Friday, April 30, 2010

The murder that freaked my brother and me out.

While my brother and I were growing up during our pre-teen phase, we were very much left to the care of our paternal grandma who lived at Block 53 Tiong Bahru Road.

Block 53 Tiong Bahru Road was also the block where the famous bird corner was located.

It was also at this block that I discovered I had a Chinese Name when I was sent to the PAP-run kindergarten which was located directly below my grandma's apartment.

The teacher kept yelling my Chinese name and I just stared blankly at her.

She finally figured it out when all my classmates were accounted for and she conveniently tagged me with the leftover name.

How would a 5 year know his Chinese name when no one else had told him so.

I only responded to "Alvin" or "Ah Meng". (Ah Meng was what my grandma called me while my brother was Ah Kwang!)

It was here at Block 53 that I learnt how to ride my tricycle and eventually a bicycle. It was also here where I crashed badly because I was trying to cycle without holding onto the handles of my bike.

It was also here where I had many hours of crazy badminton session with my brother.

It was also here where I got a scar on my left eyebrow because I was playing football in my grandma's place and my brother decided to trip me, causing me to hit my forehead on the sofa's corner and making my grandma panicked because my blood just wouldn't stopped flowing.

It was here that my dad and his nine other siblings were raised by my grandparents.

Believe it or not, it was also here where I managed to raised some chicks and eventually was forced to eat them when they grew up! Barf!

One of my uncle even managed to get himself a girlfriend who eventually became his wife when he smooth talked a pretty parking warden who was sitting in one of those wooden booths behind Block 53. (Those booth were common feature at all HDB carparks before parking coupons were introduced)

Then one day, something changed all that!

For a few weeks around November 1982, there was a horrible stench and I was told that a cat or dog probably died on the roof.

The stench seems to come after a mysterious blackout that happened during one of the nights.

We all concluded later that the murderer must have caused the blackout so that he could move the body up in stealth.

Eventually the body of an old lady was found on the roof of block 53 and since that was the only stairscase with roof access, the murderer must have used the same staircase that I used to access my grandma's place.

From that time onwards, my relationship with my younger brother was especially strong when we needed to walk up the stairs to my grandma's place! We never walked alone.

I was never given a full picture of what actually happened as the details from my uncle was sketchy.  Basically it was someone who killed his own mum and was found out when he tried to report his mother missing as soon as the body was found on the roof of block 53.

So I was kind of glad that I found this newspaper article that clarified everything.

Click here for the link : Full newspaper story 

I cannot believe this!

How could anyone try to conceal a murder, especially when the victim is your own family member?

Did they think that the bad dream will go away after sometime?

Today, Block 53 has morphed into a part of the Link Hotel and the roof top has been transformed into a beer garden.

Even the staircase to "heaven" has been removed when the building was refurbished to accomodate more rooms.

So in a way, the bad dream has been "moved"out and I guess I can move on and remember ONLY THE GOOD STUFF now.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Straits Times : Tiong Bahru, the movie

The Straits Times
Apr 29, 2010
By Magdalen Ng

London-based film-makers Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy were shocked during their first visit to Tiong Bahru Market when their order of carrot cake arrived.

Lawlor and Molloy decided on Tiong Bahru for their film project as it was one of the oldest Housing Board (sic) estates. They are now familiar with the popular food stalls at the market. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

'It looked nothing like the carrot cake that we were used to. But it's quite good, actually,' says Lawlor in a recent interview with Life! at the Tiong Bahru Market.

Now he and his wife are no longer strangers to the market and even know which hawker stalls are the most popular.

They have been speaking to store owners and visitors to the area as part of their research for the next short film that they are making.

Set in and around the Tiong Bahru estate, the movie is part of Civic Life: Tiong Bahru, a community arts project exploring identity, memory, architecture, a sense of place and civic space that will take place in the second half of this year.

The project is a collaboration between the British Council and the National Museum of Singapore with support from the Singapore International Foundation. There will also be an online film competition for Singaporeans.

