In October 2011, the government announced plans to build ten more hawker centres over the next decade. Since the early seventies, hawker centres had become part of Singapore’s unique culture. The mid-eighties saw some 140 markets and hawker centres located all over the island, although the number now stands at around 100.
Wet markets, on the other hand, are the main sources of fresh produce such as meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. However, they are gradually losing their clientele due to the competitiveness, convenience and cleanliness of supermarkets. Today, the large wet markets that are still going strong include Chinatown Complex Market, Empress Market (or Farrer Market), Holland Village Market, Tiong Bahru Market, Tekka Centre, Toa Payoh Central Market, Ghim Moh Market and Geylang Serai Market.
From Street Hawkers to Hawker Centres
Hawker centres were first built in 1971 as part of the government’s street hawkers resettlement program. Before hawker centres, street hawkers had to constantly face the wrath of di gu (National Environment Agency inspectors), and customers were exposed to hygienic issues. After several food poisoning and epidemic cases, the Environment Ministry decided to clean up the streets.
Yung Sheng Food Centre at Jurong was the first hawker centre to operate in Singapore. It proved to be a success, clearing the doubts of the street hawkers and prompting others to follow suit. The hawker centre was later merged with Corporation Drive Food Centre and Corporation Drive Market to become Taman Jurong Market & Food Centre.
In 1985, Jurong West Street 52 Block 505 Market & Food Centre was the last hawker centre to be built, and a year later, the last street hawker was successfully resettled.
Between the late seventies and early nineties, many hawker centres were renamed as (cooked) food centres, but many still preferred to call them by their old names.
The former Telok Ayer Market, Singapore’s first ever market, had its history dated all the way back to 1825. It began as a simple wooden structure standing next to the sea, so as to allow goods to be loaded and unloaded directly to the boats. Due to the land reclamation of Telok Ayer Basin, the market was demolished in 1879, but was rebuilt five years later by James MacRitchie (1848-1895), the Municipal Engineer, who retained its iconic octagonal shape but changed its building materials to cast-iron.
Despite being conserved in 1973, the market had to be dismantled in 1984 due to the nearby tunneling of the MRT system. It took more than five years before the market was reassembled and reconstructed, sticking to James MacRitchie’s original design. It finally reopened in 1991 as Lau Pa Sat (“old market”).
Other prominent hawker centres in Singapore are Maxwell Road Food Centre (originally Maxwell Market since 1935), Tiong Bahru Market (since 1955), Newton Circus Food Centre (since 1971), Chomp Chomp Food Centre (since 1972), East Coast Lagoon Food Village (previously East Coast Hawker Centre, since 1978) and Pasir Panjang Food Centre (since 1978).
In the eighties, the Chinatown Complex Food Centre was the largest hawker centre in Singapore with an astonishing 803 stalls.
Currently, the markets and hawker centres in Singapore are largely managed by three entities; Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), Housing Development Board (HDB) and Jurong Town Corporation (JTC).
Below are some of Singapore’s vanished markets and hawker centres (not in alphabetical or chronological order) in the past decades.
Orchard Road Market (1891-1982)
The almost century-old Orchard Road Market was a firm notable landmark located at the junction of Orchard Road and Koek Road, where Orchard Point is standing now.
The land where Orchard Road Market once stood on belonged to early nutmeg plantation owner William Cuppage in the 19th century, whose estate was later inherited by his son-in-law Edwin Koek. Both Cuppage Road and Koek Road were named after them.
In 1890, the Municipal Authorities bought the land and built a new cast-iron market which had extensions and wings added over the years. Its iconic six metre tall fountain, made in Scotland, was brought over from Telok Ayer Market in 1902. The fountain accompanied Orchard Road Market for some eighty years before it was shifted again to Raffles Hotel.
Orchard Road Market was an extremely popular place for fresh produce in the sixties. In 1982, it was demolished by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in a bid to transform Orchard Road into a prime shopping district.
Orchard Road Carpark Hawker Centre (1966-1978)
Located at open-air carpark next to the Specialists’ Shopping Centre, the Orchard Road Carpark Hawker Centre, also known as Glutton’s Square, was one of the most popular makan places in Singapore.
The street hawkers pushed their wooden carts, generators, cooking utensils and pails of water and set them up in rows in the carpark after it was closed at 5pm everyday. The feasting usually lasted from dinnertime to suppertime in the early morning, sometimes till 5am.
