Changi Airport's hawker stalls: Not so famous after all

Singapore Food Street at the third level of the transit hall in Terminal 3. -- PHOTO: CHANGI AIRPORT GROUP
Singapore Food Street at the third level of the transit hall in Terminal 3. -- PHOTO: CHANGI AIRPORT GROUP

The week-old food street at Changi Airport, which was touted as offering 13 popular hawker stalls from different corners of the island, is not what it has been made out to be.

The Straits Times has found that of the 13 stalls at the 10,800 sq-ft Singapore Food Street in Terminal 3's transit area, seven bear no direct links to the original famous stalls. Some are new start-ups while others are named after streets or areas well-known for particular dishes but have no connection to the original brands.

For instance, Jalan Tua Kong Minced Pork Noodles at the airport food street is not an offshoot of the famed 132 Meepok in Marine Terrace, which was located in Jalan Tua Kong in the 1990s. It is also not related to Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee in Bedok Road. Instead, it is run by Mr Tan Dee Hond, 33, who told The Straits Times that he had worked at the Lau Lim stall for about two years in the mid-noughties.

The owners of two popular char kway teow stalls at Old Airport Road, Dong Ji and Lao Fu Zi, said they did not open the Old Airport Road Fried Kway Teow & Carrot Cake stall at Terminal 3.

Nor is Mr Elvis Tan, 54, who owns East Coast BBQ Seafood at East Coast Lagoon Food Village, behind the airport's new East Coast Lagoon BBQ Seafood stall.

As for the airport's Tiong Bahru Meng Kee Roast Duck, there is no such stall in Tiong Bahru hawker centre. The owner of the airport's Tiong Bahru Meng Kee Roast Duck Mr Wen Yee Thim, 40, said he named the stall after his older brother, and included Tiong Bahru in the name because he learnt his roast meat preparation skills at a stall in Tiong Bahru in the mid 1990s.

When asked if naming the stalls after a street or an area that is famed for a particular dish was a misrepresentation, Select Group's executive director Jack Tan, 45, said: "If you use the name of the stall, then you're in trouble, but if you don't use the name and just use the street, it's free for all."

He added: "I think there was a miscommunication because there really are some famous hawkers there but maybe not 100 per cent. We just want to associate the street name with our product and our concept of it being a food street."

He added: "We can't use specific names because they may be trademarked or registered, that's why we use street names." The airport hawker stall called Changi Village Nasi Lemak is run by someone who once worked at one of Changi Village hawker centre's two famous nasi lemak stalls, Mizzy's Corner and International Muslim Food Nasi Lemak.

When asked which stall in Changi Village she had worked for, Mr Tan said: "I don't know which stall, because she didn't mention which stall, but I think it is one of the quite famous ones. I trusted her by doing the food tasting."

Only three of the stalls in the food street - Odeon Beef Noodles, Sin Ming Road Rong Cheng Bak Kut Teh, and Kampong Cafe - are directly linked to the original stalls.

Changi Airport Group's spokesman Robin Goh said that while some of the stalls may have direct association with the original brands, and others have indirect links in varying degrees, for instance through former chefs or employees, "the operator's naming of the remaining stalls after certain locations may have given the wrong impression that they are directly connected to popular stalls at these locations".

He said that the airport would be working with Select to rename stalls that do not have direct association with the original hawker brands.

Engineer Kelvin Sng, 25, who dined at the food street last week, was taken aback when a staff at the food stall he was ordering from told him that its name was "borrowed" and that it was "not original". But he said the roast meat rice he had was "good and satisfying".

It is a common practice for hawkers to capitalise on the name of a well-known, location-specific type of food such as Katong laksa and Jalan Kayu roti prata. Mr Boo Geok Beng, 63, owner of Kampong Carrot Cake in Tiong Bahru, said: "It is common for people to use the Tiong Bahru name because of the popularity of the hawker centre."

But the prevalence of the practice does not make it right, said Mr K.F. Seetoh, 50, street food advocate and founder of street food guide Makansutra.

He said: "The new stall will be living off someone else's reputation, someone else's good will. You cannot register a street name and there is no law against it, but it is not right."

rltan@sph.com.sg

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