'The British Council is a cultural relations agency whose aim is to create meaningful discussions around the ideas of creativity, culture and education. This project involves close collaboration with our Singaporean partners and a rich engagement between Singaporean and British artists,' says Mr Dan Prichard, director of programmes of the British Council in Singapore.

He adds: 'Joe and Christine's films are beautiful, but it is their commitment to the community and their engagement with the community at all levels in the project that make the Civic Life films so special.'

Lawlor and Molloy's movie, as yet untitled, is the third in a series of short films involving communities that they are making.

The first two Civic Life films were set in Dublin, Ireland, the duo's hometown. Moore Street was filmed along the iconic street where many migrant communities settle, while Leisure Centre focused on the leisure centre situated on Main Street Ballymun, which has long been associated with crime and poverty in the media. Both films were praised at various international film festivals.

For their Singapore film, they surveyed other places including Bedok before deciding on Tiong Bahru, because it is one of the oldest estates in Singapore, and is a place rich with history and culture. Also, almost every Singaporean they encountered seemed to have an opinion about Tiong Bahru Market.

'Some of the people we spoke to used to live here and have since moved away. But they still come back week after week to eat their favourite food,' says Lawlor.

Molloy adds: 'But there are others who refuse to come back after the refurbishment of the market, because they feel it's no longer the same place they remember.'

While filming is slated to take place in June, they are still working on the plot and script after three visits to Singapore. They plan to develop the script gleaned from conversations with residents and visitors in the area.

They are also inviting people to contribute their memories of the place to the project at the website,

'There are certain things that we will definitely include, but we don't know exactly what we want to do yet,' says Lawlor.

Submit your memories of Tiong Bahru for this project at

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Straits Times : El Bulli chef goes local

The Straits Times
Apr 26, 2010
By rebecca lynne tan

Three-Michelin-starred chef Ferran Adria eats hawker food here for the first time at Tiong Bahru and declares it unique

Weaving through the wet market in Tiong Bahru last Saturday, Ferran Adria suddenly stops in his tracks at a fruit shop. Packets of salted plum powder catch his eye.

His brows furrow as he looks intently at the fine brown powder. Life! explains to him that the tart and salty powder is usually sprinkled on sliced guava for dessert.

He buys a packet for $1.

'You might see 40 different products but there will always be one that is magical,' says the 47-year-old Spaniard, chef and co-owner of three-Michelin-starred restaurant El Bulli on Spain's north-east Catalan coast.

He plans to explore how it can be translated and used in high-end gastronomy. He is not sure if he has analysed salted plum powder in a creative context before, but says 'his guys will know'.

His travels throughout the world, he says, inspire him to create dishes.

Walking past a display of century eggs at another stall in the wet market, he pauses and turns to tell Life! that those eggs had once spawned the idea to create something new - the Golden Egg.

He created the dish of quail egg yolk encased in a thin film and topped with flakes of sea salt, which oozes a warm liquid when bitten into, after coming across the century egg during his first visit to China in 2004.

He made his first trip to Asia in 2000, starting with Thailand, followed by Japan in 2002. This is his first trip to Singapore. And, as with any first-time visitor to the island, it is only customary to welcome him with a varied spread of local fare.

His collective verdict after sampling myriad dishes, including salted egg crab, nasi lemak (coconut rice), ayam buah keluak (a Peranakan dish of black nuts and chicken), chicken rice, pig's organ soup, chwee kueh (radish served atop round rice-flour cakes), a stuffed glutinous rice roll, soya bean milk with chin chow (grass jelly) and sugarcane juice with lemon: 'I have not seen anything like this in the world - the combination of the food and the atmosphere - it is very unique.

'Singapore is gastronomically very exciting. Professionals in the food world should come here and see what's going on.'

While he was clearly passionate at his World Gourmet Summit presentations about his cooking rationale and food philosophy, his encounter with hawker food took on a decidedly cerebral timbre. Indeed, he was not given to oohing and aahing, though this did not mean he was creating dishes in his mind as he ate. After all, he did say that he had to be alone, away from the attention of the media, to be in the creative frame of mind.

He obligingly samples all the dishes, one at a time, listening to his translator, Ms Lucy Garcia, explain each dish to him as it is explained to her. Nothing is too exotic or spicy for him. He moves from one item to the next, without even a sip of water between mouthfuls.