By the early seventies, the place had reached its peak of popularity, especially among young couples, families and tourists. In its later years, Glutton’s Square, however, gained an unwanted reputation of being a “carrothead chopping” place for foreigners.
As many as 80 stalls were selling delicious local delights at cheap affordable prices, such as Hokkien mee, char kway teow, bak chor mee, satay, bak kut teh and orh luak.
Despite being popular with the customers, Glutton’s Square was constantly bothered by overcrowding and hygienic issues. In 1978, the government decided to close it, and relocate the hawkers to the Newton Circus and Cuppage hawker centres. The Singapore Tourism Board (STB) tried to revive the nostalgic charm of Glutton’s Square during the Singapore Food Festival 2004. Lasted until early 2005, the event was met with overwhelming responses, although the prices of the food had risen dramatically as compared to the older days.
Boat Quay Food Centre and Empress Place Food Centre (1973-1993)
Boat Quay Food Centre was built in 1973 with a splendid (some said smelly) waterfront view of the Singapore River filled with tongkangs and twakows. Tongkang and twakow are Malay and Hokkien/Teochew words for bumboat.
The purpose of the hawker centre was to accommodate the street hawkers plying their trades at Hallpike Street near the original Parliament House. Now defunct, Hallpike Street was named after Stephen Hallpike, an English blacksmith who arrived here in 1826 and founded the first shipyard (or boatyard) in Singapore.
Enjoyed by the working class in the city, the hawker centre offered many delicious and affordable food, and it was particularly famous for a stall selling beef kway teow.
In 1983, due to the construction of MRT work, some ninety hawkers from Boat Quay Food Centre and Empress Place Food Centre were shifted to a temporary site named Empress Place Transit Food Centre off North Boat Quay. Boat Quay Food Centre itself was demolished by the mid-nineties due to the redevelopment plans to turn the place into a trendy spot for wine and dine.
Telok Ayer Transit Food Centre (early 1980s-1997)
Like Boat Quay Hawker Centre, Telok Ayer Transit Hawker Centre was also a convenient lunch venue for many working class at Shenton Way.
When the Telok Ayer Market (later Lau Pa Sat) was dismantled between 1984 and 1991 due to the construction works of the MRT, many stallholders were relocated to Telok Ayer Transit Hawker Centre. One of them was the now-famous Ya-Kun coffee-stall.
Originally meant to be the temporary site for Lau Pa Sat stalls (hence the name “transit”), the hawker centre, however, stayed on for a couple of years after the new market was reopened. It was eventually shut down at the end of 1997.
Simon Road Market (1948-1999)
The popular Simon Road Market was built in August 1948, initially at the nearby Lim Ah Pin Road before moving to Simon Road, or fondly known as “ow gang lark kok jio” (Hougang sixth milestone).
Simon Road was named after prominent Eurasian of Portuguese descent Simon Aroozoo (1850-1931) (who also had the nearby Aroozoo Avenue named after him), a close friend of Gan Eng Seng.
When Simon Road Market was first set up, it was met with poor response by the public. A series of publicity campaigns was carried before things improved. From then on, vegetable farmers from Potong Pasir and fishermen from Kangkar and Serangoon River would bring their products to Simon Road Market every morning for sale.
The market would later become a makan haven, serving delicious Hokkien mee, muah chee, pork congee, wanton mee and mee rebus. However, it was demolished in 1999, with some of the stall holders moved to the markets in Hougang to continue their businesses.
Today, the once-bustling market was no more, only to be replaced by posh condominiums. The only landmark still remaining is the newly-renovated Nam Heng kopitiam standing at the junction of Simon Road and Upper Serangoon Road, and a pair of bronze statues that served as the memories of the vanished Simon Road Market.
Commonwealth Avenue Food Centre (1969-2011)
The double-storey Commonwealth Avenue Food Centre used to stand at the sleepy Margaret Drive of Queenstown. It was the favourite makan place of many residents and working people especially during lunchtime, where it served popular Teochew fishball noodle, chicken rice, popiahs and char kway teow.
In early 2011, after more than three decades of operation, the popular hawker centre was officially closed. Like its surrounding blocks of flats, it was demolished as new plans of redevelopment were laid out for the large plots of land opposite Queenstown MRT Station.
