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Tanjong Pagar Road History Walk & Heritage Food Trail

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail
Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

This food trail starts at Maxwell Food Centre, followed by a walk down south along Tanjong Pagar Road, stopping at Tanjong Pagar Plaza before continuing further south and ending at PSA Tanjong Pagar Complex.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail
Photo Credit: National Archives of Singapore

Our 1 km Tanjong Pagar walk covers that strip of land between the harbour, docks, wharfs and old Singapore City. During the British colonial days, this area was the enclave of thousands of Indian and Chinese dock workers. The hills behind were once nutmeg and gambier plantations. Today, this strip is a thriving residential, entertainment, dining and business hub in Singapore's Central Business District.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail
Photo credit: Wikipedia

In the beginning, Tanjong Pagar was the fabled fishing village before Singapore became one of the largest seaports in the world. Today, Tanjong Pagar is a part of Singapore's Central Financial District. The name Tanjong Pagar in Malay means "Cape of Stakes". No one really knows how it came about. One theory points to the stakes of kelong (fish traps) off the coast.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Another theory refer to an account in the Malay Annals about the seaside village suffering from attacks by swordfish leaping from the sea. The Sri Maharajah prompted by a boy called Hang Nadim, built a wall of stakes with banana tree stems between the village and the sea. The barrier caught the snouts of the swordfish saving the villagers from being speared by the fish. I like to believe this more colourful story 😄



Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

Maxwell Food Centre was originally a vegetable market opened in 1929 on land which was a Chinese cemetery (Chinese Burying Ground in this map of Singapore dated 1846).

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food TrailPhoto credit: National Archives Singapore

The vegetable market was converted to a hawker centre in 1987. Most of the hawkers who were moved here were operating in the back lanes around China Square (2 blocks away). Today, Maxwell Food Centre with around 50 hawker stalls is one of Singapore's most popular and famous hawker centres.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

1. Maxwell Fuzhou Oyster Cake 👈 click One of only a small handful of stalls in Singapore still serving this traditional Fuzhou dish.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

2. Heng Heng Ondeh Ondeh 👈 click Hand made traditional Nyonya sweet snacks freshly made daily at the stall before day break.



For a relatively small hawker centre, Maxwell Food Centre is the chicken rice central of Singapore - there are 8 chicken rice stalls here 😃 Love it or loath it, Tian Tian is the most famous chicken rice stall in Singapore, if not the world. You can eat your way through the 8 chicken rice stalls one by one, if you are into Singapore's unofficial national dish.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail


3. Tian Tian Chicken Rice 👈 click Try Tian Tian at least once, if you have not tried it before. Taste for yourself the world's most famous chicken rice stall. Tell us how you like it or not, in the comments.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

4. Ah Tai Chicken Rice 👈 click If you are game to try the other chicken rice stalls too, I suggest starting with Ah Tai. Ah Tai was the head chef at Tian Tian before striking out with his own stall. My friend Melvin Chew tried all the chicken rice stalls at Maxwell Food Centre, and he swears by Ah Tai.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

5. Yi Jia Teochew Fish Porridge & Fish Soup 👈 click The most popular fish soup stall in Maxwell Food Centre serves traditional Teochew style fish porridge and also fish soup. Besides ikan batang, they have premium fish like fresh white pomfret and exotic stuff like milt (sperm sac) 😱

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

6. Fu Shun Shao La Mian Jia 👈 click  This Cantonese roasts stall have lunch time queues that rival that at Tian Tian chicken rice (even though it isn't blessed with the same media hype).

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

7. China Street Cooked Food Rickshaw Noodles 👈 click One of only 2 rickshaw noodles stalls left in Singapore. Don't expect exquisite flavours as this was just cheap fuel for impoverished rickshaw pullers that once plied old Singapore. But, this humble dish is food for thought and rich in history.

From Maxwell Food Centre we walk to Jinrikisha Station.


Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail
Photo credit: National Archives Singapore


Jinrikisha is the Japanese word for hand pulled rickshaw which was invented in Japan in 1869. The first rickshaw landed in Singapore in 1880. Rickshaws quickly became the main means of public transport. By 1902, the number of rickshaws reached over 22,000.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail
Jinrikisha Station in 1911. Photo credit: National Archives Singapore

The Jinrikisha Station was built in 1903. The Jinrikisha Station housed offices which regulated and administered rickshaw and rickshawmen matters. It was also the road worthiness inspection centre for rickshaws. By the 1940s, hand pulled rickshaws were displaced by pedal trishaws.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

The Jinrikisha building was repurposed to a family planning and child care centre. In 2007, it was sold to Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan for S$11 million. Today, it houses restaurants and offices.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail
Photo credit: National Archives of Singapore

I like this historic photo of our 1969 National Day Parade with soldiers marching on Maxwell Road wheeling left to Tanjong Pagar Road. On the left is Metropole cinema - one of 3 cinemas in the area (the others were Majestic and Oriental). Metropole cinema was also known as 金華大戯院 Jing Hwa or Kum Wah (in Cantonese) back then.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

Metropole cinema was opened in 1958. There were persistent rumours haunting the cinema, affecting its attendances especially when screening horror movies as one of the unfortunate workers fell to his death during its construction. In 1985, the cinema closed and was converted to Fairfield Methodist Church a year later. (Source: Bullockcartwater, Andrew Campbell Nelson)

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

Tanjong Pagar Road is a centuries old thoroughfare. It first appeared in a map dated 1836 - a road named Tanjong Passar linking the fishing village (on a promontory on a cape) to South Bridge Road towards Singapore River in the east.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

All along today's Tanjong Pagar Road are early 1900s era shop houses, juxtaposed with 1970s era Housing and Development Board flats with contemporary Singapore public housing exemplified by The Pinnacle completed in 2009. 