He is quiet initially, maybe because he is busy soaking in the mish-mash of flavours. His facial expressions say nothing about what could be going through his head as he sucks on a buah keluak nut and dips the glutinous rice roll in the sweet dark caramel sauce.

He tastes the ginger sauce that is served with the chicken rice, twice, and gives it a nod of interest.

Then, he stirs the cup of soya bean milk with chin chow and slurps up strands of jelly.

'What is this?'

He takes out a few more strands of the herbal grass jelly and touches them with his fingers but does not reveal any thoughts when asked.

As he sips the freshly pressed sugarcane juice, he is reminded of the foam often used in his creations.

The idea to create foam came about in 1992 after he drank a glass of fresh fruit juice, which came with a thick foamy layer. The foam from the juice, he says, was 'the most amazing mousse'. It had no milk and no egg, and he wanted to create a mousse that was as light as the fruit juice foam, but with the ability to retain strong flavours.

Thus was the idea for espuma born.

Adria points to the dishes, saying the cuisine here is very much product-based, with a few elaborations, such as the soup.

Product-based refers to dishes which are based on the use of distinct items such as chicken and rice.

An elaboration is an outcome of a preparation, where products are used to create a secondary dish.

'In contemporary cuisine, you will always find examples like these. You find examples (of products and elaborations) in all cuisines around the world.'

Pointing to the crab and the soup, he says: 'It is not a good idea to just have this or that, you have to find a balance.' 

' I have not seen anything like this in the world - the combination of the food and the atmosphere - it is very unique. Singapore is gastronomically very exciting. Professionals in the food world should come here and see what's going on

Ferran Adria at Tiong Bahru hawker centre

After his talks at the World Gourmet Summit, Adria samples the offerings at Tiong Bahru hawker centre while at the wet market, he is intrigued by salted plum powder at a fruit stall (above) and buys a packet to take home. -- ST PHOTOS: SAMUEL HE


Adria fans fly in

Three-Michelin-starred Ferran Adria is something of a rock star in the culinary world.

Last week, when he was in town to give two presentations during the World Gourmet Summit, he was mobbed by fans, some of whom had flown in from places such as the Philippines just for him.

All wanted to see and take pictures of the man who has revolutionised the culinary scene with his deconstructivist and molecular cuisine at Spain's famous El Bulli restaurant. They queued for more than an hour to get their books signed. Some ran after him, waving their arms, begging him to stop and pose for photographs. He, of course, kindly obliged.

El Bulli, near Barcelona, was named the world's Best Restaurant for five years by UK publication Restaurant magazine in 2002 and from 2006 to 2009.

It was a full house of more than 400 people at each of Adria's presentations. His events were among the highlights of the summit, an annual two-week gastronomic extravaganza that ended last Saturday.

At the first talk, held at the ballroom of the Capella Singapore hotel on Sentosa last Thursday evening, the audiences watched the 55-minute documentary, A Day At El Bulli, directed by Adria's brother, Albert. The documentary gave insights into how the El Bulli team of seven pastry chefs, 33 cooks, four sommeliers, 16 waitstaff and several dishwashers prepares dinner for 50 people a night, each tucking into 35 courses. A half-hour question-and-answer session followed.

The second talk, at The Singapore Repertory Theatre in Robertson Quay on Friday afternoon, saw Adria delving further into his philosophy: His rationale is that cooking is a language and has a discourse of its own. He believes that cooking and cuisine create a dialogue between cultures.

El Bulli opens only six months of the year and it receives 300,000 to one million e-mail requests for 8,000 seats each year. A meal there costs about €250 euros (S$460) a person. Complex deconstructed dishes on the menu have included air of honey with flowers and pistachios, alphabet soup, carrot air with bitter coconut, and Parmesan spaghetto.

Speaking in Spanish, Adria says: 'For us, the most important aspect of being chefs is that we ourselves are happy with what we do. You have to be an egoist. If you are not happy with what you do, you won't cook well and you won't make other people happy.'

