Houses

Ci Yuan Lor Mee
Ghim Moh Prawn Mee

At the 5-seater long wooden bench of the sheltered shopfront of a hair dressing saloon, the lady owner served legacy shredded steam fish Lor Mee with soya sauce egg, braised pork belly, garnished with parsley, garlic, black vinegar, red cut chilli and chilli sauce. Ci Yuan Hawker Centre 觉代 Lor Mee (left) comes close but it includes fried yam slices. 

The house behind this Lor Mee shop was Kah San who lived with his 5 children and 3 younger brothers selling Prawn Mee on cart. His recipe included a quarter piece of hardboiled egg. After selling outside his house in the morning, he left with his eldest son Ah Huat in the afternoon to sell at Redhill Close. After Brickworks Estate houses were demolished he moved to Redhill close and later settled down at Ghim Moh Estate where he sold at Ghim Hawker Hawker Centre. His elder son Ah Huat and his wife have been running the business now, selling at affordable prices of $2.50 and $3.00 a bowl with whole-piece (not half slice) prawns, maintaining the same prices after the hawker centre was upgraded. The prawn mee stall closes for business around 11a.m. Address: Wei Xiang Prawn Mee, Ghim Moh Hawker Centre, Ghim Moh Road Block 20 #01-50

Tiong Bahru Hainanes Curry Rice
Ghim Moh Carrot Cake

A push cart in open space served Hainanese Curry Rice by Hainanese speaking family of 3 in traditional street food white round neck t-shirt, drew many customers from morning till early afternoon. Big squid (sotong), uniquely light orange in colour and pork chop specialities were most popular among customers. Tiong Bahru Hainanese Curry Rice stall by pioneer generation Hainanese curry rice veteran is one such rare remaining hawker popular in its signature crispy pork chop. at Tiong Bahru Market, 30 Seng Poh Road, #02-78 Singapore. Across the road, Loo's Hainanese Curry Rice serves thick Pork Chop, big Sotong, cabbage, eggs, sambal prawns and black pepper sauce fish head at Tai Kwang Huat Coffeeshop #01-49 Eng Whatt Street. The Hainanese Curry Rice at Ci Yuan Hawker Centre, own by a young graduate is gaining popularity.   

New generation Carrot Cake (Chye Tow Kway) hawkers generally sell 2 types: the white and the sweetened black carrot cake; some include prawns at higher price. At the old Brickworks Estate, there were two carrot cake hawkers: Morning stall on tricycle at the open space next to the Hainanese Curry Rice stall that sold elongated less black carrot cake with chilli-flakes sauce for take away on green leaf folded like nasi lemak packet. After the market closed a paddler on bicycle started selling his black carrot cake. Some customers brought their own egg. Similar legacy carrot cake are sold by Hock Soon Carrot Cake (photo) at Ghim Moh Hawker Centre, Blk 20 Ghim Moh Rd #01-29; Heng Heng Carrot Cake at 38A Beo Crescent #01-72, Kampong Carrot  at Tiong Bahru Market 30 Seng Poh Road, #02-53.

Pumpkin Cake
Bee Hoon Mee

At the corner house 104 of block 96, auntie Kim Huay prepared the legacy Pumpkin Cake, Yam Cake, Fried Bee Hoon Mee, Peanut Porridge, red bean, vegetable and peanut Bao on stationery push cart and  served customers at the low square table outside her house.

The authentic heritage Pumpkin Cake (photo) is available at : You Ji 有记, Tiong Bahru Market 30 Seng Poh Road, #02-10. It has Lup Cheong (Chinese sausage) and dried shrimps inside, complete with crispy shallots and sesame seeds toppings, sweet sauce and chili sauce, selling at $1.20 each. You Ji  which also serves Yam Cake, Bee Hoon Mee (crispy Tau Kee stripes and Chye Sim),  peanut porridge, Chee Cheong Fun. The recipes was passed on the older lady to her daughters who are senior citizens. A Chwee Kueh/Yam Cake hawker stall at Block 216 Bedok North Street 1 also selss Pumpkin Cake but it is plain and less authentic.

