A tiny booth – one of the many similarly looking. A kitchen and storage at the same time. Its supreme king – bent by time small grandpa – skillfully shifts between metal shelves full of bowls and cups.
Sunburnt hands, covered with creases of wrinkles, briskly toss fish cakes sizzling on a grill grid. From beneath grey eyebrows, gaze good-natured brown eyes:
“How many? Two? In a soup or dry? Oh! They are delicious both ways, lah!”, hearty laughter squeezes through accustomed to it lips.
“Having here or take away? …. Wait! Wait! A young lady here was first!”, good-natured eyes change into flamethrowers glaring at the grandma who skips the queue. Chattering incessantly in Hokkien she stops in a mid-sentence. Rebuked, sweeps her flowery dress and clearly outraged returns to a queue. There is no choice – she needs to put her pride aside and wait patiently for wonderfully fragrant, golden delights. After a short interruption grandpa continues:
“Having here, right? Oh, here is a chili sauce for your husband, if he likes spicy. The young lady also likes? Aiyo! Take, take!”, another burst of hearty laughter.
I pay and pick up a tray with the order. With a smile, I try to signal the grandma that I feel a bit silly because of the whole commotion. My smile is met by glaring eyes and a stream of incomprehensible words. Most likely I have just been cursed.
History of Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre
Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre – one of the most famous hawker centres in Singapore. Its origins date back to the time before World War II when the two old shop houses at the Tiong Poh Road merged into a wet market. The place immediately attracted owners of tiny stalls with local dishes, fresh vegetables and seafood. The market popularity was so great that it soon started to run out of space for the new stands. Those who could not fit inside began to set their stalls on the open space at the neighbouring Seng Poh Road. Until 1950 the area hosted about 200 stalls. Unfortunately, with a growing popularity of the market, concerns about hygiene and food storage were raised.
In 1951 the open square with stalls covered by palm leafs has been replaced by a new, large building. Also, the Tiong Poh Road wet market was closed. The beginnings of a modernized commercial space were not without their fair share of unpleasant incidents. Hawkers received stall licenses different to which they applied for. There were regular police raids on the stands placed directly in front of the market building. Over time, however, the situation has stabilized. A popularity of the Seng Poh Road Market grew and attracted clients from neighbouring districts like Henderson and Bukit Merah.
The original market building – spare the most critical repairs – has practically not changed for over 50 years. It was only in 2004 when the place was completely closed and rebuilt into a two-story building of Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre. The ground floor is allocated to the market with fresh food stalls and a few shops selling basic everyday items. The first floor is transformed into a big hawker centre with over 80 stands. The semi-open dining space with tables and sun umbrellas, overlooks an impressive, several meters-high murals adorning staircases of the building.
7 things to eat in Tiong Bahru Food Centre
An overview of the most popular dishes with their prices. Make sure you take small portions of every dish and try to taste as many as possible.
Jian Bo Chwee Kueh – Stand: # 02-05
Price: 8 pieces 3SGD/2USD
– Chwee kueh – a rice cake.
Steamed, delicate and soft rice cake. Topped with a thick and oily chili-base sauce, with flakes of dried shrimps and sesame seeds. The stand for more than half a century is managed by two sisters. Their products still enjoy the same popularity as 50 years ago.
Hui Ji Fishball Noodle & Yong Tau Foo – Stand: # 02-44
– Yong Tau Foo – different variations of tofu in soup or dry, served with vegetables, noodles, fish cakes and fish balls.
– Fish balls – since the 70s hand-made by Ah Hui and his wife Mary – served on egg noodles in a unique sweet-salty sauce with cracklings.
Zhong Yu Yuan Wei Wanton Noodles – Stand: # 02-30
Price: 3 – 5SGD/2-6USD
– Wanton Noodle – a type of noodles from the Chinese region of Canton.
Melt-in-your-mouth roast pork served with egg noodles, vegetables, and chili sauce. Uniquely tasting piece is cut from a pig’s armpit – a spot where meat is the most tender.
Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh – Stand: # 02-02
Price: from 3SGD/2USD
– Kueh – a rice flour based appetizer or dessert. This stall serves the Teochew version of kueh, characteristic of the Chinese region of Chaoshan.
This traditional rice cake from the 70s prepared based on a recipe the stall owner brought from her birthplace in China. There are different variations, including the cakes with turnip, onion, and black beans, bathed in a delicious sweet-salty sauce.
Teck Seng Soya Bean Milk – Stand: # 02-69
Price: from 1SGD/0.7USD
The drink is freshly prepared every day at dawn by the booth owners. It is silky and delicate in flavour and consistency. The most famous version is “Michael Jackson” – the milk served with black jelly cubes.
Tiong Bahru Fried Kway Teow – Stand: # 02-11
Price: 2 – 4 SGD/1.5 – 3USD
– Kway Teow – flat, wide rice noodles.
For 40 years fried in the same traditional way. Combination of noodles with egg, cockles, pieces of fish cakes and bean sprouts. Served with a perfect drop of spicy chili sauce.
Tow Kwar Pop – Stand: # 02-06
– Tow Kwar Pop – a tofu puff
Fried tofu delight – crunchy on the outside and fluffy inside. Stuffed with cucumber and bean sprouts. Served with pineapple slices and bathed in a sweet shrimp paste sauce
Know before you go
Before the visit to the food court, you should invest in a packet of tissues. In Singapore, it is a standard tool to book a table.
Even in the most crowded hawker centre, no one dares to take place reserved this way.
Tiong Bahru Market
30 Seng Poh Road
The nearest MRT stations (Singapore’s Mass Rapid Transport) – about 5-10 minutes’ walk:
Tiong Bahru Station – Exit B
Outram Park Station – Exit A
5, 16, 33, 63, 75, 122, 123, 175, 195, 851, 970, NR5
Daily from early morning (6:00) to late evening (22:00). Opening/closing hours may vary depending on the stall. Typically, each booth is closed on one selected weekday.
Very cheap – an overview of the most popular dishes with their prices below.