He emphasises that creativity and reproduction of that creativity in cooking are two different aspects.

He and his team have spent the past 25 years creating something new every year. During the six months when the eatery is closed, his core team of five people creates new dishes for four months.

But these days, he says, the demands of such creativity are so high, that even four straight months of focus on creativity are no longer enough.

This is the reason El Bulli will be converted into a think tank in 2014 after closing for two years from 2012. 'There's nothing like it in the world. There are no other references and I think this is the magical part of it. This is the challenge for me,' he says.

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved. Privacy Statement & Condition of Access

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Straits Times : Budget hotels move in... then sex workers follow

The Straits Times
Apr 18, 2010
By Tan Dawn Wei

Residents are upset over influx of prostitutes into some neighbourhoods

When businessman Ng Choon Beng moved into his terrace house in Upper Serangoon Road three years ago, the neighbourhood was a quiet, leafy residential area with great food.

Then, Hotel 81 and Fragrance Hotel came up just a few doors away and started offering hourly rates.

'There wasn't much activity at first, but we see a lot more illicit activities going on these days,' said Mr Ng, 38, of his estate, which is next to Upper Serangoon Shopping Centre, about 1km from Kovan MRT station.

'Sometimes cars drive up right outside our house and park there, and then we see these girls and their clients walking towards the hotels; we've even witnessed money transactions taking place.'

When his wife walks to a nearby provision shop to buy groceries, men waiting around the hotels and KTV lounges would stare at her or even proposition her.

Mr Ng's neighbours are equally upset by the new people on the block. They are unwelcome in a residential area and they have caused parking woes, said residents.

Since budget hotels began springing up in residential areas like Kovan, Tiong Bahru and Balestier in the past two years, sex workers have also started appearing.

These budget hotels, many of which offer hourly rates and mostly operated by Hotel 81 and Fragrance Hotel, seem popular with the girls. Businesses and residents say the women can often be seen hanging around outside or near the hotels, sometimes alone, sometimes with men.

One reason could be the presence of KTV lounges and bars in the area; some businesses and residents also attribute the problem to the clean-up in red-light district Geylang.

Regular raids there have forced the illegal prostitutes to go elsewhere, they said.

The police said they arrested a total of 7,614 female foreigners islandwide for vice-related activities last year, up from 5,047 arrests in 2008.

Anti-vice raids were conducted over the past few weeks in Geylang, Kovan and, most recently, at two budget hotels in Balestier Road last Thursday where 12 foreigners were arrested.

Shops in Geylang say business has dropped between 30 per cent and 50 per cent since the police began ramping up raids in the past year, and the women have moved out of the area.

Presumably, they have moved on to Balestier and Lavender, where there is a concentration of budget hotels offering hourly rates.

Seven of the 13 hotels in Balestier charge hourly rates.

'I see these girls all the time. Sometimes I get home around 8pm or 9pm and they're just waiting around, skimpily dressed, out in full force,' said Ms Kim Navro, a 30-year-old accountant who is a resident there. 'Then, all these old uncles leer at them and try to pick me up as well, thinking I'm one of them. It really makes me uncomfortable and, quite frankly, disgusts me.'

At Lavender Street, where four of the five budget hotels charge transit rates ranging from $20 to $30 for the first two hours, provocatively dressed girls start appearing around early evening.

It is a recent development, said businesses there. The KTV bars have always been around, but girls started loitering along the streets only after the budget hotels came up.

'In the past two years, these men and their girls have become quite a common sight, at all times of the day. We might have had more walk-in clients if these hotels weren't here and the reputation of our area was better,' said Mr Seetoh Yew Chuen, 42, a sales staff member at Raffles Photography.

The Hotels Licensing Board (HLB), which oversees hotel regulation here, has no statistics on the number of hotels that offer hourly or transit rates.

But it was reported in Parliament last September that almost half of the 250 hotels here are transit hotels and they are not given a special licence.

Since then, new hotels that want to offer hourly rates have to explain why in their applications to the HLB, which handles their registration and licence renewal process.

Mr Justin Chew, a member of the board, said it has left pricing up to the hotels as it wants to take a pro-business approach, much like other major cities such as Hong Kong, London, New York and Sydney.

