Dawn at Smith Street, Chinatown
The latest attempt to resuscitate the spirit of the Smith Street
The Laksa Stall
Almost like Manna from the sky!
Scenes of Days gone by!
Yet Another Store closure!
Picture (1): Dawn at Smith Street, Chinatown
It is around 7 am in the morning, the street is quiet. The bustle has not kicked in yet. Very soon, it will be afternoon and filled with tourists. Some 40 years ago, I walked down this street with my grandmother as she did her marketing on this street. This was our monthly ritual when I was aged 6 to 9.
Picture (2): The latest attempt to resuscitate the spirit of the Smith Street
After marketing, we would head to our favourite street laksa stall for breakfast. I remember tucking into the delicious yong tau foo laksa. The laksa gravy of this stall is unique: somewhere between the very “lemak” (rich coconut) laksa taste and a localised curry noodle dish. It has a distinctive “Chinese” favour to it, a milder spice flavour than a Malay or Indian curry. Although the stall’s recipe is more than 30 years old, it is a break from the traditional laksa recipe Singaporeans are used to. Apart from the unique gravy, they top their laksa with fried dumplings! It is just heavenly! I would slurp the chuo bee hoon (coarse rice noodles), at double quick time, leaving the yummy fried dumplings for the last bite.
In the early 80’s, with development and the call for better hygiene, the market, along with its street hawkers, was relocated to the Smith Street Complex. The street grew quiet as many dwellers and stalls disappeared almost overnight. Many other government and corporate entities have tried to revive Smith Street over the years but faced limited success. Each new revival would attract a big crowd initially, but the hype would soon die off. Many say that the street has lost its soul. The bustle of the street market with the din of the stall holders has now been silenced. In its place are ‘concept’ hawker stalls that open at noon catering to the tourists. The authenticity of a morning market has been lost.
Picture (3) : The Laksa stall
Our favourite food from childhood is often the first thing that comes to mind when we are away from home. For me, it symbolises the flavour of home. It gives me the feeling of rootedness and belonging. Today, I am at the laksa stall again. The old faithfuls are already queuing for their regular fix. Besides the taste, this wholesome laska costs only $2, an anomaly in these inflationary times. Almost like manna from the sky!
Picture (4) : Almost like Manna from the Sky!
The stall’s regulars, mainly elderly or middle-age folks, are familiar with its early and short opening hours i.e. 6.00 a.m. to 10 a.m. Otherwise, you might get the impression that the stall is perpetually closed! No young people in sight. Through no fault of theirs, the stall is located in an obscure corner of the vast Smith Street Food Centre. Many youngsters are also unaware that there is a parallel universe that operates at the same location, where they get their cheap beer at night.
Picture (5) – Scenes of Days gone by!
The stallholders are no longer the young men and women they once were. It has been 32 years since the move. There seems to be no one willing to take over their trade. Close to their stall I spot a sign – yet another closure of a stall run by an old timer. Over the week, as I reflect over the passing of the Architect of our Nation, I can’t help but feel that we may have lost some part of us in our rush to be first world. I feel the loss of this and many other stalls like it – our hawker heritage. I want my children to taste what I have tasted. Stalls like these are no longer accessible to my children. I feel sad that when they think “breakfast”, they think only of the MacDonald’s Big Breakfast.
How long more will the laksa stall continue? I do not know. Is this change really inevitable? Or can we do something about it?
Picture (6) – Yet another store closure!