I remember when I was a kid living in Ang Mo Kio, I’d eagerly wait for the ringing of bells in the evenings. It was the sound that marked the arrival of my favourite mobile rojak vendor, who usually made his rounds at the ground floor of my flat once every few days.
His mobile stall looked something like the current mobile ice-cream vendor, with all the necessary ingredients, sauce bottles, bags, cashier box as well as a small wok packed in a limited space.
The portion was generous enough, not to mention delicious, for me to enjoy an evening snack. Sadly, I don’t see one peddling for business now.
Maybe it’s no longer approved by the authority.
Mobile ice-cream vendors, though, can still be found in many parts of Singapore.
They provide a wide range of flavours such as durian, chocolate chips, peppermint, vanilla, coconut, etc, accompanied with biscuit wafers or bread. At only $1 per flavour, it’s a treat for many especially in a hot afternoon.
The mobile ice-cream vendors have the advantage to move their business according to human traffic, so you will usually find them in crowded places such as Raffles Place or Orchard Road.
Every now and then, pasar malam are being set up temporarily along the roads in neighbourhoods. Vendors can rent spaces to sell snacks, drinks, clothes, handphone accessories; in recent years, some even sell cars at pasar malams.
Food is always a good option for street vendors. Kacang puteh (literally means white bean in Malay) used to be a favourite snack for Singaporeans, who loved to buy one or two cones during their visits to cinemas. The trade, however, experienced a big decline since the nineties. Today, there may be only a handful of them still holding on to this trade, such as the one at Selegie Road.
It is not easy for the kacang puteh man to prepare his stocks, as he needs to peel, fry, roast and even sugar-coat to create a variety of peanuts, beans and peas for sale, packed neatly in paper cones at $1 each.
While kacang puteh is usually sold by the Indians, another nut-selling business seems to be dominated by the Chinese. Gao Luk, or roasted chestnut, are being fried in wok with roasted coffee beans until their shells turn brown. They are not so common now, probably due to the lack of interest from the public. A packet of about 30 gao luk can cost as much as $10 now!
For those who grow up in the seventies, a vendor selling a type of sweet called ding ding dang might ring a bell. The uncle balanced his tray of white sweets expertly on his head, holding a cutter and a stick in his hands, which also served as a rapping tool to announce his arrival.
I am sure many of us still remember those battery-powered cars for children commonly seen at the centrals of the new towns in the eighties and nineties. Costing a mere $1 for a 10 minute ride then, kids could choose to drive a car or motorbike. And to drive a mini police car with sirens, you just have to pay a bit more!
Today, these popular vendors are hardly seen. One of them still operates at Bukit Merah central though, with a fleet of about 10 vehicles. The prices are higher now, but it is still extremely popular among the kids.
Mobile keysmiths (one who cuts keys) and cobblers are still pretty much a common sight on the streets, offering effective and cheap alternatives to the public. They normally start their business at the same spot everyday, as it will be a hassle to move their temporary stalls consists of chairs, toolboxes and giant umbrellas.
However, the ones operating these licensed stalls are largely of the older generation, and I fear in the next ten or twenty years, we will no longer see them on our streets.
Published: 01 January 2011
Updated: 04 January 2012