Seletar Hills Market & Food Centre (1974-2005)
The old wet market by HDB (Housing Development Board) proved to be a popular grocery and makan place during its heydays, enjoyed by the flat-dwellers as well as the residents living at the nearby private estate. Flanked by four block of low-rise flats, there was also a basketball court beside the large open-air carpark, where the players would enjoy a cold drink or dessert at the hawker centre after their games.
In 2000, Seletar Hills Market was partially damaged in a fire, costing $700,000 to refurbish it. However, two years later, the blocks of flats at Seletar Road was torn down under the Selective En bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS), causing the market to lose a critical mass of customers. Thus, in 2005, Seletar Hills Market & Food Centre also met its demise. After being left vacated for almost four years, its site is now occupied by the residential-cum-shopping mall Greenwich.
Lim Tua Tow Market (early 1960s-early 1990s)
Lim Tua Tow Road, commonly known as ow gang gor kok jio (Hougang fifth milestone), was named after Chinese pioneer and Teochew merchant Lim Tua Tow (Tua Tow means “big head” in Teochew). Naturally, the wet market that once stood here was called Lim Tua Tow Market.
Well-known for its Hokkien mee and chai tow kuay, Lim Tua Tow Market served the community living at Upper Serangoon well. It also was the main grocery place for the residents living at Chia Keng Village, a teochew kampong that existed until 1984.
Lim Tua Tow Market and Simon Road Market were the two prominent wet markets along Upper Serangoon Road between the sixties and nineties.
Neo Tiew Market & Food Centre (1979-2002)
Like Neo Tiew Estate itself, the market and hawker centre are now in dilapidated states, having left abandoned for a decade. It was named after Chinese pioneer Neo Tiew (1883-1975), who contributed much to the development of old Lim Chu Kang.
When it was first set up, the market served mainly the little Neo Tiew Estate as well as the residents living at Lim Chu Kang, Ama Keng and other villages. It would later become a resting point and makan place for the army personnel from Sungei Gedong Camp during their booking-out.
Serving great char kway teow, carrot cake and wanton mee, the hawker centre remained a favourite but distant memory for many. The flats at Neo Tiew Estate were en-bloc and vacated in 2002. The empty premises is now being used as a training ground by the Singapore Armed Forces.
The little Dover estate with its market and hawker centre experienced the same fate as Neo Tiew, having shut down in 2011 due to the en-bloc program.
Labrador Villa Food Centre (1972-2008)
It was tiny, run-down and isolated, but Labrador Villa Food Centre was nothing but a gem for many who yearned old-time ambience with cheap authentic food.
Located at the junction of Alexandra Road and Pasir Panjang Road, the hawker centre with only 10 stalls, most of them selling Muslim cuisine, was popular among patrons working at the nearby factories and offices, hunting for their favourite mee goreng, nasi lemak or simply having an afternoon break with a glass of teh tarik.
Many expressed regret that the little hawker centre had to be demolished in 2008 to make way for the Labrador Park MRT Station and the development of Labrador Park into a seafood village.
MacPherson Road Market (1955-1990)
The MacPherson Road Market was completed in 1955 at the junction of Upper Serangoon Road and MacPherson Road to serve the 22,000 residents living at Sennett Estate and other nearby districts.
The market, with 200 stalls in its double-storey building, cost about $250,000. It was built by a local construction firm owned by Lim Kah Ngam, who was famous for his Federal House project at Kuala Lumpur.
In 1989, the land where the market was standing on was acquired by Lim Kah Ngam’s company for $2.1 million. The site was initially intended to be redeveloped for commercial and residential purposes. The first level of the market, however, was converted into a giant 24-hour kopitiam two years later, and the building renamed as Jackson Centre.
Lakeview Market & Food Centre (late 1970s-2000)
For almost 20 years, Lakeview Market & Food Centre remained a popular makan place for the residents living at Upper Thomson. The name Lakeview probably arose from the waterfront view of the nearby Macritchie Reservoir. At the same neighbourhood in the eighties also existed a row of HDB low-rise shops collectively known as Lake View Shopping Centre.
In 2000, the 168 stallholders had to shift when the hawker centre was demolished. After more than a decade of demolition, many loyal patrons are still missing and searching for the relocated stalls from Lakeview Food Centre that specialised in bak kut teh, duck rice, Hokkien mee, curry fish head, carrot cake, you zhar kway and other good food.
