Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Memories of Toa Payoh (3) – Eating places @ Toa Payoh

Yummy fried Hokkien prawn mee @ Toa Payoh Lorong 6

The year was around 1970 and Toa Payoh new town was already completed. At that time I was still staying in a kampong off Lorong Chuan not far from Toa Payoh. We often had friends who visited and stayed overnight. As our financial position had improved, we could afford a family car and treat ourselves to supper occasionally.

I remember we often went to the hawker centre located between Toa Payoh Lorong 6 and Lorong 7. We liked to patronize the fried Hokkien prawn noodles there. There were 2 stalls side by side selling the same product. Both were good and gave value for money. We often ta-pau (take away) the delicious noodles back to our kampong to enjoy with our friends.

Today this hawker centre has been upgraded and carries the fanciful name Kim Keat Palm. Occasionally, I still go there for lunch.

Best Chicken Feet in Singapore

(I think my UK friends are going squirm when they read this. Just look at it this way. I would react the same way when I think of people eating snails)

In 1978, I join Philips Singapore (Audio Factory) as an Industrial Engineer.  Our factory was located at Toa Payoh Lorong 1. During my five-and-a-half years, there, my colleagues and I used to go all over Toa Payoh in search of nice makan places for our lunch. One stall we often patronized was a chicken feet noodle stall operating in a coffee shop at a Block 165, which was just next to our factory. This block was on higher ground compared to our factory. As we emerged from the side gate at Lorong 1, we would turn left, climbed a flight of steps, and there was our coffee shop.  My colleagues and I referred to this place as “Hilltop”.

 Because of its convenient location, the place was often very crowded with Philips employees during lunch time. Hence, we did not patronize this place as often as we liked to. We did not want to compete with the production operators. Unlike them, we executives had more flexible lunch hours.

I do not know how to describe the chicken feet noodle except to say that it was very different from those that you see nowadays at stalls that sell wanton mee. For one, they served the noodle in a bowl and not a plate, as is the practice today. The chicken feet were cooked to just the right degree so that the skin does not drop off easily. I think they fried it beforehand so that the skin was crispy and yet tender. The gravy was very spicy hot; but I loved it.

Prior to working in Philips, I never enjoyed chicken feet. Unfortunately, after I left Philips in 1984, I never was able to find another chicken feet noodle that could match the one at Toa Payoh Lorong 1.

I returned to Toa Payoh Lorong 1 recently to check out this place. As expected, there has been much change. I was sad to see that our beloved “Hilltop” makan place has disappeared. In fact the entire area has been cleared and all I saw was an empty field (see photo). Once again, I felt that familiar pang of losing a part of my past.

Yummy “goo-yo-hoon” @ Toa Payoh Lorong 6

Another eating place in Toa Payoh that my colleagues and I used patronize was a Hainanese beef noodle stall at the hawker centre located between Toa Payoh Lorong 6 and Lorong 7. Operated by an old Hainanese couple, the beef noodles was wonderful. As one of my colleagues, Mr K C Lee, could speak fluent Hainanese, the couple was very friendly with us.

 One day, whilst we were having lunch at this hawker centre, we witnessed some commotion. Not far from us, in one of the HDB blocks of Lorong 7, we saw a large group of people, including several policemen. This was shortly after the famous Adrian Lim murder case which shook Singapore. Apparently he had been brought back to the scene of his crimes for questioning and investigation. So the year must be 1981.

Dragon Gate Inn in Singapore?

In 1967, there was a very famous wuxia movie directed by King Hu (胡金), called 龙门客栈 (Dragon Gate Inn). Did you know that we also had a Dragon Gate Inn right here in Singapore; in Toa Payoh in fact?

It was the name of a kopitiam in near the entrance to the hawker centre and market at Toa Payoh Lorong 6. The shop owner must have been a big fan of the movie. I personally did not enjoy the movie; and could not understand why it was such a big hit. But anyway, I found the name of this shop rather amusing.

The coffee shop is still there today; but apparently the present owner is not a big fan of the Dragon Gate Inn, and I did not see the banner with this eye-catching name any more when I visited the place recently.

Disgusting memory of at Coffee Shop

Another place that my colleagues and I often had our lunch was this coffee shop in Block 124 which was across the road from Toa Payoh Rise. Today this area has been upgraded with a new multi-storey car park and a fanciful name called, Toa Payoh View II.

One day, when we were having lunch here, I witnessed something very disgusting. There were a group of Ah Peks, and one of them was eating live, newborn mice. He swallowed the mice with some liquor and dried longans. They claimed that  this had good health benefits.

Out of curiosity, we joined the group to watch the action. I can never forget the sight of the baby mice. They were pinkish-grey in colour. I wonder if Singaporeans still indulge in the disgusting practice?


Edward said...

Chun See, if you think that chicken feet makes westerners squirm, check this out - one of my neighbours in Sembawang Hills Estate loves chicken backsides or “bishop’s nose” as she calls it. She goes to the market (don’t know which market) and buys them in bulk. I have never asked her how she cooks the bishops’ noses because that is the first thing I cut off when I prepare my chook.

An Ee said...

Hi Mr Lam,

Interesting accounts about the coffeeshop and food! I was going to comment also about the chicken feet - I've only come to savour them a few years back because my family believes it is bad for kids who are growing up. My brother and I think it's because the elders just want to keep the feet to themselves.

Anyway did you get a good look of Adrian Lim back then? I can only read of him since I was born after 1981 - was he as eccentric looking as some would make him out to be?