Under the tighter rules, new transit hotels will also have to come up with security and preventive measures, like installing surveillance cameras in common areas or deploying security guards. For new hotels setting up in residential areas, the hotel will also be required to 'engage the community and respond to concerns from residents', said Mr Chew.

In January last year, the HLB banned all hotels in heritage-rich Joo Chiat from offering hourly rates, to curb vice activities.

If a hotel is found to be involved in such activities, the board can revoke its licence.

This is still scant comfort to residents in Tiong Bahru, who raised a stinker last June when construction for a Hotel 81 in Eng Hoon Street began.

That hotel - Hotel 81 Osaka - charges $50 for three hours, and another budget hotel in Seng Poh Road, New Cape Inn, charges $30 for two hours.

Residents and businesses say since Hotel 81 Osaka opened its doors, they have noticed girls standing by the road, as early as in the afternoon.

'I don't approve of them, but I'm resigned to them being here. There'll be an increase in vice for sure; it's just a matter of time,' said self-employed businessman John Tan, 50.

Residents say they are afraid that the situation will worsen over time and the two transit hotels will mar the reputation of an area rich with heritage and history. Some are even contemplating moving.

When contacted, Hotel 81's general manager Chu Poh Yong declined to comment. Fragrance Hotel's management could not be reached, although when approached, a spokesman for its Kovan hotel said: 'We're running a normal, credible business here, and we have received no complaints from residents or businesses.'

Madam Cynthia Phua, an MP for Aljunied GRC which covers Kovan, said the women who ply the area do not openly solicit but operate through the Internet. That resulted in a police operation on April 1 that nabbed 12 female Chinese nationals for vice-related offences in the rooms of both Fragrance Hotel Kovan and Hotel 81 Kovan.

The hotels have since employed round-the-clock security guards to patrol the vicinity and will alert the police if they notice women out for business.

The efforts seem to be working, for now. When The Sunday Times was there last Friday night, a security guard was sitting at the back entrance of Fragrance Hotel and no women were spotted loitering along the sidewalk.

Madam Phua said the Land Transport Authority has also put in central dividers and zigzag lines to deter cars from parking in the residential areas.

She said the hotels say they cater to companies whose regional staff visit their factories nearby for training purposes.

Even so, residents are still insistent that budget hotels have no business in a largely residential area.

'There aren't many foreigners or attractions in this area, so why put a hotel here? It's indirectly encouraging hanky-panky. If they want a budget hotel for visitors, it should be located somewhere with a direct link to the airport,' said interior designer David Wong, 39, who has lived in the Kovan area for 29 years.

An Urban Redevelopment Authority spokesman said both the Hotel 81 and Fragrance Hotel sites in Upper Serangoon Road are zoned as commercial and residential land, which also allows for hotel development.

The land planning and regulatory authority had approved the two hotel developments as they were within a mixed-use area with shops, eateries and places of worship.

Still, Madam Phua intends to bring up the issue at the next Parliament sitting.

'I've also asked the hotels if they can do away with the hourly rates. That's my appeal to them as an MP,' she said.

Additional reporting by Kueh Xiu Qing, Ng Hui Ying and Debbie Kwong

Should hotels in residential areas be allowed to charge hourly rates? Send your comments to

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved. Privacy Statement & Condition of Access

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Straits Times : Eco of the past

The Straits Times
Life Section
Apr 17, 2010

A couple's green efforts include retaining their home's layout and using hand-me-downs

New lease of life: Wine crates turn into rustic planters for herbs such as lemon balm. An old theatre light the home owner brought from Britain is mounted on a tripod to use as a floor lamp. -- PHOTOS: WINSTON CHUANG; ART DIRECTION: BETTY WONG; TEXT: WONG SIOW YUEN

Having an eco-home does not always mean recycled wood floors and energy-saving devices. It can be as easy as using old furniture and respecting the built environment, as this pair of home owners, who wanted to be known only as Vincent and Lynette, proves.

