Sunday, April 22, 2007

Eating places at Tian Lye Street (1) - Lam Chun Chew

Today, I want to blog about food stalls at a place in Singapore called Tian Lye Street. I know many of you foodies will be keen to know where it is. Unfortunately, you will not be able to find it because it no longer exists. In fact, even if you searched for it in Google or Singapore Infopaedia, you would not be able to find any information about this street

When I started work at the PSA, or Port of Singapore Authority, which was earlier known as Singapore Harbour Board, in the early sixties, I often had my breakfast and lunch at Tian Lye Street. It was located at what is today, the Tanjong Pagar Container Terminal. It was quite near to my work place which was at the tail-end of two major roads – Tanjong Pagar Road and Anson Road. Tian Lye Street was a right angled street, off-shoot from the end of Anson Road, with a three coffee-shops scattered at closed quarters, lined with licensed street vendors on both sides of the street. As you entered the street from Anson Road, after a short distance, there were two coffee shops opposite each others.

The food sold was not much different from present coffee shops, but there was a world of difference in the prices. For instance, the price for a plate of char siew rice was fifty cents with a large glass of Chinese tea thrown in foc. A plate of yee mee or hor fun cost eighty cents coated with ingredients like pig liver, pork, large prawns, sotong and kailan or chye sim. What a deal. The cost of living then was low, but then so were our salaries.

There were two Cantonese old ladies selling bananas, my favourite fruit, medium size similar to those branded Del Monte sold presently. In Cantonese, we call it ‘hiong ngar chew’. These two old ladies looked like retired amahs making a living in their old age, sitting side by side just to have company, especially someone to talk to. Guess what was the price of three bananas? Ten cents.

One of the more popular food stalls was called Maidin, run by an Indian Muslim who sold a great variety of curry rice with different ingredients such as: mutton, chicken, sotong, beef and the likes. Morning was busy time for Maidin. Port-workers would rush down the street and ordered the food , packed by him using banana leaves and newspaper as outer layer; all done at super speed. The end product looked like a pyramid secured by a rubber-band. The food from this Muslim stall, especially the sotong/vege/rice packet was simply delicious. Port workers would likely buy a can of teh-halia from a sarabat stall next to Maidin. (When I say 'can', I don’t mean modern coca cola type can, but the recycled condensed milk can.)

Meanwhile, the chye tau kueh, fried by an old Teochew man with his son assisting him, did a roaring business, frying up a storm – mainly the white type, with egg, minus the sweet sauce. This was his specialty; but if someone asked for the sweet type, no problem, he would kindly oblige. One of our Operations officers, Michael simply loved the chye tau kueh, and before he ate, he would hum his favourite tune : “Gura Racha, Gura Racha”, some kind of Mexican tune. The best part was, Michael never failed to buy extra packets of this lovely food for his staff, and one packet was reserved for me. Isn’t he a great officer?

I will stop here. Next time, I will blog about three unforgettable incidents that happened in Tian Lye Street, one minor, and two ugly ones.


Anonymous said...

In the early 1960s, my father brought me to his Indonesian friend's shop at the present Tunas Building in Enggor Street. I remembered that his shop was facing a row of garages, a SHELL petrol station and the old Phoenix Building (which was later used as the CPF Building before it relocated to the new CPF Building in Robinson Road, now "#79").

I used to address the old gentleman as "Uncle Lau". Uncle Lau owned a shop supplying tourist memorabilia to passing foreign seamen like the the Danes. From his shop we took a ride in Uncle Lau's car to Palmer Road to dine at the Metropolitan YMCA. My favorite was Minute Steak or Lamp Chop. I think a group of Hainanese cooks ran that food joint.

Thank goodness the old building is still there except the swimming pool and concrete 2 storey diving board is now absorbed into the Keppel Flyover.

There were many godowns around the end of Shenton Way in those days. It was very strange feeling for me to go under one of those godowns to get to the YMCA.

Chun Chew: Is Toby where the famous Indian Fish Head Curry is located?

Anonymous said...

Peter - First I must answer you question. I must admit that I only passed by but never go in, thinking that the place was for drinkers only. You are probably right on dish. Being an ardent coffee-shop supporter (because of shallow pockets), I used to eat at the coffee-shop nearest to the port. My colleagues and I used to poke fun at a hainanese chap chye rice stall owner who was quite a comical guy, always complaining of high operating cost for his stall. We would loudly response: "Ah Kor, increase price of your food lah! Why worry". On hearing this, he would never fail to open his eyes widely, with raised eye-brows, put his right palm across his neck, gesturing by doing a sawing motion on his neck, as though being beheaded, exclaimed: "You want me to die eh! then all of you won't come to my stall anymore!" After all those joking, we had to pat him on the back, because his pork-chop was first class. I suppose pulling one's leg during lunch time helps in the digestion.

