Johor Kaki Travels for Food

johorkaki@gmail based in Singapore, travels to Johor, Malaysia & worldwide for food

History & 10 Best Hawker Stalls @ Tiong Bahru Market & Food Centre

For list of 10 recommended food stalls, scroll straight down to the pink section👇
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Tiong Bahru Market & Food Centre is one of the most famous in Singapore with many popular food and market stalls here. It is also one of the oldest and historic of Singapore hawker centre.


Image credit: National Archives of Singapore
Tiong Bahru is the oldest public housing project in Singapore, built in the 1930s by SIT (Singapore Improvement Trust) which is a British colonial agency. SIT is succeed by HDB (Housing & Development Board) in 1960 (which continues to this day).



Image credit: National Archives of Singapore
Before redevelopment, Tiong Bahru was a mix of sprawling squalid, squatter settlements, swamps and cemeteries.

Image credit: National Archives of Singapore
The grave of Tan Tock Seng, founder of Tan Tock Seng Hospital in 1844, main sponsor of Thian Hock Keng temple in 1839, and numerous other philanthropic projects was at the junction of Outram and Seng Poh Road.

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Block 55 is Singapore's first public housing flat. It was the first SIT public flat completed in 1936. During this period, Tiong Bahru estate was nicknamed 二奶村 or "Concubine Village" as wealthy businessmen kept their mistresses here. In Cantonese, it was known as "Yi Lai Kai äºŒå¥¶è¡—" or "Concubine Street".

Image credit: National Archives of Singapore
By the late 1930s, the dark clouds of war were looming menacing on the horizon. Air raid shelters were incorporated into the design and construction of the Tiong Bahru flats.


Image credit: National Archives of Singapore
Twenty such pre-Second World War blocks were gazetted for conservation in 2003 by URA (Urban Renewal Authority).

Image credit: National Archives of Singapore
After the Second World War ended in 1945, there was a huge increase in street hawkers as many people were jobless due to the poor economy. In 1950, the colonial authorities revived the "hawker shelters" scheme started in the 1920s to house street hawkers.

Tiong Bahru was one of the areas where the government decided to build "hawker shelters". The chosen site was at Seng Poh Road where there were a couple of shophouse. These were demolished to build the "hawker shelter". Originally called Seng Poh Road Market, the shelter was a wood and zinc structure opened in 1951.

(The other "hawker shelters" were at Whampoa, Red Hill, Cambridge Road and the Esplanade.)

 
Known as Seng Poh Road Market, there was a section for vegetable, fruit, flower, meat, poultry, and seafood stalls. Fresh meat hung on hooks as there were no chillers then. Housewives would go to the market almost everyday to buy ingredients for the day's cooking.

 
Another section for cooked food stalls but everything (market and food stalls) conveniently under one roof.

Scroll straight down to the pink section for the 10 best food stalls 👇


The market survived the Friday the Thirteen Fire of Kampung Tiong Bahru on 13 Feb 1959 which left over 12,000 people homeless. Fires big and small broke out sporadically in squatter villages around Tiong Bahru up to the 1970s until everyone was resettled in HDB flats. 


The old wood and zinc Tiong Bahru served over half a century till the new Millennium.

Image credit: Wikipedia

The 1950s structure was finally demolished in 2004 and replaced by the present 2-storey building built in 2006. Renamed Tiong Bahru Market & Food Centre, the "wet market" is at the ground floor and food stalls on the upper level.

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The food stalls at Tiong Bahru food centre are very popular, so it can get quite busy during peak hours like lunch.

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Queuing is the norm at the famous stalls, but it is very orderly and efficient, so it doesn't feel uncomfortable nor take too long. The trick is to have folks in your party spread out and queue at different stalls and come back with food together at one table. Go ahead and share your food - absolutely no one will bat an eyelid 😄

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There are even spacious umbrella zones for chilling out under the sun or moon in the evenings.

Everything has changed to neat and squeaky but thankfully, some of the vibes, old flavours and aromas remained.


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Lor Mee 178 @ stall #02-23 is one of the last places in Singapore where they still serve fried shark meat nuggets with their lor mee. Shark meat (not shark fin) is a part of traditional Teochew diet. The shark nuggets here are small and contain little shark meat. Lor Mee 178's lor mee comes dressed with fried fritter cracklings which add interesting texture highlights to the tender-soft yellow noodle and savoury gooey sauce.

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Tiong Bahru Lor Mee @ stall #02-80 has a lower social media profile than their competitor but I observed that they are more popular with people who eat here regularly. Tiong Bahru lor mee has relatively more robust flavours in the lor (gooey sauce) and more ingredients like fried fish and fried wanton but they do not have shark meat.

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Jian Bo Shui Kueh @ stall #02-05 founded as a push cart stall in 1958 made its name in Tiong Bahru before becoming a household name with nearly 20 outlets islandwide. Made with watery rice gruel steamed in small aluminium cups, the tender-soft mildly sweet rice cakes are eaten with savoury preserved turnip and savoury spicy sambal chili. A throwback from leaner times, now made in Jian Bo's central kitchen, it still is a pretty good rendition of this old Teochew staple.

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Tiong Bahru Teochew Kueh @ stall #02-02 hand makes traditional Teochew steamed snacks on site. Png kueh is a snack of glutinous fried rice flavoured with fried shallots, dried shrimps, soy sauce and pepper all wrapped in rice dough and formed by pressing in a leaf shaped mould. They hand make other steamed snacks like tau sar kueh (with savoury bean paste filling), ang ku kueh (with sweet bean paste filling) etc.

