Saturday, 14 April 2018

Chinatown Complex Food Centre 👟👟 Heritage Trail of Original Stalls of Old Chinatown 👟👟

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Even before Sir Stamford Raffles stepped foot on Singapore in 1819, hawkers already plied the streets of Chinese Campong, the precursor of today's Chinatown. As Singapore prospered thanks to Raffles making Singapore a free port and capital of the British Straits Settlements, the population in Chinatown quickly grew with immigrants from southern China.

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Every street and alley around Kreta Ayer (the heart of Chinatown) was teeming with mobile hawkers. The popular food streets were at 戲院街 Theatre Street (today's Smith Street), Temple Street, Sago Street, Trengganu Street, Mosque Street, Pagoda Street, Japan Street (demolished), Spring Street etc.

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In the 1970s, the Singapore government started the programme to move street hawkers off the streets into hawker centres. It was only in 1983, that the programme caught up with Kreta Ayer hawkers, moving 227 of them into Chinatown Complex. The sheer number of food stalls makes Chinatown Complex, Singapore's largest hawker centre - a record she still proudly holds.

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But, it has been 35 years already (since 1983). Most of the original 227 Kreta Ayer hawkers have either retired or passed on. The stalls vacated by their previous tenants are occupied by new stall holders bringing a wide range of other hawker fare including Halal food, trendy Japanese, northern Chinese, Western and even craft beer stalls.

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For this tour, we focus mainly on the original Kreta Ayer hawkers that moved into Chinatown Complex when it first opened in 1983. The purpose of this food trail is to introduce you to the last few dwindling original Kreta Ayer hawker stalls that still operate in Chinatown Complex today. It's a tribute to our true heritage hawkers.

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The sprawling Chinatown Complex Food Centre is divided into four colour zones. The chart above indicates the heritage stall unit numbers and the colour zone where they are located.

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This post is designed for do-it-yourself foot tours of Chinatown Complex Food Centre for Singapore heritage hawker food. Following the arrows will take you to all the stalls in this heritage food trail.

👟👟 Red Zone 🍎 

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#02-151 Yuet Loy Cooked Food

We start with a gem 💎 This is one of the best zhi char 煮炒 in the whole of Singapore. 悦来熟食 Yuet Loy serves excellent old school Cantonese dishes from Shunde, Guangdong. Yuet Loy is famous for their Gold Coin Tofu, Salted Fish Chicken, Seafood Hor Fun with plenty of wok hei, etc.

👍 Details on Yuet Loy 👈 click

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#02-156 Jin Ji Teochew braised duck and kway chap

Melvin and mum stick close to tradition - they still use the original 35 year old master stock to braise their tender juicy ducks. Jin Ji is famous for their braised duck bento set and Melvin is still working on other innovative ideas. Look out for it.

👍 Details on Jin Ji 👈 click

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#02-131 Heng Ji chicken rice

享記雞飯 Heng Ji's old school, Cantonese style poached chicken is oh.. so.. tender and juicy, with natural chicken sweetness. Be warned that the chunks of chicken are served cold as the cooked birds are dunked in ice water in true Cantonese fashion. The dressing sauce, chili sauce and rice also don't score high points but regulars are here for their juicy sweet fresh chicken 😄

👍 Details on Heng Ji 👈 click

👟👟 Blue Zone 🔵 

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#02-185 Tian Tian Porridge

天天粥品 Tian Tian serves a moderate thickness Cantonese rice gruel with minced pork, liver and intestines (but no more raw fish or pork kidney). To me, the highlight is their uniquely tender crunchy pork intestines. One of the top choices for breakfast in Chinatown Complex.

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#02-189 Maria Virgin Chicken

Chinatown has the highest concentration of the classic Cantonese dish in Singapore - soya sauce chicken. Maria's dad's restaurant founded in the 1920s was one of the pioneers of this dish in Chinatown. Maria's tender juicy, savoury sweet soya sauce chicken is still the benchmark of locals for this popular dish in Chinatown Complex.

👍 Details on Maria Virgin Chicken 👈 click

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#02-216 Duo Ji chee cheong fun & yam cake

多記馳名豬腸粉 serves simple Cantonese rice roll and yam cake with savoury sweet spicy sauce, aromatic oil and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. Long queues every morning. The rice roll and yam cake are from suppliers, pretty good but it's their secret recipe blended sauce that keeps their fans hooked. Sold out by 10am, definitely.

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#02-190 Seng Kee 119 steamed fish head

Chinatown Complex is the home of the most number of steamed Song fish head stalls in Singapore. Traditional Cantonese style steamed Song fish is flavoured with either bean paste, soy sauce or grated ginger. The most popular style now in Chinatown Complex is "steamed fish head in hot sauce" created by Seng Kee. Seng Kee's famous savoury spicy "hot sauce" is unique to Singapore and widely emulated. 