The Rickshaw Noodle stall at Maxwell Food Centre, 1, Kadayanallur Street, #01-87 sells similar authentic taste of Kim Huay legacy Bee Hoon Mee (photo)

Rectangel Carrot Cake
Ghim Moh Pancake
Chow Yun Fatt

A corner house of Block 1, less than 5 metres away from the ABC Brewery railway track, a family made the traditional Rectangle Carrot Cake at their enclosed zinc roof backyard utility space (25 square metre) with attached separate bathroom and toilet facilities. The carrot cakes were sold in markets, schools and shops- self- pickup.

It is a vanishing trade and can be found in a few older estate food centres which sell Chew Kueh and Otah Kueh -  Jian Bo 建柏 at Marine Parade Food Centre at 84 Marine Parade Central #01-44 and its Michelin Star Chew Kueh stall at Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre 30 Seng Poh Road, #02-10; You Ji 有记 Bee Hoon Mee stall at Tiong Bahru Hawker Centre #02-05 and Chwee Kueh/Yam Cake hawker stall at Block 216 Bedok North Street 1. It is best bought in the morning and eaten hot with chilli sauce. 

The pre-1950s Mang Chien Kueh-Pancake sold at older estate hawker centres at Ghim Moh, Hong Lim and Tiong Bahru are gaining popularity at small corner stall of coffee shops - 443 Pasir Ris Drive 6; Pancake King at 727 Ang Mo Kio Ave 6; 34 Upper Cross Street. 
At the fringe of the old Brickworks Estate wet market was a suave man, attired in clean white rolled up sleeves shirt and light blue apron, making pancake on tricycle-mount big pan. His back-comb hair style and body build resembled Chow Yun Fatt in the "God of Gamblers" movie. Photo: Ghim Moh Granny’s Pancakes

Rectangel Carrot Cake
Ghim Moh Pancake
Chow Yun Fatt

Only soup fishball yellow noodles and Kway Teow - no mee pok, no u-mee, no  Bah Choy Mee and no dry dish. Kids loved to poke the fishball with stick (like satay stick), blow-cool and savour every bite.  Likewise, only soup Yong Tau Foo available and customers could bring back their empty bowl to the hawker to ask for more soup. 

Food peddler at block 96, house number 94, whipped up delicious signature thick duck breast meat noodle soup. Nowadays traditional Duck Noodle hawkers are rarely found. Most hawkers sell Duck Rice as main dish while their duck noodles come with thin slices of duck meat. 

A popular Malay man sold hot special Mee Rebus on his tricycle from 3 pm to dinner time. Besides the usual half hard boiled egg, garnishing of fresh cut green chilli, crispy fried shallots, parsley, the dish had peanuts and small cutes of fried Tau-Hu (instead of present day ready-to eat tau-pok cute) added. The legacy Mee Rebus has no red chilli sauce and the Mee Rebus "soup" yellow, less starchy. Photo - present day Mee Rebus, peanuts added upon request.

The Convenient Store

Tikam Tikam
Ice Gem Biscuits
Pickled Papaya Slices.
San Char Flakes

The entire living room of a house at block 13 was an old school version of "7-Eleven and Cheer's convenient store" of today. It was popular for Tikam-Tikam lucky-pick board, where one picked a red package and could win items sold in the store. The house sold drinks, toys, Iced Gem Biscuits, selection from large tins of assortment of biscuits, pickled papaya slices, card games, nuts, chocolate, Spin Tops, Kuti-Kuti, cigarettes and many other stuffs. It was usually busy from early morning till late evening where people walked in to buy things with their slippers on.

The Food Peddlers

Liang Chee Suan Bowl
House of Dessert serving Lian Chee Suan
Liang Chee Suan House of Dessert
Lotus Seed ScienceDirect

There was a food peddler selling  Liang Chee Suan, a Lotus seed specialty dessert (starchy sweet soup similar to that of Tau Suan) on his tricycle. - Liang Chee Suan is a vanishing heritage hawker food. Hawkers selling traditional Chinese desserts (Tau Suan, Black Glutinous Rice, Red Bean Soup..) gave up selling Liang Chee Suan due to the high cost of Lotus seeds and the tedious task of removing the reddish skin. 

Owners of House of Dessert at Block 137, #01-02, Tampines Round Market and Food Centre have been selling Liang Chee Suan (Photos) and other traditional desserts for the past 31 years since opening a coffee shop stall at Tampines Street 11 . A bowl cost $4.00 with generous quantity of lotus seeds which is still good value. It is close on Monday and Thursday. 