Today, this stretch of Tanjong Pagar Road is nicknamed "Little Korea" because there are more than a dozen Korean eateries here.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

Tanjong Pagar Plaza opened in 1977 consists of a sprawling 2 storey commercial complex below, 5 residential slab blocks and 2 point blocks. Tanjong Pagar Market and Food Centre is linked by a foot bridge to the 2 storey commercial building.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

8. Upper Cross Street Soya Sauce Chicken 👈 click This relatively new stall at Tanjong Pagar hawker centre is opened by a relative of Chiew Kee at Upper Cross Street. Chiew Kee is itself an off shoot of Chew Kee (also of Upper Cross Street) - together, Chew Kee and Chiew Kee were the pioneers of soya sauce chicken in Singapore.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

9. Teochew Satay Bee Hoon 👈 click A fusion of Chinese with Malayan/ Indonesian cuisine, satay bee hoon is one of the vanishing hawker dishes of Singapore. There are only a handful of satay bee hoon stalls left in Singapore and this is probably the oldest.


Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

Across the road and 2 blocks from Tanjong Pagar Plaza is Seng Wong Beo Temple 城隍庙 or City God Temple founded in 1898. The current temple is built in 1905. City Gods are protectors of territories.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

There are 5 levels of City Gods depending on the size of territory. At the highest, Capital City God (Wang or Emperor), Provincial City God (Wei Ling Gong or Duke), Prefecture Capital City God (Sui Jing Hou/Ling You Hou or Marquis), County City God (Xian You Bo or Earl) and District City God (Nan/Zi or Viscount/Baron). The City God worshipped in Tanjong Pagar Seng Wong Beo Temple is a Provincial City God or Wei Ling Gong - the senior most City God in Singapore.

Devotees come to Seng Wong Beo seeking supplications for health, wealth, romance and other blessings from the City God and deities at the temple. To hear a supplication at Seng Wong Beo Temple in Cantonese 👈 click

Seng Wong Beo is also known for other ancient Taoist rituals including ghost marriages - this is the only temple in Singapore that still conduct ghost marriages. Families of unmarried deceased may approach the temple to arrange and conduct ghost marriages. Often, the deceased's wish for marriage is conveyed via dreams to a family member or close relative. (Source: I Remember SG)



Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail
Photo credit: Wikipedia

We cannot come to Tanjong Pagar and not mention the historic railway station. The Federated Malay States Railway (FMSR) commenced operation at Tanjong Pagar Railway Station in 1932 (following the opening of the Causeway linking Singapore and the Malayan peninsula in 1923). The railway facilitated the movement of goods between Singapore's seaport and the Malayan hinterland. FMSR was succeed by the Malaysian railway company (Keretapi Tanah Melayu or KTM)) in 1962.




The Tanjong Pagar station ceased operation in 2011 when KTM's southern terminus at the Woodlands commenced operations.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

10. Ali Nachia Nasi Briyani Dam 👈 click Ali Nachia nasi briyani is synonymous with the now defunct Tanjong Pagar Railway Station - it is the most famous of the some 15 food stalls that once operated at the railway station canteen. Since the closure of the railway station, Ali Nachia stall have moved twice before settling in its current location. Fortunately, with owner Ali Latif still doing the cooking, the food has stayed the same 😋


Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

At the southern end of Tanjong Pagar Road, across Keppel Road are the Port of Singapore Authority Tanjong Pagar Terminals. Here too is the PSA Tanjong Pagar Complex which houses Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore offices, offices of many shipping companies, quarters of port workers, and coffee shops with some 20 food stalls at the ground level.

Singapore Maxwell Food Centre & Tanjong Pagar Road Heritage Food Trail

11. Outram Park Ya Hua Rou Gu Cha 👈 click Ya Hua is one of the historic bak kut teh brands of Singapore. Ya Hua's founder Mdm Gwee Peck Hua worked for the founder of Ng Ah Sio bak kut teh in River Valley in the 1970s. Mdm Gwee later started her own stall in River Valley before moving to Outram Park and then to Havelock Road (when the former was demolished). This stall at PSA Tanjong Pagar Complex was co-founded with sister Gwee Guek Hua. Ya Hua still serves the old Singapore style bak kut teh that made Ng Ah Sio BKT famous.






Note: This 1.5 hour, 1km walking food trail was curated for Day Out @ Tanjong Pagar organised by Urban Renewal Authority of Singapore held on 23 Nov 2019.

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