Tiong Bahru Market

Benji and I have always meant to catch up. This time round, we finally did. He knows about my Singapore food project and asked me where and what I’d like to document. I told him no, I want to see what helikes eating. It shouldn’t be all about my palate. I want know what my friends crave for as well. Without any hesitation, Benji declared that our first stop should be Tiong Bahru Market.

Every time I revisit this country, I’m mind-boggled by the number of new megastructures sprouting out like daisies. Tiong Bahru Market is no longer the same as I remembered. Like all other places in Singapore, the government has given it a facelift. But this time round, I don’t mind. The old market’s hawker centre was oddly shaped, really really hot and quite enclosed. Eating there used to be a sweat-a-thon. The hawker centre is now located on the 2nd floor, and unlike Chomp Chomp, it’s got high ceilings and excellent ventilation. Tables are well spaced out and seating is abundant.

The ‘famous’ 178 lor mee, with the new food centre in the background.
Tiong Bahru is one of the oldest housing estates in Singapore. The historical pre-war buildings have been conserved and the district has retained it’s old school charm. The estate has become gentrified in recent years and quite a number of yuppies choose to live here now. Benji tells me that coming here brings happy memories. The food is good, and the scenery speaks of history, stability and a silent promise that some of the old things in life won’t disappear. We took a pleasant stroll around the art deco residential buildings and shophouses before having brunch at the market. We spent less than S$10 in total at the food centre. Benji played tour guide, he did all the ordering while I just sat down and busied myself with taking pictures, lol. We sat in the open area close to the air well because lighting was better there, lolol.

Chwee Kueh
When people mention Tiong Bahru Market, all that comes to my mind is the chwee kueh (Teochew: water cakes). I absolutely love it from this stall. It is such a simple breakfast dish, rice flour is mixed with water and steamed in aluminium moulds. The freshly steamed cakes are then unmoulded and topped with fried chye poh (preserved radish). Reason why I really like the chwee kueh here is because the cakes are extra extra soft. The chye poh also tastes really good, it’s fried with garlic, lard and sesame seeds. I suspect there might even be a touch of hae bee (dried shrimp) in the chye poh here. The stall owners here mill their own rice flour.

If you are interested, here’s my Recipe for Chwee Kueh.

Chwee kueh
Bak Chang
Benji also ordered the Hokkien bak chang from the chwee kueh stall. It tasted alright. Bak chang (粽子) in Singapore is glutinous rice stuffed with filling and wrapped in bamboo leaves into a pyramidal shape. 

Bak chang, hanging in a shopping mall’s stall.
Bak chang (unwrapped). It had a pork and a chestnut filling.


Kopi-O with You Char Kway
Benji also bought me kopi-o (black coffee) and you char kway (油条 – yóu tiáo, “oil strip”) to help illustrate another traditional way Singaporeans have their breakfast. You char kway is a deep fried strip of dough. It is usually eaten with congee or soy milk. But in Singapore, we also like dipping the dough fritters into black coffee and eating the coffee-soaked fritter. I actually like eating it this way too, it appears I’m fast becoming an ah pek (old uncle)!!

Lor Mee
Our mains came next: Lor Mee.
Benji told me how his grandma would take him to this market just to have a bowl of the delicious lor mee from this particular stall. So the tastes and textures of that dish has been ingrained into the pleasure centres of his brain. My folks don’t eat this dish so I am completely unfamiliar with it. Lor meeis a Hokkien dish where egg noodles are covered in a gooey sweet-sour garlicky sauce and topped with deep fried nuggets. This particular stall serves shark meat nuggets as a specialty. Benji swears by this stall, and judging by the queue, it must be really good. But I personally didn’t warm to it, the sauce was sour and garlicky and the smell made me nauseous, lol.So you can see how our subjective our palates are. Two boys who’ve grown up in same country can develop a different taste preference towards the same bowl of food. It shows how our families really play a big role in shaping our palates.

Bowl of lor mee

Cheng Tng
We had cold cheng tng (Hokkien: clear soup) for dessert. It’s a dessert that I really miss in Melbourne. Having dessert in Melbourne normally involves something sweet and rich like cakes, crepes, brulees, tarts, macarons, fondants… There are times when all I really want is a palate cleansing dessert, and cheng tng hits that spot. This dish straddles the fine line between a dessert dish and a beverage. Mum tells me in the olden days, cheng tng was only served hot. But it has evolved into cold soups to suit our needs in Singapore’s hot weather. Look at the amazing ingredients in this refreshing soup: water chestnuts, dried mata kuching, dried persimmons, barley, agar agar, lotus seeds…

Tiong Bahru Food Centre
30 Seng Poh Road
Singapore 168898

Chwee Kueh
Jian Bo Shui Kueh – Stall #02-05

Lor Mee
Lor Mee 178 – Stall #02-58

Details up to date as of Aug 2012

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