Anonymous said...

Interesting piece, can I suggest you try this link to a UK Sunday newspaper here in the UK which makes the point that Singapore's high quality and good value street food is related to its history and the large numbers of make workers who emigrated to work in the port and who did not have their wives or families to cook for them

if this does not work try goodling

Independent on Sunday Terry Durack Singapore and the link to his article dated 22 april will come up

Anonymous said...

sorry that should be 'male' workers and it should suggest 'googling' not goodling!

Lam Chun See said...

And drooling as well I am sure.

Thanks Brian, for the link. Will check it out later.

Lam Chun See said...

Here's the link to the Independent article that Brian mentioned. It's about hawker food at the Grand Hyatt Hotel.

My friends at NHB should find the reporter’s use of this adjective for the National Museum amusing .. “mildly over-interactive”.

Anonymous said...

A side story on Tien Lye street, two old cantonese ladies operated a char-kway-teow in the evening, one frying and the other helping out, a very unusual sight. The food was quite good, especially when she put in a generous amount of cockles. Sometimes during 2nd shift we would eat at her stall. I noticed one of my colleagues, a voracious eater, ate the food in a very funny way. He would push the cockles aside, and finished the kway teow first and then proceed with the remaining juicy ingredients, truly an eating priority. Later on without any rhyme or reason, the two ladies disappeared from the food scene. We were wondering why and the answer came. It was rumoured that one of the ladies won on Big Sweep (lottery), and both of them exited (probably retired) quietly to spend their money.

Victor said...

This post reminded me of a very old hawker centre with only about 6 stalls selling mostly Malay/Indian food like nasi beranyi and nasi padang located at Pasir Panjang Rd/Labrador Rd junction. The stalls serve very delicious food and the hawker centre is probably the last of its kind here. Hmm... must go and take some photos and blog about it real soon before it disappears.

Anonymous said...

Recollection of food is seeping back in my mind in drips and draps. There was a coffee shop located in a row of shop-houses diagonally opposite the STC bus terminal next to Toby paradise. It was very unique in the sense that the coffee-shop depended on mainly a padang stall, selling only halal food, therefore the muslim clientele was quite sizeable. I was told that this stall sold genuine Indonesian dishes. Whatever they were, the food were simply delicious, so much so they linger in my mind until today. The Indonesian stall owner, a slim guy, would serve us in small plates comprising a wide range of food, and the one that really stood up was the beef rendang (cut in small pieces by a scissor). He would give us bowls of lemak gravy and flied belacan chillies to go with the rice. When too busy to go out for lunch, I would call my messenger, a stylish Malay boy, to buy a packet of padang food from the shop wrapped in Maidin-style, a triangular pyramid. A packet of rice plus the beef rendang plus taugeh with lemak-gravy costed me only a dollar, and I could finish the food in record time. This coffee-shop served mainly the working class, but the foods could easily compete on par with the famous high-end restaurant Rendezvous on equal footing, in term of taste and quality, minus the frills.

FL said...

Looking at the self-drawn map by you, I think the words "Tian Lye Street" appeared on that portion of the street should be Deli Street. Whereas, Tian Lye Street should be the one pendicular to the Deli Street, the vertical portion as shown on your map. This is confirmed in the 9th edition (1969) of the Singapore Street Directory which I still have it, although with lots of torn off pages right now.

By the way, my late uncle's family stayed in the pre-war houses at Deli Street in the 1950s/1960s. My parents'family lived at Chin Lye Street which was next to Tian Lye Street in the early sixties.
As a young kid, this area was my home ground. My father worked as a dockyard labourer at the then SHB (S'pore Harbour Board) at Gate 1.

I do remember the 3 coffeeshops as shown on your maps. The one that was the most popular is on right side of your map, and it was called "sun kwok wah" in Cantonese. I remember this coffeeshop was packed during the evening when the Rediffusion set at this coffeeshop broadcast Mr Lee Dai Saw's Cantonese story in the good old days. Well, I could go on and on.........

The Dreamer said...

Hi, the map is definitely wrong. Tian Lye Street is where Deli Street should be. I know because I lived in Deli Street. The road/street alignments are all wrong and it should be "Toby's Paradise Bar". Please correct it for historical accuracy.