50 Year Traditional Bread
Bread on bicycle Cuba Tripadvisor photo.
Geylang Kaya Butter Toast

An Indian man, with neatly attired white turban and his white traditional clothes went about selling his Kaya and margarine bread on his bicycle with a wooden chest on the back seat. His multi-shelves of bread and containers of Kaya and margarine wooden chest larger in size than the Cuba bread seller shown here in the Tripadvisor photo and the typical old days bread seller ( National Archives Singapore photo). The traditional bicycle bread seller cut bread into 2 longitudinal halves (photo illustration). Coffee shop and hawker centre coffee stall usually sell toast bread cut into triangular halves (Keng Wah Sung Coffee Shop 783 Geylang Road) while others cut their toast bread into thin rectangular portions, the way Ya Kun Kaya Toast does. 

Vanishing traditional breads are sold at "50 Year Taste of Tradition", a corner shop at Blk 87 Marine Parade Central (opposite Parkway Parade) between MayBank and Standard Chartered Bank and Xing Sheng Bread at Bendemeer Market and Food Centre, Blk 29 Bendemeer Road #01-17. Hock Choo Eating House, which has been in business for more than 4 decades at 427 Changi Road, sells rare steam-hot kaya-margarine white bread, folded up instead of cutting into halves.

You Cha Kueh Ci Yuan
Butterfly Bun Bay Hei chjee Ci Yuan
Hum Chee Peng Ci Yuan
Fried Sesame Ball Chjee Cho Ci Yuan

Few households owned television sets then and there were no late night television nor radio programmes (Rediffusion radio) but people stayed up late till for supper. Around 9.30pm a teenager cladded in singlet, shorts and slipper went house to house selling hot crispy You Char Kueh, Butterfly Bun (Bay Hei Chjee), Chinese Fried Doughnut (Hum Chee Peng) and Fried Sesame Ball (Chjee Cho) in a carton box.  Nowadays, such delicacies sold in hawker centres are usually under franchise arrangement. Few like Mr Lee who is still tossing dough and frying the food stuff the traditional way for more than 40 years at his Block 216 Bedok North Street 1 hawker stall.Frying Photos : You Char Kueh; Butterfly Bun (Bay Hei Chjee); Chinese Fried Doughnut (Hum Chee Peng) and Fried Seasame Ball (Chjee Cho) taken at Ci Yuan Hawker Centre You Cha Kueh stall #01-19.);

Kacang Puteh Man With Turbn
Kacang Puteh Dip Stick
Kacang Puteh Peace Centre
Camel Mixed Snacks

At about 8.30pm, the Kacang Puteh man came balancing on his head his "stall table" with assortment of nuts, calling out "Cang Teh ... Cang Teh", in short for Kacang Puteh. He was young, a look-alike of the Peace Centre Kacang Puteh man (Photo:Michelin Guide). He sat and lighted a candle as source of light outside Morgan's house, a Hokkien speaking Indian boy whose elder sister and father were school teachers. He sold traditional ones - peanut, sugar coated nut, skin peanut, broad beans, green pea, chickpea...He allowed a mix of 2 different types of nuts in a paper cone which cost 5 cents.  For purchase of a cone of nuts, he gave a lucky dip chance to draw from the M n M chocolate metal tube 3 colour-coded metal sticks  (as shown in picture) -  when 3 sticks were of the same colour, he gave a free cone of Kacang Puteh. Packet nuts from Tong Garden, Camel and Tai Sun have replaced Kacang Puteh. They were sold in old cinemas, Sky and Alantic at Great World City, Jubilee, Venus, Golden City and Queenstown in Queenstown, Capitol, Odean, Majestic, Canton, Ciros at Telok Blangah, Mandarin at Geylang Bahru, Roxy in Katong, King's in Tiong Bahru, open air cinema in Holland village.. at the entrances. The Kacang Puteh stalls vanished as the cinemas closed down.