Today, only the old HUDC flats of Lakeview Estate and a few shops still carry the name Lakeview. As for the site of the former Lakeview Market & Food Centre, it remains an empty plot of land till this day.
Old Tekka Market (1915-1982)
After it was completed in 1915, the Old Tekka Market became a notable landmark at Little India. Originally called Kandang Kerbau (KK), the name means “buffalo pens” in Malay, and it actually referred to the cattle slaughtering houses at Serangoon in the early 20th century.
Its name was later changed to Tekka Pasar, a unique combination in a name that made up of Chinese dialect and Malay, similar to that of “kopitiam“. Tekka means “the foot of the bamboo” in Hokkien while Pasar is “market” in Malay.
In the seventies, there were many makeshift stalls lined up along Serangoon Road outside Tekka Market. The bustling place, selling almost all sort of basic necessities, was extremely popular among the housewives, and attracted a large mixture of Chinese, Malay and Indian customers.
In 1982, Old Tekka Market was torn down to make way for the construction and widening of the nearby roads. All the stallholders were relocated to the new double-storey Tekka Market, also known as Buffalo Road Market, situated opposite the former old market. The new building, which houses a wet market, a hawker centre and rows of retailer shops, continues to demonstrate the multicultural cohesiveness and harmonious relationship between the local races of Chinese, Malay and Indian.
An interesting trivia about Tekka happened in the eighties, when the authority decided to change its name to Zhujiao, the hanyu pinyin version of the name, in a bid to suit the Speak Mandarin Campaign. The change did not go well with the locals, especially the non-Chinese. It was later officially reverted back to Tekka in 2000. The same thing happened elsewhere in Singapore, where the names of Bukit Panjang, Nee Soon and Hock Lam were changed to Zhenghua, Yishun and Funan respectively.
Changi Market and Joo Chiat Market (1930s-1979)
The Changi Market and Joo Chiat Market co-existed side by side for several decades, including the harsh Japanese Occupation, before their demolition in 1979. Changi Market, built in the late 1930s, was facing the main Changi Road, while Joo Chiat Market, completed in the early 1930s, faced the inner Joo Chiat Road.
In 1964, Geylang Serai Market was officially opened just opposite the main road, forming a unique and huge concentration of stalls and shops at the busy junction of Changi Road, Geylang Road and Joo Chiat Road. It became the main source of fresh produce, groceries and provision for the local Malays and Chinese. During its heydays, rows of trishaw riders lined up along the roads to fetch the housewives with heavy purchases home to the kampong nearby.
In the sixties and seventies, Changi Market was plagued by several fire hazards. A fire in 1971 destroyed 30 shophouses beside the white office building of Changi Market, resulting in a loss of almost $600,000. Six years later, a large fire raged through another block of shophouses. Finally in 1979, the two markets were torn down with plans of residential development. By 1984, the $37-million Joo Chiat Complex and its three blocks of flats had occupied the former site of the two old markets.
Siglap Market (1945-1989)
Beside being a wet market selling poultry, fish and other fresh produce, Siglap Market, located at the junction of Siglap Road and East Coast Road, also had many hawker stalls that were once famous for their traditional Teochew mee pok and kway teow, carrot cake and nasi lemak.
During the Chinese New Year in 1962, a large fire occurred near Siglap Market. Caused by firecrackers, the fire quickly spread and destroyed 50 attap houses in the nearby kampong.
When Siglap Market was planned for closure in 1982, more than 200 vendors and hawkers rejected the compensation and held on to their stalls as a protest. The private market’s owner, Siglap Development Private Limited, could not reach a compromise with the stallholders, causing the case to drag on for years. It was not until late 1988 when the agreement between the company and the stallholders was reached, and Siglap Market finally closed for good on the first day of 1989.
The site of Siglap Market is now occupied by Siglap Centre.
Farrer Park Food Centre (1980-late 1990s)
Before the double-storey Farrer Park Food Centre was constructed in 1980, Northumberland Road was lined up with 20 food stalls with hundreds of customers slurping their food at the tables by the roadside. This scenario lasted for decades, enjoyed by football fans who could catch their teams playing at the Farrer Park Field while having delicious local delights.
