Old Airport Road Food Centre

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The former name of “Old Airport Road” was originally named as “Old Kallang Airport Road” and later renamed.

“Man does not live by breads alone” according to the Bible.

As babies, whatever fed to us, we would eat or drink “anything” and “whatever” …..

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As we grew up to become adults, we have to feed ourselves.  Everyday of our waking hours when we get hungry or thirsty, most normal persons would look for food to decide what to eat, where to go.  For religious reasons for the Muslim, not to eat or drink consciously at certain hours for “puasa” during the month of Ramadan, spiritual food for the body and the mind is important.

I am not a foodie fanatic to “live to eat”.  To me, I need to “eat to live” and I speak only for myself.  Food is an individual personal choice because “one man’s meat is another man’s poison”.  To each an individual’s personal constitution in matter of food choices or preferences.

However, while travelling we prefer to be adventurous and have a food tasting experiences to go international.

There are special occasions when foreign guests or friends on a sojourn to Singapore are invited for a meal.  So, where to go, what to eat?

Our Brit Brat John Harper, his wife and Peter Stubbs from UK are in town and FOYer Lam Chun See arranged to invite them to the Old Airport Road Food Centre.  They would love to taste our local stuff they have missed for a long time.

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John Harper and friends @ Old Airport Rd Food Centre [2015-03-07] (1)

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Dakota Crescent Housing Estate 

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Chun See, Lina Catcat and I went on a walk to blog the Dakota Crescent Housing Estate which is located in the vicinity of the Old Airport Road. The “old airport” refers to this place here .

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In the above photo, Chun See and Lina Catcat were pointing to the odd street names in the estate.  Opposite Blk 14 Old Airport Road was Blk 22, Old Airport Road.  In the background behind the tree was Blk 20, Dakota Crescent.

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Some kind souls who are book-lovers from somewhere or are residents in the estate created the “Dakota Free Library” as the concept of “mobile library-book exchange kiosk” at the corner of this row of shophouses.  What a novel and innovative idea to distribute used books to save lives and trees.

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Three young lovely ladies who are “nostalgia heritage fans” as like-minded friends to capture precious moments of these historical buildings with memories of a little corner of Singapore to share and remember for everyone.  These friendly gals obligingly posed for the photo in front of the “人民中医” (People TCM Healthcare Clinic).

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Capture the moments at the bank of the canal with Chun See for posterity.

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A way to keep the canal clean …

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Jogging track along the canal for the residents in the estate to exercise

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A cheerful Lina Catcat with the “V” sign to show her success of a big scoop of nostalgic photos captured in her camera at the Dakota Crescent estate.  I couldn’t catch up with her because age caught up with me to slow me down …..

Mission accomplished ….. so we were on the way to the Old Airport Road Food Centre across the road to meet our guests for dinner.

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Dakota Crescent’s flats are one of the few living remnants of Singapore’s pre-independence years. The old housing estate was built by the Singapore Improvement Trust in 1958 and was handed over to the Trust’s successor, the Housing & Development Board in 1960. The 17 low-rise brick-clad flats will be by 31 December 2016 to make way for new developments under Mountbatten estate’s renewal plans.

Named after a plane model that landed at Kallang Airport in the past, the flats in the estate are fitted with retro-looking grills and doors of yore. Its old-school dove-shaped playground with mosaic tiles are reminiscent of Singapore in the 1950s.

There was inadequate housing for Singapore’s growing population in the 1950s. An increasing number of people were living in slum-like conditions with poor sanitation. As Singapore’s central area became increasingly crowded, the colonial government planned to develop a new public housing estate in the Kallang Airport area.  Elderly residents were noticed in the estate and the Tung Ling Community Services at Block 10, Dakota Crescent.

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Interestingly, Dakota Crescent was the first estate to feature one-room flats. It was named after the Douglas DC-3 Dakota, a model of the planes that often landed at Kallang Airport, which was Singapore’s first civilian airport. The former airport’s runway has been converted into Old Airport Road, which runs parallel to Dakota Crescent today. The Dakota Crescent flats are physical emblems of Singapore’s public housing history and aviation history.