Food at the Chinese Opera Show 

Black Glutinous Rice at Coffee Express
Horn Snails
Kuah Tutu
Chinese Opera

Chinese operas staged 3 times a year next to the wet market drew huge spectators - kids and adults. Cantonese opera was  the most dramatic action-packed - sword duels in mid air (suspended by metal ropes), great singing and elaborate costumes. Teochew opera was exciting while Hokkien opera, light-hearted. There were lots of food during the opera - Fish ball noodles, Wanton Mee, Char Kway Teow, Fried Oyster 蚝煎, steam sweet potatoes, Kueh Tutu, bird's nest flavoured drink, Ice-Kacang, Red Bean and Green Bean soups, Tau Suan and Black Glutinous Rice dessert. Food sold under the wayang stage: Sucking Horn Snails dipped in red sweet (Ti-Chew) and chilli sauce (Photo - Taiwan's Horn Snail recipe) and Cockles with chilli sauce. 

Food at the Night Market

Fabric roll Alamy
SilverCup Coffee Powder
Bird Nest Dink

Pasar Malam (Night Market) was held on Wednesday 7 pm to 10 pm.  From 6 pm, stall holders began "pumping up" the pressure lamp inflating and turning the sagged fabric-like wire mesh into a lighted "bulb"; setting up rows of large wooden table by the roadside at Brickworks Estate along Jalan Bukit Merah Road and displaying  clothing, shoes, rolls of textiles (Image: Textile by, toys, stationery, pots, pans and household effects which were segregated from the food vendors' food carts, tricycles, motorcycle with side cars and mini-vans. There was a coffee powder seller, grinding beans, weighing, packaging and sealing packets of coffee powder at his mini van. He heated up a flat tip screw-driver in the small exhaust pipe outlet of a portable generator to seal off the opening of the plastic bag of coffee powder. The coffee powder is now sold at some heartland NTUC FairPrice supermarkets under the brand names of Silver Cup (image: Silver Cup coffee in orange gold print) and Diamond. Next to the coffee powder stall was the Black Sparrow Bird's Nest flavoured drink (Image:Theo A. Strijker);

Ice Ball Straits Times 16 July 2016.
Fabric roll Alamy
Ci Yuan Goreng Pisang
Ci Yuan Black Glutinous Rice Dessert

The traditional multi colour Ice Ball made by the Ice-Kacang stall was most popular. With no ingredients, at 5 cents each, it was cheap and good for the kids. Unlike the ice ball in-the-bowl shown in image (Straits Times 16 July 2016), the kids consumed it by suck the ice ball on bare palms. 

Cut fruits and drink stalls served scoop cube pineapple drink, cloudy "Lye Chwee" 白梨 white pear drink and wedge pineapple where every customer stood by the tricycle stall dipped the pineapple wedge into the common plastic containers of either salt or chilli in black soya sauce (Image: modern cut pineapple cubes with black soya sauce for personal consumption). There were stalls selling Goreng Pisang, Cheng Thng, Tau Suan, Red Bean and Green Bean soup, Black Glutinous Rice, Char Kway Teow, Fried Oyster, Satay, Kueh Tutu...

The Provision Shop

Ice Ball Straits Times 16 July 2016.
Fabric roll Alamy
Ci Yuan Goreng Pisang

Kedai  (Malay word) was commonly used in Hokkien (pronounced - Ket-i) conversation for provision shop.  Seng Heng, managed by 2 senior men in white singlet and kaki shorts was more popular than Ah Heng which was managed by mother and his teenage son, Ah Heng. The Kedai displayed rice, sugar, beans, anchovies, dried shrimp, onion ginger, garlic in open gunny sacks and household necessity, traditional biscuits in big tins, ground nuts etc. You could buy a handful of ground nuts wrapped in newspapers for 5 cents. Cash from sales were put into 2 metal tins at both ends of a metal wire pulley system. 

Seng Heng provided traditional grocery delivery service on bicycle (Photo by BT). The delivery man in white singlet loaded the brown paper bags of rice, sugar, beans and bottles of cooking oil, can food etc into the carton box secured to the back seat with disused inner rubber tubing of bicycle tyre. The bicycle was fitted with air rubber horn (used by gurung guni man), metal ringer bell on the bicycle handle and a vintage square headlight (carousell photo) operated on 2D-size Eveready Nine Lives battery (ebay photo) clipped onto a metal holder below the bicycle handle.

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Web developer, Trade mark designer, Videographer, Food photographer, Home cook. Master of International Bus (Curtin); Bachelor of Business-Marketing (RMIT); Spec Dip Landscape & Interior Design; Dip Electrical Engrg; Adobe Illustrator Cert. 5x Standard Chartered full Marathon finisher

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