Tiong Bahru Market
I had a wonderfully free Saturday and decided to visit the Tiong Bahru area of Singapore, which is known for many things including a vibrant hawker center, or food mart. It is also home to many stylish and “hip” shops and art deco inspired buildings. As it was a cloud free morning when I awoke I knew it was going to be hot. Clouds increase the humidity level, but without them, the equatorial sun wipes me out if I spend too much time outside.
I grabbed my camera bag, packed some water, and headed out at about 9 in the morning. It is not far from my apartment and I only had to walk about 10 minutes to the nearest MRT station. From there, it was a 20-minute ride with fellow travelers headed out on Saturday shopping adventures. After I arrived and glanced at my reliable Citymapper app on my phone, I explored a bit of the area before it warmed up. Since this was a food-focussed trip, I made notes on my Google Map of shops and artsy places I will return to on a future evening.
I did manage to grab a panoramic photo of a local park that I thought was especially photogenic, surrounded by tall and colorful public housing flats called HDBs, which stands for Housing Development Board.
Eighty percent of Singaporeans live in HDB housing. Each building is part of a larger complex of buildings which support the residents. These include hawker centers, markets, and recreation facilities. We tend to think of public housing in the U.S. as strictly for the poor, but that is not the case here as this type of housing is available to most citizens with various levels of income. The flats are leaseholds, which means the tenancy will expire after 99 years. At that point, or if the building is demolished to make way for an updated HDB before that, residents will need to find a new place to live.
A wedding party just happened to be getting their photographs taken near the park. As the photographer was staging the bridesmaids on a staircase landing, I saw an opportunity to use my long lens to frame a shot for myself. I quickly took advantage of the moment and really like how it turned out. I generally don’t like intruding in other people’s business with my camera, but if I see a shot and think I can get away with it, I’m taking it.
It was heating up quickly, so I decided to head into the market and hawker center. The market was on the lower level and the food center was above. The market was both a dry and wet market which means you can find everyday items and produce as well as meat. In the modest sized wet market shoppers were buying chicken and duck meat as well as beef. There were also numerous stalls selling fresh fish and crustaceans, cut and filleted to order. None of my photos of the wet market turned out, but I’ve included two shots of the dry market on this post.
In case you are wondering the $4 price for the bags of produce in the photo is in Singapore dollars, which equates to just under $3 U.S. The Chinese stalls sell all kinds of goods like dried meat and vegetable products, plus noodles and other flavorings. The best prices by far are found in markets like these. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, Singapore does not produce much of its own food, so I continue to be amazed wandering through centers like this at all the available produce coming here from around the world in massive amounts every day.
I followed the crowds upstairs to the hawker center as lunchtime approached and was impressed by its size. I imagine that there must be close to 100 stalls here. They mostly served up Chinese or Malay cuisine with an occasional sweet shop. I realized there was no way to capture the scale with my Nikon, so I took out my iPhone and recorded the video below as I walked all the way around. It was a delight for my senses and gave me an opportunity to take in what was offered.
Hawkers set up their own hours, but are usually around for the lunch and dinner crowds. That is, unless they run out of food. The meals are ridiculously cheap for the quality and quantity you receive. It is simply astounding how much food comes out of these tiny stalls everyday. You would not likely pay more than $3-$4 U.S. for a complete meal, unless you went deluxe with more upscale ingredients. Many, many people in Singapore eat most of their meals at places like this. Seniors and those with lower income levels are subsidized at certain stalls.
It was a wonderful morning and I will definitely return to explore the neighborhood more, but I needed a break from the heat. When I arrived back at my apartment, I turned on the air con and took a nap to prepare for the evening adventure I’ll be writing about in my next post.