The flats also reflect Singapore’s early community-building efforts. The estate seems sleepy today, but there were over 60 shops, a market and schools in its heyday. These neighbourhood amenities supported an improved standard of living and the establishment of a residential community for the masses.

A number of Dakota Crescent residents have lived there since 1959, forging strong friendships among neighbours over time. A significant number of the flats in Dakota Crescent were used to rehouse victims from the Bukit Ho Swee fire on 25 May, 1961. Today, these flats are also home to elderly people and lower-income families under the HDB public rental scheme, as part of broader government efforts to give all Singaporeans a home. Beyond providing shelter, the flats have given its aged residents a sense of place and identity. They have come to identify themselves as members of the Dakota Crescent estate and the larger Old Airport Road community. For those who have since moved out, the flats are physical landmarks providing a visual link to their past.

Early Days Hawkers at the Old Airport Road Hawker Centre

Many lucky people who have the health and money who travel around the world to taste their best food and wine to “live to eat and drink”.  The Old Airport Road Food Centre was widely acclaimed in glossy travel magazines to review and recommend worldwide by foodie writers, TV production companies to feature on international TVs, bloggers and other media channel publications.

There is the Chinese idiom, “飲水思源” (yin-shui-ssu-yüan), which means: when you drink water, think of its source, i.e. remember where and how the water came from. Don’t just be thankful for the water: be thankful for all the elements and processes (both past and present) that allowed you to enjoy that humble cup of water.

The successful hawker business in Singapore would remember the early days hawkers for decades in Singapore.

With the courtesy and acknowledgement of the National Archives of Singapore, National Library and other unidentified contributors of achived photos on the Internet to share on this blog.

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The above photos of the Dao Xiong Cun Eating House at Dakota Crescent in 1988.

This is the “Old Kallang Airport Hawker Centre” which replaced the previous wet market in 1977.  All stalls at this food centre were let out on rental basis and priority were given to residents of Old Kallang Airport Estate.

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To keep up with the times, the Old Kallang Airport Market and Food Centre group on Facebook is available for helpful information and posted photos by contributors.

Most of the hawker stall names were from the first generation owners or inherited from their great grandparents or grandparents who were road-side hawkers decades ago. Hawker centres were built to house the old roadside hawkers and to provide a safer and more comfortable location for eating.

The licensed hawkers participated in the balloting of hawker stalls at Old Kallang Airport on 23 July, 1963.

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The pioneer generation hawkers would remember the hardship and tumultuous period in the early days of building our nation together with our founding fathers of Singapore50.

All the public markets and food centres in Singapore have been “remade” many times to cater food and drinks to the younger generations as the population grew and the buildings and other infrastructures to be improved for an increasing population to serve the future generations.  Singapore is forever in transit and every aspects of Singapore’s growth is never stagnant.

All Singaporeans as a united people to live in peace, harmony and prosperity to progress together for a better future!

Metamorphosis of Chinatown Food Street

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This nostalgia blog is posted as inspired by my British friend Stephen Harshaw who walked down the memories of Chinatown with me on 18 October 2014 as captured in the above photo.

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Before Smith Street, Singapore became a hub of good food, it was the heart of entertainment in old Chinatown.  The street was famously known as “Hei Yuen Kai” (in Cantonese) or “theatre street”.  It was believed to have been built in 1887.

During World War II, the building was hit by a bomb and was badly damaged.  Though renovations were eventually made to the structure, the theatre did not survive.  The building went on to become a warehouse for street hawkers in post-war Smith Street.  It has survived till today, though with none of its former glory.

Like the rest of Chinatown, Smith Street flourished following the Japanese Occupation in 1942.  Because World War II meant the loss of countless jobs, thousands turned to hawking in the streets and markets.

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The peddlers sold their wares on carts and bicycles, and made street food a highly personalized experience by taking it right to their customers’ doorsteps.  They rang their bells or shouted their wares, and customers would emerge at their doors or windows to call out their orders in return.  Those who did not live on the ground floor would lower a long rope with a basket and then hoist it back up after the hawker had placed it with food by special delivery.