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Hong Heng Fried Sotong Prawn Mee @ stall #02-01 serves a dish more commonly known as fried Hokkien mee. Hong Heng's rendition is the relatively wet kind. The yellow noodles and bee hoon (rice vermicelli) are well infused with savoury sweet prawn, sotong (squid) and pork stock. The taste of prawn umami is pronounced. In each serving the noodles are topped with pieces of squid, prawn and pork belly.

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Koh Brothers Pig's Organ Soup @ stall #02-29 (a 1950s vintage stall) serves traditional clear pork soup with pork offal like intestines, liver, lean pork slices, and pork balls. The clear soup tastes slightly savoury salty from preserved mustard leafs (kiam chye) and sweet from all the pork bones and well cleaned offal. Eat it with their specialty glutinous rice and chestnut stuffed in pork intestine (like a kind of rice sausage). This traditional glutinous rice dish is rarely found in Singapore now.




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Teck Seng Soya Bean Milk @ stall #-02-69 is famous for their smooth and light bean curd. I like to eat my bean curd with grass jelly. As bean curd is white in colour and grass jelly is black, this combination is often called "Michael Jackson" referring to his hit song "Black or White".



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Tow Kwar Pop @ stall #02-06 is a disappearing traditional snack. Fried bean curd, slit and stuffed with bean sprout and cucumber slices grilled till slightly charred, crispy outside. It has a nice toasty taste with natural sweetness from the juices in the crunchy bean sprout and cucumber slices. A dribble of hae ko (fermented prawn paste) sauce adds a savoury umami accent.

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Zhong Yu Tuan Wei Wanton Mee @ stall #02-30 serves a 1960s vintage style of wanton mee. It is famous for their premium char siew (roast pork) which uses the so-called arm pit cut for its ratio of fat and extra tender lean meat.

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238 Coffee Stall @ stall #02-81 serves an old school relatively good brew of bitter Robusta caffeine made palatable with a choice of sweeteners - condensed milk, evaporated milk or sugar. Old Nanyang kopi (coffee) is never meant to be savoured - it is a cheap pick me up for the day's drudgery or hard labour ahead. But, nowadays Nanyang coffee is relatively mild like here at 238 Coffee.

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Kopi Museum @ stall #02-03 is the other favourite coffee stall of Tiong Bahru kakis (regulars). Not much tell their kopi apart, so it all boils down to personal preference.

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Hui Ji Fish Ball & Yong Tau Foo @ stall #02-44 has been in Tiong Bahru since the 1970s. They have a loyal following for their chewy springy handmade fishballs. Their lardy savoury spicy sauce laced with aromatic fried shallot oil and subtle zing enveloping the flat ribbon noodles (mee pok) is delicious. The noodles come topped with fish cake slices, lean pork slices, and lard cracklings.

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Tiong Bahru Char Kway Teow @ stall #02-11 in the second generation now is an over half century street food stall plying Seng Poh Road since the 1960s. It serves a Singapore style sweet-savoury fried kway teow (rice ribbon noodles fried in savoury soy sauce, lard, aromatics like garlic and simple ingredients like bean sprouts, blood cockles and Cantonese sausages).

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Hwa Yuen Porridge @ stall #02-74 serves Cantonese style congee that is smooth and gooey with a mild savoury sweet flavour. My favourite way is to enjoy it with crispy crackly chewy deep fried pork large intestines. (The stall number is microscopic, so look out for its immediate neighbour, stall #02-73 😂 ).


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Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice @ stall #02-82 is one of the most popular stalls at the hawker centre. The chicken meat is tender and juicy with a gentle natural chicky sweetness. The not too greasy rice is flavourful and aromatic.

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Ru Yi Vegetarian Food @ stall #02-26 is a stalwart of Tiong Bahru that has been here since the 1950s. Their loyal fans like them for their vegetarian fried bee hoon (rice vermicelli) and noodles. Tiong Bahru has good options for vegetarians.

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Min Nan Pork Ribs Prawn Noodle é–©å—排骨虾面 @ stall #02-31. Popular stall serving prawn and pork soup with yellow noodles and either boiled prawns or pork ribs or both. Flavours are pretty mild, the pork ribs are tender and the prawns are average quality. They have both the soup and a dry version where the noodles with savoury spicy sauce and soup are served separately.


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Loo's Curry Rice ðŸ‘ˆ for details. Though not inside Tiong Bahru hawker centre, if you are a heritage foodie who made it all the way here, it would be so wrong not to stop at Loo's for their famous Hainanese curry rice. It's a unique blend of Hainanese and Peranakan cuisine combining all the flavours of the two traditions. Savoury salty sweet Hainanese dishes and sauces, overlaid with spicy savoury sweet Peranakan dishes and sauces. Curry squid, stewed pork belly, curry chicken, stewed cabbage, and then there is an Anglo twist in Hainanese style fried pork chop. Must try.

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No Signboard Bak Chor Mee inside Loo's Curry Rice coffeeshop. While you are at Loo's, save a bit of tummy space for this over 60 year old traditional Teochew noodle stall. It's flat ribbon noodles (mee pok) tossed in a lard laced savoury spicy sweet tangy sauce. The noodles are topped with prawn, lean pork slices, fish dumpling, stewed mushroom etc. (Stall is known as Sixties Chaozhou Traditional Minced Meat Noodle.)

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Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut Teh is another iconic shop at Tiong Bahru (outside the hawker centre). Fresh meaty pork ribs cooked in peppery garlicky soup. Wash it all down with traditional Nanyang tea - bak kut teh (meat bone tea) and Nanyang tea pairing is a Singapore food experience you need to check off before leaving.


I am sure I missed some good stalls. Please share your Tiong Bahru stories with us in the comments 😊



Tiong Bahru Market & Hawker Centre
Address: 30 Seng Poh Rd, Singapore 168898

References:

History of Singapore hawker centres

Date: 2 Jul 2020

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