Lam Chun See said...

Sorry, I did not get a good look at Adrian Lim. Too far away. We not that 'kaypoh' ... or at least do not want to be seen to be so 'kaypoh' (busybody). What I know about AL, was from the news media.

Lam Chun See said...

My father used to like “bishop's nose” and so in our family, he got to eat it every time. Likewise, now my family do not like chicken feet; and so I get to eat them.

My first encounter with this dish was during my first trip to Penang in 1970. My 6th Uncle, who was living in Penang invited us to savour this famous Penang dish called, “Amah Jie Kai Keok” or Amah’s Chicken Feet. The adults enjoyed it, but not me.

Edward said...

I’ve heard stories about labourers who worked in the wharfs eating live mice. Apparently this was supposed to give them the energy for the physical work they do all day. I often wondered who were the suppliers of the live mice.

Tim said...

Live mice ... doesn't sound very hygenic. Still, you can't say the meat isn't fresh. Rather them than me, though.

My Italian mother-in-law used to eat the chicken's head, including the brains. Stewed in tomato sauce.

BTW ... I didn't know the meaning of Ah Pek, so I googled it, and found a very useful Singlish Dictionary:


You should provide this link for all non-Singaporeans.

MC said...

I lived in blk 124 from 1970 to 1980. Never came across such culinary habits. Either I was too young or its the in-thing nowadays. LOL.

Peter Stubbs said...

I am a westerner who has tried chicken feet. I often say that I'll try any food once, and if I don't like it, I don't have to eat it again.

Chicken feet are now on the 'don't eat again' list. Not because I considered it to be foul (pun intended), but because I did not find it to be tasty. Each to his/her own. It has joined western dishes such as tripe and cheese macaroni.

Lam Chun See said...

Peter. How about durians? You must have tried them before?

MC said...

Does anyone remember a hawker center at the open grass patch between Lor 1A and the market blk 127? There was a pretty good prawn hokkien mee, stall owner was this rather big man. Served on large hard whitish leaves. The leaves also act as the tar pao (takeaway) package. Towards the later years, his son took over, also another big fellow, runs in the family.

Another stall worth mentioning was the yong tao hu, 1 of my favs. i love the pig's blood cubes. Funny dont see these around anymore. Health reasons?

There was also a playground next the hawker center. Spent many a day there. I believe i have some photos of this somewhere.

Lam Chun See said...

Yes, MC. I know that hawker centre next to Lor 1A. Ate there often, esp when I had to work nights; as this placed seemed to cater more to evening diners.

I recall that it comprised a series of rows of stalls with tables in between. No remembrance of the food though.

jade said...

I think I recall another eating place in TP. It was the famous Nam Kee Chicken rice, operating out of a coffee shop in Lorong 1(?) Ate there a couple of times in the 70s but my impression of it was that it had too much MSG in the chicken. Those times, I believe we were already opting for healthier cooking with less or no MSG.
Near where I used to live, in Lorong 5, there were night hawkers too, selling fishball noodles and ngoh hiang and cheng tng. The hawkers simply set up a wooden stall with some cut out holes on a tabletop to house their gas stove and big wok, some wooden tables and stools and operate from about 6pm to midnight. I think they were doing it illegally and it was common to hear shouts of "tee-gu lai loh" and the make-shift stalls disappearing in a jiffy."Tee-gus" were the inspectors and law enforcement officers of the HDB.

FL said...

Jade,fyi, the Nam Kee Chicken Rice was at Blk 94 Lor 4 Toa Payoh (a family business with 2 brothers, I remember). BTW,I do recall there was a very popular food centre once at Blk 188 Toa Payoh Central. I think it was demolished around the year 2000. This centre was packed every nights (probably food is good & cheap), and you couldn't find a table if you come with many friends. People said it was a "Newton hawker centre" of Toa Payoh back then.

jade said...

Thanks FL, my recall of the various lorongs in TP is rather hazy as my family moved out of TP in 1976 and I have not been to TP much since. The last time I visited, I could bearly recognise anything. So much has happened!

D said...

Hi MC, on the grass patch you mentioned between Lor 1A/Blk 127 used to sit this amazing collection of food stalls, which have since been relocated to a renovated hawker centre/market opposite Blk 125. The hokkien mee stall is there now (Come Daily or something like that), along with a very famous chye tow kway stall and another selling handmade Teochew pau.

KG said...

When I moved back to TP in 2000 (having stayed in TP from birth in 1971 to 1985), those single-storey blocks of shops were at the tail-end of their existence and soon, the blocks were torn down. Some of the stalls have been moved to Blk 127, the double-storey market/hawker centre near those blocks.

I can confirm that the Hokkien Mee stall (Come Daily or 天天来 as mentioned by D) is now in Blk 127. Many of my friends who have tried their Hokkien Mee were very impressed, though they don't serve it on banana leaves anymore. Once when I was there for lunch on a workday, it was sold out by 1 p.m. :S

The Char Siew rice stall Hua Fang Ji (华芳记) that used to be there is at Blk 128 now (please don't be mistaken and go to Blk 124); the fishball noodle (name is 135 Noodle - proof that it was from those blocks of single-storey stalls) is in Blk 127 too.

MC said...

D, yes those are the stalls Im talking about. And thanks for the heads-up. Time for some reminiscence.

Peter Stubbs said...

A rather late response, but I have durian every time I'm in Singapore. Even the ice cream.