Tar pau uncle in Holland Close at your service

Every morning “tar pau uncle” Freddie Soh, 76, gets up at 4.30am and heads to Ghim Moh hawker centre and Holland Drive hawker centre. He buys about $250 worth of food which he re-sells to long-time customers at his daughter's shop in Holland Close.

Retiree's food runs are a much appreciated convenience for neighbourhood residents

Every morning, residents of Holland Close are greeted with a scrumptious spread of hawker food for their breakfast, ranging from steaming boxes of porridge to freshly made nasi lemak to kuehs.

The food items are not on display at a hawker centre though, but are for sale from a table placed outside a hardware store at Block 31.

The "mini-hawker centre" is run by "tar pau uncle" Freddie Soh, 76, who wakes up at 5am every day, buys the dishes from various food centres in the district, and resells them for about 30 to 50 cents more per item. Tar pau, which means to do a take-away in Chinese, is also referred to as da bao by some.

His customers include young adults grabbing breakfast before heading to work and elderly residents who have trouble walking beyond the estate to buy back food.

For some elderly residents who are too frail to leave their homes, Mr Soh also provides a free delivery service or gives the food away for free to the needy. His service, which he has provided informally for four decades, caters to more than 100 residents daily.

Retiree Mr Lokathasu, 64, said: "He picks up the food from different zones. It saves us the trouble of commuting and the variety is great."


Mr Freddie Soh has been offering his tar pau service at Holland Close for four decades, and caters to more than 100 residents daily. ST PHOTOS: JONATHAN CHOO

Mr Soh used to run the service from his provision shop at the same block for 30 years. After his shop closed in 2007, he decided to continue the service from his daughter and son-in-law's hardware shop next door.

"I do this for fun. I like making people feel happy and buying them their favourite foods," said Mr Soh, who knows his customers by name and their favourite foods.

Mr Soh lives with his wife, 75, in Clementi Crescent, a 10-minute drive from Holland Close. The couple have three daughters and a son.

Mr Soh spends about $250 daily on his breakfast run and the food usually sells out within three hours.


He carts his bounty from various hawker centres back to the hardware store at Block 31 Holland Close in his son's car. ST PHOTOS: JONATHAN CHOO

He goes food-shopping again before noon, spending another $100 or so for lunch. Leftover food from the lunch run is usually given away by late afternoon.

The $50 he earns each day goes towards covering his time, transport and buying blueberries to keep himself healthy, he said.

 

Often, residents also make special requests for certain food items or for them to be prepared in their preferred style.

The Sunday Times interviewed 10 residents who buy from Mr Soh, many of whom described him as a generous soul with an ingenious idea that helps bring the neighbourhood together.

Office cleaner Gan Guat Eng, 85, said in Chinese that she "enjoys the arrangement".

"Today, I bought youtiao," she said as she scurried off to work.

The food assortment also includes lontong, chwee kueh, red bean soup, tau huay and duck rice from four popular centres in Ghim Moh, Holland Drive, Commonwealth Crescent and Tanglin Halt.


Mr Soh wakes at 5am every day to start his breakfast-buying run, spending about $250 daily, and another $100 or so for lunch. ST PHOTOS: JONATHAN CHOO

Ms Joyce Tan, 30, who sells fishball noodles at Ghim Moh Food Centre, said most hawkers know that he is reselling their food and have no problems with him doing so.

"He is very hardworking. He does this seven days a week," she added.

One resident, a 72-year-old retiree, who gave her name as Madam Tan, said: "Uncle is a very good man. He gives me noodles and chicken rice to eat."

Marketing manager Mr Joe Woon, 53, said: "He runs a service that the older folk find very useful. He makes the effort to find food that we all enjoy."


Mr Soh waiting for his order at Ghim Moh Food Centre. He also buys food from popular centres in Holland Drive, Commonwealth Crescent and Tanglin Halt. ST PHOTOS: JONATHAN CHOO

At the end of each day, when he is done with the food sales, Mr Soh heads to Queenstown swimming pool to do eight laps.

"It's a day well-spent. Everyone is happy, everyone wins," he added, smiling broadly.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 06, 2017, with the headline 'Tar pau uncle at your service'. Print Edition | Subscribe