👍 Details on Seng Kee 119 👈 click

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#02-206 115 Tang Shui desserts

115 Tang Shui still hand grinds their sesame seeds, almonds, etc so we get the flavours and aromas of old school Cantonese and Nanyang hot desserts. To keep the faith with tradition, Tommy and son Fabian have to start work at 3:00am at the stall. They still use "smelly grass" for their green bean soup. I love everything here, especially their burbur cha cha. Truly a gem of food heritage 💎

👍 Details on 115 Tang Shui 👈 click

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#02-201 Tew Chew Teochew Porridge

Tew Chew is the only traditional Teochew porridge stall in Chinatown Complex. Mr. Tan and wife serve steamed fish, squid, braised pork, stingray with curry powder and bean paste, steamed pork belly with cincalok, stewed vegetables etc. Many traditional side dishes to go with the brothy Teochew style of porridge kept warm in a large earthen pot.

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#02-199 Lian He Ben Ji claypot chicken rice

联合本记煲饭 LHBJ is one of the handful of claypot rice stalls in Singapore that still uses charcoal to cook their chicken rice. LHBJ is probably the most famous of Singapore claypot rice stalls - rice topped with marinated chicken, wax sausage, and salted fish cooked and served in a claypot. Pre-booking by phone ☎ 6227 2470 is a Must, otherwise you are likely to still be waiting after 1 hour, if you just walk in without reservation. Opens from 4pm.

👍 Details on Lian He Ben Ji 👈 click

👟👟 Green Zone 🍏

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#02-056 Woo Ji Cooked Food

Woo Ji 胡記熟食 serves old school Singapore prawn mee and curry laksa which still command long queues of loyal followers. The prawn broth made with prawn heads is light bodied and so is the curry laksa broth which is light handed with coconut milk (unlike, Nyonya laksa). But, they are not lacking in flavours, by any means. Best thing is, Woo Ji still serves their food at old Chinatown prices, starting at $2 a serving.

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#02-079 Shi Xiang Satay

适香沙爹 Chinese style pork satay (more specifically Hainanese) marinated with Indian spices, grilled over charcoal and served with peanut sauce and minced pineapple. Founded in the 1950s, Shi Xiang is one of the longest serving satay stalls in Singapore. The tender mildly savoury spicy pork, pairs perfectly with craft beer from stalls in this Bohemian corner of Chinatown Complex where hip meets traditional and beer lovers from all over the world gather for a pint of artisanal bitter.

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#02-078 Pan Ji Cooked Food

潘記殺騎馬 is one of the last few places in Singapore that still make the traditional Sak Kei Ma crispy chewy sweet pastry by hand. It's made by frying egg and flour dough, and compacting the eggy crisps into tacky bars held together with sticky maltose. It's the earliest form of the modern energy bar used by Manchu horsemen on their conquests centuries ago.

👍 Details on Pan Ji 👈 click

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#02-076 Heng Wah Traditional Coffee

Heng Wah's traditional Nanyang kopi and tea are popular with Chinatown regulars from Ah Lee's time at Tong Ah Coffee Shop. Ah Lee's signature old school Tong Ah 東亞 crispy kaya and butter toast is arguably the best in Singapore 💎

👍 Details on Heng Wah 👈 click

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#02-088 Xiu Ji Yong Tau Fu

秀记江鱼仔酿豆腐 Xiu Ji is one of the last few places in Singapore where the yong tau fu pieces are freshly made in situ at the stall. You can smell the aroma of fresh tofu being steamed on bamboo trays at the stall. Fans like Xiu Ji's clean tasting dried anchovy broth and fresh yong tou fu (tofu pieces stuffed with minced Yellowtail fish).

👍 Details on Xiu Ji 👈 click

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Address: Blk 335, Smith Street, Chinatown Food Complex, Singapore 050335       
GPS: 1°16'57.7"N 103°50'34.4"E | 1.282705, 103.842889
Waze: Chinatown Complex  

This heritage food walk is a small tribute to the pioneer hawkers of old Kreta Ayer. Most of the stalls on this food trail in Chinatown Complex are more than half a century old. Do check them out for an authentic taste of old Singapore.

This post in conjunction with the Singapore Heritage Festival 2018 is not a listicle of the tastiest nor most famous in Chinatown Complex. (For that, this is my list 👈 click.)

🎀 If you know of other heritage hawkers in Chinatown Complex or have any insights, please share it with us by leaving a comment. We appreciate and value it very much. 

Thank you.

Date: 14 April 2018

Return to Johor Kaki homepage.

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