Changi food street stalls renamed

Eight of the stalls at the Singapore Food Street in Changi Airport (left) have been renamed, including Fatimah Nasi Lemak (above).
Eight of the stalls at the Singapore Food Street in Changi Airport (left) have been renamed, including Fatimah Nasi Lemak (above).ST PHOTOS: REBECCA LYNNE TAN
Eight of the stalls at the Singapore Food Street in Changi Airport (left) have been renamed, including Fatimah Nasi Lemak (above).
Eight of the stalls at the Singapore Food Street in Changi Airport (left) have been renamed, including Fatimah Nasi Lemak (above).ST PHOTOS: REBECCA LYNNE TAN

Airport hawkers drop references to streets and areas famous for particular local dishes

Food and beverage service provider the Select Group has renamed eight stalls at the Singapore Food Street in Changi Airport, three weeks after it opened.

Gone are the stall names which included famous street names and geographical locations synonymous with particular local dishes. Stalls with such names as Changi Village Nasi Lemak and Jalan Tua Kong Minced Pork Noodles have been changed. The nasi lemak stall, for example, is now called Fatimah Nasi Lemak.

The renaming exercise came about after the hullabaloo last weekend, when The Straits Times found that most of the stalls at the new food street had no direct links to the original stalls in those streets or areas.

This is in spite of Select Group and Changi Airport Group's initial press statement touting the stalls as being "popular hawker stalls specially curated from different corners of Singapore".

In fact, these new stalls could well have been confused with the original ones. Take East Coast BBQ Seafood at East Coast Lagoon Food Village, and East Coast Lagoon BBQ Seafood at the airport's food street, for instance. The airport stall is now renamed Tak Shing BBQ Seafood.

On Thursday at about 2.30pm, SundayLife! saw a worker and an assistant taking down the old signboards and drilling in new ones.

Select Group's executive director Jack Tan, 45, says that the group apologises for its oversight and wants to "make up for the lapse".

He says: "Our original intention of naming some of the stalls after local streets or areas was to highlight Singapore as a food haven where visitors and diners can easily find many local delights on the streets of Singapore. This has caused confusion among patrons."

The fiasco then called into question the authenticity and origins of the stalls at two other food streets which Select Group operates and manages: Chinatown Food Street, which opened in February this year; and Singapore Food Trail at the Singapore Flyer, which opened in 2011.

A SundayLife! check found that some of the stall names there overlapped with those found at the airport's food street, including Bugis Street Famous Hainanese Chicken Rice and Old Airport Road Fried Kway Teow & Carrot Cake.

Adam Road Nasi Lemak, a stall at Chinatown Food Centre, has since closed. It was run by a cook who used to work at one of the two famous nasi lemak stalls at Adam Road Food Centre, but Select Group's

Mr Tan had, at the time, declined to say which stall the cook had worked at due to "sensitivities".

In the light of last weekend's findings, he says that the group is now "in the process of changing the names of the stalls with the same names as the ones in Terminal 3 to ensure consistency across the board".

Last week, when asked what sort of due diligence the group does when it comes to making background checks and making sure potential hawkers are who they say they are, especially in relation to those at Terminal 3's food street, Mr Tan had alluded to letting the food do the talking.

Food Republic was the only food court operator which responded to queries about how it ensures the authenticity of hawkers.

Its spokesman says: "We have a marketing team which is dedicated to sourcing and working with potential hawker leads. The potential hawkers are researched and sourced based on their credentials, consumer awareness, likeability and popularity, with background checks on their brand heritage and recipe creation."

Using famous street names that have no ties to the original stalls upsets those who have real ties to popular food enclaves.

Indeed, the owner of Old Airport Road Satay Bee Hoon & Satay Celup, who wanted to be known only as Mr Tan, 56, says it makes stall owners like himself mad.

He started his stall about 40 years ago in Old Airport Road and hence adopted the street name. His wife now runs an outlet at Chinatown Food Street and the couple still own the stall of the same name at Old Airport Road Food Centre. They make their satay sauce from scratch, he says.

Speaking in Mandarin, he adds: "We work hard to build a reputation for ourselves. It's not right to use a street name if you have no connection to it. It harms the reputation of other stalls that may be connected with that street or area."

Mr Dennis Wee, 62, chairman of property group Dennis Wee Group, who is one of the judges of The Straits Times' and Lianhe Zaobao's Singapore Hawker Masters Awards, says: "It's not right. Diners will taste the difference and if the stall doesn't serve good food, it will create a bad name for the original stall."

Diners here often remember popular stalls by location or street because the names may not roll off the tongue easily. Many older food stalls which did not have names or signboards now use the streets in their official stall names so that diners can recognise them. Whitley Road Big Prawn Noodles at Old Airport Road Food Centre is one case in point.

It is also a common practice for hawkers to capitalise on the name of a well-known location known for a specific type of dish or food. For example, Jalan Kayu is known for roti prata.

Mr K.F. Seetoh, 50, street food advocate and founder of street food guide Makansutra, says that for stalls to use street names, there ought to be a "substantial association".

"For instance, a chef may have worked there for many years or even have created the recipe," he says.

"People dilute the power of Singapore's food brands by naming stalls with a street name. In the long term, doing this can harm the organic reputation built up by pioneering hawkers that gave a street or a place a taste."

Mr Tan Dee Hond, 33, who runs the airport stall formerly known as Jalan Tua Kong Minced Pork Noodles, says he worked for Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee for about two years in the mid-Noughties.

He adds that he is not fussed about the renaming of his stall. It is now called Ah Hong Minced Pork Noodles.

"I didn't have a name for the stall to begin with, so it really doesn't matter to me," he says. "What's important is that we maintain the quality of the food and satisfy our diners."

Ms Maria Johari, 50, of the newly named Fatimah Nasi Lemak (formerly Changi Village Nasi Lemak) has decided to name her stall after her late sister Fatimah, who had worked at famous nasi lemak stall Mizzy's Corner in Changi Village. It was Fatimah who had taught her to cook nasi lemak and the new stall name pays tribute to her late sister, she says.

Diners whom SundayLife! spoke to say they are appalled that Singapore Food Street misrepresented some of the island's most loved dishes and hawkers.

Ms Balwinder Kaur, 41, an accountant who was dining at the airport food street on Thursday, says that she noticed the street names on the stall's signboards and thought the stalls had been persuaded by the airport to set up shop there, citing the example of Changi Village Nasi Lemak.

She says: "It's very misleading. I thought that they were linked to the original stalls."

Retail supervisor S.K. Leong, 48, says: "I am not eating at the Terminal 3 food street on principle. Where is the integrity in offering a taste of our top hawker food if the links to the original hawkers were only tenuous or non-existent to begin with? It is lying blatantly to locals and tourists.

"Riding on the goodwill and name of a hawker who has slogged for a long time is wrong. I will eat at the food street only when the stalls are renamed."

Chinese tourist Sun Jing, 30, who is from Jiangsu, says it is important for the stalls to showcase authentic food because it would entice tourists like herself to want to try local cuisine.

"I enjoyed the bak kut teh (pork rib tea) which is unique because in China, we do not boil our herbal soups with garlic," she says.

"I don't think it is right to use street names if the stalls do not have any relation to it because it may damage tourists' impressions of the dish or what the street may be famous for."

Follow Rebecca Lynne Tan on Twitter @STrebeccatan