A combination of factors such as hygiene, traffic congestion and open-air stalls, which were vulnerable to rains, prompted the authority to plan a hawker centre at Farrer Park. While the $1.6-million project was welcomed by many, others preferred the old way because the football fans could no longer able to watch their games and eat at the same time.
Farrer Park Food Centre was affected by the construction of the North-East MRT Line and had to make way in the late nineties. With its large selection of good food, it was missed by many. Beside wanton mee, rojak, chilli crab, fried carrot cake and other good food, there was a particularly famous stall that sold prawn noodles in pre-war Hokkien-style.
Ellenborough Market (1845-1968)
Named after Lord Ellenborough, Edward Law, also 1st Earl of Ellenborough and Governor-General of India (1841-1844), the market was built in 1845 near New Bridge Road by the Singapore River, serving as both a market and a trading post. The street it was situated on was also named as Ellenborough Street.
After a new cast-iron market was built in the late 1890s on the site of the original market, Ellenborough Market became known as the “New Market”, or “Pasar Bahru“, to the local Malays. Many Teochews moved in as hawkers to sell their food, and the market soon became well-known as the “Teochew Market”.
In early 1968, the market was destroyed in a large fire. More than a thousand hawkers lost their stalls. Ellenborough Market was never rebuilt or restored after that. It was left abandoned for a few years before being demolished in the early seventies. Meanwhile, Ellenborough Street survived till the nineties when it became defunct in the development of the Boat Quay area.
Clyde Terrace Market (1872-1983)
Built on reclaimed lands near the junction of Rochore Road and Beach Road, the Clyde Terrace Market, like Ellenborough Market, had been in existence for more than a hundred years.
Otherwise also known as Beach Road Market, the stalls at Clyde Terrace Market engaged in a wide variety of goods and fresh produce such as fish, chicken, fruits, vegetable and dried food. Its fish section was closed in the early seventies, replaced by the new Jurong Fishing Port and Central Fish Market. Other sections endured until June 1983, when the stallholders eventually moved to market at Pasir Panjang.
The Gateway, a 37-storey commercial building, now stands at the former site of Clyde Terrace Market.
Golden Bridge Food Centre (1973-2011)
It looks like one bulky overhead bridge on the outside, but internally, it once housed dozens of hawker stalls which enjoyed brisk business at Shenton Way on busy weekday afternoons.
When its 30-year lease expired in 2003, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) wanted to demolish the bridge and redevelop the area around MaCallum Street, but the plan was shelved for another couple of years. In early April 2011, the shops and hawker centre at Golden Bridge finally ended their businesses. Many stallholders, some of them had operated at Golden Bridge for some 30 years, had to look for other alternatives.
In late 2011, however, the Golden Bridge was reopened for food and beverage and retail businesses again, this time on a short-term three-year lease, with the monthly rental fees risen to more than $9,000. The plan to demolish the bridge was shelved once again, causing displeasure to many former tenants who felt that they should not be forced to move out in the first place.
Bukit Ho Swee Markets & Hawker Centre (1966-1980s)
After the squatter settlements at Bukit Ho Swee were destroyed by two fires in 1961 and 1968, the government embarked on a housing project to resettle the homeless residents.
A new Hawker Code was implemented in 1966 to control and license the street hawkers. Since the implementation, many street hawkers were relocated to markets and shophouses where water supply, electricity and refuse bins were provided.
During its rebuilding, Bukit Ho Swee was also involved in the relocating of street hawkers. Balloting of the stalls began as early as 1966, while the “hawker stalls’ centre” was officially opened three years later. The venue would become the predecessor of the Bukit Ho Swee Hawker Centre.
Beside having the venue for the hawkers to ply their trades, two wet markets were also established at Bukit Ho Swee. In 1979, one of the markets was renamed as Membina Barat Market. The market, together with the road Jalan Membina Barat where it was located, was later replaced by new HDB housing estates.
Some hawker centres do make a comeback.
Taman Serasi Hawker Centre, located at Cluny Road and reputed to serve the best Roti John in Singapore, returned in 2006, although it is now known as Taman Serasi Food Garden. It was demolished in 2004 as part of the redevelopment plans of Botanic Gardens.
Let’s hope in the future, the hawker centres can continue to provide us with our favourite delicious Singaporean food at affordable prices.
Anyone feeling hungry already?
Published: 27 August 2012
Updated: 16 May 2013