The couple's charming three-room HDB flat in Tiong Bahru contains, among other things, wooden louvred windows left behind by the flat's first owners and furniture their loved ones gave them.

Not one piece of furniture is new, including the stainless steel kitchen. What seems custom-made is actually a recycled kitchen from Lynette's sister-in-law, right down to the sink, oven and hood.

It took a lot of planning to relocate a kitchen from a sprawling bungalow into a flat. Avid cook Lynette says: 'Sadly, I had to dispose of a built-in deep fryer and grill because there was no space.'

Working with designer Diana Yeo from Design Channel, the couple turned the 1,000 sq ft walk-up apartment - which was built in the 1950s - into something that was completely different from the bland condominium that was their first home.

Besides the original louvred windows, the couple also retained the timber frames above the internal windows and the two balconies. In addition, they restored original elements such as the main and bathroom doors, complete with the bolting mechanism and hinges.

By keeping the balcony intact, the home owners enjoy natural light and better ventilation in their bedroom (above) without having to sacrifice privacy.

Keeping the two balconies that 'sandwich' the unit was vital as the couple like an outdoor feel and abundance of natural light.

The one that extends from the kitchen to the master bedroom was partitioned to create a laundry and storage area at the kitchen end and a study for Vincent, an architect, on the other. Here, he can work late without disturbing Lynette, a housewife, by closing the louvred windows between the two areas.

The colours in the HDB flat are kept muted and natural. The sofa came from the couple's old home, while the dining set and glass cabinet were hand-me-downs from their relatives

Throughout the home, the 'reduce, reuse, recycle' mantra is evident, such as a dining set that had belonged to Lynette's brother and a new bathroom sink her dad bought for their family home but was never installed.

The rest were acquired from garage sales and second-hand shops. Their friend, decorator Sean Lee, also made a sideboard and coffee table from metal braces of shipping containers and cargo pallets.

Set against a palette of cement, grey tiles, laminate flooring in a distressed wood finish and white walls, this home, which costs $40,000 to renovate and furnish, is a practical application of Vincent's back-to-basics design ideology.

This spread first appeared in this month's issue of Home & Decor, published by SPH Magazines.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Straits Times : Mourning my mee pok

The Straits Times
Apr 11, 2010
By Chua Mui Hoong

I'm faithful to my hawker food crushes, so you can imagine my pain when my favourite stalls go belly up

I am like the walking wounded, traversing Singapore lamenting my loss.

Different corners of the island remind me of what is gone, never to return. I recall past times fondly, but with an ache in my heart for what used to be, but will never be again.

There are substitutes, but nothing can replace the original.

At Mosque Street, I walk down the row of shophouses and feel an aching void as my stomach grumbles that it is time for my yong tau foo fix. But OK Yong Tau Foo, my favourite since a good friend introduced me to its stall 20 years ago, has gone.

That stall was famous for its expensive yong tau foo. Its trademark was a dried oyster fish ball, and there was also its mushroom fish ball, both at about $2 a pop. Then there was the deep-fried fish roe. Don't get me going. Reminiscing about what used to be, gets my salivary juices all astir. Provoking desire without the possibility of satisfaction is a cruel and unusual punishment.

I never quite figured out how much each item cost, but a satisfying lunch there with springy noodles and its distinctive sweet spicy chilli, usually costs upwards of $15.

I asked someone from the neighbouring shophouse - the Chinese pastry shop which is also an institution in its own right - where they had moved to and was upset to hear that they had retired and closed shop.

I don't know if they passed on their skills and knowledge to anyone who can carry on the tradition. Otherwise, a little bit of Singapore's social and food history fades away.

There are substitutes such as the ampang yong tau foo at Upper Thomson and Katong, and the ikan bilis yong tau foo at Chinatown hawker centre. But I am still in mourning for that oyster fish ball and the deep-fried roe.

And for the mee pok in my neighbourhood. This is a nondescript stall in a nondescript coffee shop in Upper Thomson. The guy operates from a stall with no signboard. He moved from one coffee shop to another across the road when the rental went up - and his clients just followed him across the road, although some poor uninformed newbies thought the new operator that took over his space selling mee pok was the real deal.