Throughout the 1950s, Smith Street was lined at the roadside, pushcarts and stalls selling what was widely considered some of the best food in Chinatown.  Those were the days before the culinary world was touched by technology, so everything was handmade, cooked over a charcoal fire and the ingredients were always fresh;  not factory-made and processed artificial flavor and products.

These hawkers provided an important service in the largely single migrant population.  And though the colonial authorities recognized this, they also resented the hawkers’ unregulated use of public space.

At first, they created regulations to register and unlicensed hawkers were banned and people were forced to go out of their homes to buy their favorite food.

As Singapore progressed into the First World, food hygience became an increasing concern.  Yet more stringent rules and regulations about how food should be sold were passed.

As a result, the government decided to relocate many street hawkers to sanctioned hawker centres across the island.  Those at Smith Street were moved to the new Kreta Ayer Complex by 30 September, 1983.

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LAST DAY OF THE CHINATOWN ROADSIDE HAWKERS

Chinatown’s hawkers were moved out from the alleys into cleaner and more hygienic stalls in the Kreta Ayer Complex on 1 October, 1983.

On 30 September, 1983, the last day of the Chinatown roadside hawkers to ply their trade in the streets of Chinatown, but 70 per cent of them, especially the cooked food and fruits stalls.

Only the haberdasheries have settled into the new complex specially built for them in Smith Street.

Breaking up is always hard to do.

For Chinatown’s 745 street hawkers, some of whom have started moving into the new Kreta Ayer Complex.

Some who had been plying their trade at roadside stalls for as long as 35 years.

But most took in their stride the move to clear the narrow streets and backlanes of makeshift stalls.  They would have to adapt to the changes as licensed hawkers in a new environment with proper permanents stalls, provided with electricity and water for their new businesses.  These hawkers with registered licenses would not have to worry in the past the risk of arrests of illegal hawkers by the Environment Ministry inspectors.

With this latest batch of hawkers resettled in 1983, there were 1,187 licensed street hawkers remaining in Singapore.

The majority were settled by early 1985 in food/market centres belonging either to the Environment Ministry, the Housing Board or the Jurong Town Corporation.

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Nostalgic Street Style Dining Now

The former Chinatown Food Street was  closed on 1 May 2013 to make  way for renovations.  On 22 February 2014, it was re-opened.

The new CFS was conceptualized, designed and managed by Select Group Limited.

After the $4 million revamp, the stretch was fully pedestrianized, with 400 seats under shelter and another 200 in a open-air seating area.

The revamped Chinatown Food Street (CFS) celebrates the assembly of specialty dishes from main Chinese dialects and the different races in Singapore, all under one roof.  Located on Smith Street in the heart of Chinatown, the revitalized Chinatown Food Street seeks to create the most authentic Singapore dining experience for locals and tourists alike.  From a tantalizing plate of Char Kway Teow, to sticks of mouthwatering satay, CFS offers a diverse spread of local delights, with iconic food from local cultures all represented on one street.

With street hawker stalls, shophouse restaurants and ad hoc street kiosks, complete with the al-fresco dining style along the street, one can revisit the Chinatown of old at CFS.  Newly constructed high-ceiling glass canopy shelter and internal spot cooling system allow diners to indulge in culinary pleasures regardless of rain or shine.  Now fully pedestrianized, visitors can dine in comfort along Smith Street from day to night.

The Chinatown Food Street is set to bring you back into the past.  One can now experience the streets of Singapore, where Samsui women, policemen in shorts, trishaw uncles were aplenty.

The rustic feel of the pushcarts and bustling vibe of the street, along with the many heritage food, are sure to let you have a taste of reminisce.  Immerse yourself in the street, listen to the soft melody of some of the classic tunes, and get ready to feel the sense of nostalgia that will bring you back into the good old days.

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The metamorphosis of the Chinatown Food Street took over a hundred years at the same place, different times, different generations of Singaporeans to experience as Singapore progress to improve and transform Chinatown to be a better food street for the benefit of Singaporeans, foreign visitors and tourists.