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 (胡金铨), 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.
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?