When I was in Boston for graduate studies, I missed that mee pok man with a vengeance. When I returned, touching down in Singapore close to midnight, jetlag, hunger and lust kept me awake through the night. By 6am, I had walked out to the coffee shop to wait for my mee pok man to turn up to whip up the object of my desire. An hour later, I was a satisfied woman. During periods of intense infatuation, I eat there three times a week.

I had just introduced that precious stall to my boyfriend, and even got him to acknowledge my mee pok was better than his mee pok. I hadn't managed to get him to concede my yong tau foo was better than his, and we had a truce on our respective prawn noodles, so the mee pok was an important triumph.

And then the guy had to close shop and disappear. The other stallholders didn't know where he had gone. Word was that he got into debt trouble and closed shop.

When a favourite stall closes, something of us dies along with it.

I remember the anguish I felt when the wonton mee stall at the old National Library disappeared after the tiny food centre there closed down. Singaporeans of my vintage who went to the library in the 1970s and 1980s will remember slurping up the small plate of noodle done al dente and smooth wonton in five minutes flat, and the cool, sweet satisfaction of ending lunch with ice kacang in that small food centre.

It got so that I didn't know whether I was going to the library to borrow books or going there to eat wonton mee. Years later, someone told me that same wonton noodle could be found at Joo Chiat. I never managed to find it.

I develop a strong attachment to hawker food. A more recent but strong crush is the kway chap at the Upper Bukit Timah food centre.

I went through a bad patch with that kway chap when the kway chap uncle suddenly disappeared. His wife was still there, and a new, younger man. They still sold the same kway chap, the same handmade fish ball, the same steamed fish, the same braised innards. The wife said the uncle still did the cooking. But it didn't taste the same and I stopped going.

He has come back, tight-lipped about his absence. I'm just happy he's back to cook kway chap the way I like it. I'm faithful to my food crushes. I'm a one-kway-chap-stall woman. I do eat other kway chap, but reluctantly.

This doesn't mean I stay faithful to the same stall always. I do update my preferences over the years, and move on if something better comes along.

There used to be a yu sheng (raw fish) porridge in Sixth Avenue. I loved its porridge and you tiao. The elderly couple stopped working a year or so ago, and I have not managed to find them again.

Meanwhile, I was introduced to a stall I was unfamiliar with in Tiong Bahru, that had porridge cooked over a charcoal stove, thick and flavourful, with no trace of MSG that I could detect. The clean surroundings, the organised system of taking orders even when the place is packed, and the satisfying taste of that 'chooke', propelled it to the top of my porridge list. My greedy gut, hurt by the demise of the Sixth Avenue porridge, was soon lulled into happy feasting by the Tiong Bahru one.

Familiar food sits easy on the stomach and nestles its way into the heart. Many Singaporeans will say that food forms an important component of what makes this place home. I share that view.

Home to me is the sum of many things. It includes the ties of love and friendship. It includes my physical abode, this space of serenity and greenery that surrounds me as I write this. It also includes the joy of breakfasting on nasi lemak and teh halia, at Adam Road hawker centre, lunching on bak kut teh and steamed mullet at the kopi tiam in Serangoon Road, dinner of herbal soup simmered in giant earthenware jars at Sin Ming, and the occasional supper of char kway teow and orh luak at Berseh food centre.

Some days, I wonder what I will do if these stalls disappear, like my mee pok stall.

But I guess I know I'll survive.

There is so much variety of food choices here. Someone asked me what constituted indigenous food. I thought of all my fave haunts and the range of food I have eaten recently, and replied: 'The essence of Singapore food culture is diversity: diversity at your fingertips.'

Amid all that diversity, though, some things are simply irreplaceable. I mourn that yong tau foo and know it's unlikely I will find its like.

But I still hope to find a bak chor mee pok I can be faithful to. I've tried but not lost my gut to the ones at Balestier, Hong Lim Park, Yio Chu Kang market, Capital Square. Other recommendations are welcome.

If you know where these hawker stalls have decamped to, write to Or tell us about your favourite hawker stalls.

Copyright © 2007 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved. Privacy Statement & Condition of Access