Chinatown chomps

The re-opened Chinatown food street features famous eateries such as Shi Sheng Claypot Frog Porridge and Balestier Abalone Noodle

When a project to revitalise the run-down food street in Chinatown began last May, Mr Jack Tan, the man in charge of the project, made it his mission to sign on the famed Shi Sheng Claypot Frog Porridge from Geylang Lorong 9 as a tenant.

The 45-year-old said it took two to three months to persuade owner Ben Tan to agree to set up a stall at the revamped 100m stretch along Smith Street.

Mr Tan tells SundayLife!: "I kept going down to his outlet to persuade him. I wanted him because I felt his porridge is authentic street food and would complement everything else at the food street."

The stall is known for its kung pao-style frog dish, served with plain congee on the side.

Mr Ben Tan, who has operated his Geylang stall since 1995, had concerns about finding the manpower to operate another outlet, but eventually came around to the idea after he was offered a "special offer on the rental".

The porridge stall is among 24 street hawker stalls and six shophouse restaurants - all established players - drawn from across the island operating at the new Chinatown Food Street, a one-stop destination for quintessentially Singaporean street hawker fare.

The pedestrianised street, which was renovated at a cost of $5 million and is operated by Select Group, reopened last weekend with a fresh look that includes a new glass shelter and special fans to keep diners cool.

After the revamp, the seating capacity has increased to 700 from 400 before. The food street also has longer operating hours, from 11am to 11pm daily, compared to 6 to 11pm previously. The variety of food options has also expanded.

Besides Shi Sheng frog porridge, diners can tuck into popular street hawker fare from Chomp Chomp Goodluck BBQ Chicken Wings, Balestier Abalone Noodle and Old Airport Road Satay Bee Hoon & BBQ Steamboat.

There is also the famed Odeon Beef Noodle, a stall that started in the 1970s across from Odeon Cinema on North Bridge Road; and the familiar taste of Adam Road Nasi Lemak, which is run by a cook who used to work at one of the two famous nasi lemak stalls at Adam Road Food Centre. He declined to say which stall he worked at due to "sensitivities".

Visitors can also dine at six new shophouse restaurants, including Chen Fu Ji, known for its signature Golden Fried Rice, black pepper crab and paper wrapped chicken; and Fatty Weng (sister restaurant of Fatty Lai in Guillemard Road), which serves a selection of dim sum, and also hor fun and braised pork knuckle.

Some hawkers have kept prices the same as their other outlets, but others have had to increase prices by 50 cents to $1 due to the higher rents in the area. The average monthly rental for tenants operating at the food street is $6,000, up from $4,000 previously.

But diners do not seem to mind.

Diner Hansen Tjiu, 36, who works in textile sales, says: "The prices here are higher than at other food courts, but the atmosphere is good."

Hawkers tell SundayLife! that they are encouraged by the brisk business they have been seeing since the opening and are hoping that they will continue to do well in the long run.

The owner of Katong Keah Kee Fried Oysters, Mr Law Jock Keah, 60, who has been in the business for almost 40 years and also serves his signature fried oyster omelette at his stall at the Singapore Flyer, says: "We were invited to open a stall here, and so far, business has been good, better than at the Flyer. Before the renovation, it wasn't very comfortable, and it was quite run-down. Now, this place is not bad, it's also more comfortable for cooking."

Mr Ho Kok Choy, 63, who runs the Joo Chiat Ang Moh Noodle House, is also encouraged by the response since opening his wonton noodle stall last week. On Sunday alone, he sold 300 bowls of noodles.

He says: "A lot of diners commented that there are now many famous stalls, which is good for us."

"Business is not bad, good enough for us to cover the rental," he adds with a laugh.

Stalls such as the Old Airport Road Satay Bee Hoon & BBQ Steamboat offer an expanded menu from its original stall in Old Airport Road, even selling items such as mashed potato and Korean-meets-Thai-style barbecue items. Chomp Chomp Goodluck BBQ Chicken Wings offers rice dishes with chicken and rojak, which is not available at its original Serangoon outlet.

Tenants from the pre-renovation days, such as the owners of Chinatown Food Street Fried Kway Teow stall, have also returned with updated menus.

Owner Chai Phey Wah, 45, who runs the stall with his family members, now serves fried rice in addition to fried kway teow.

He says of the revamp: "It's more pretty here now, and there is a much bigger crowd coming through, but what is good is that we also have regulars from the old days coming back, and they are happy to see us."

Tourists Jessica Burns, 22, and Joshua Reed, 23, both Britons, were impressed by the food street when they visited on Wednesday.

Mr Reed, a post-graduate student on holiday, says: "I like it, it's the cleanest food street we've ever seen, and everything is so organised and orderly. The service area is busy but it doesn't feel crowded at all."


Chomp Chomp Goodluck BBQ Chicken Wings

What: Famed, juicy barbecued chicken wings from the stall that originated in Chomp Chomp Food Centre in Serangoon Garden. The family-run Chinatown stall, managed by Mr Low Sio Yong, 67, and his son Low Siew Earn, 37, has an expanded menu which also offers rojak, otah and grilled chicken drumstick with rice.

Prices: $1.70 a chicken wing; $2 an otah; $4/$5 for rojak and $6.80 for chicken drumstick rice

Katong Keah Kee Fried Oysters

What: A Teochew-style fried oyster omelette (or luak) that owner Mr Law Jock Keah, 60, has been cooking for the past 40 years. The Chinatown stall will be his second outlet; he also operates at the Singapore Food Trail food centre at the Singapore Flyer. The omelette is crisp and fluffy.

Prices: $5, $8 or $10 for fried oysters; $8 or $10 for oyster omelette

Chinatown Food Street Fried Kway Teow

What: A returning tenant at Chinatown Food Street who has been in the business for more than 10 years, hawker Chai Phey Wah, 45, returns with his family to offer his signature wok-fried black kway teow with fishcake, prawns and cockles.

With the stall's reopening, he is also offering an expanded menu that includes fried rice done four ways.

Prices: $5 and $8 for three-in-one fried kway teow with prawn, fishcake and cockles; $4 and $6 for cockles fried kway teow; $5 and $8 for chicken mushroom fried kway teow; fried rice from $5

Joo Chiat Ang Moh Noodle House

What: Mr Ho Kok Choy, 63, was an executive chef with Parkroyal hotel for many years, before starting his own noodle stall in 2008 in Joo Chiat Road.

The Chinatown stall offers the same items as its flagship outlet, except for curry chicken and tom yam noodles.

Try the signature wonton mee, served with char siew and crisp fried pork lard, or the beef brisket noodles.

Prices: $4.50 for its signature wonton noodles; $5 for prawn dumpling noodles; $6 for beef brisket noodles; $4.50 for wonton soup; $5 for prawn dumpling soup

Adam Road Nasi Lemak

What: A bit of secrecy surrounds this stall. Apparently, the owner said he used to work at one of the two famed nasi lemak stalls at Adam Road Food Centre - Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak and No. 1 Adam's Nasi Lemak.

He declined to tell SundayLife! where he worked. But given that both outlets at Adam Road are a hit among foodies for their coconut milk-flavoured rice and fried condiments, this stall is worth a try.

Prices: $4.50 for a chicken wing and nasi lemak set with ikan bilis and fried egg; $4.50 for fish nasi lemak set with ikan bilis and fried egg; additional side dishes such as sausage, begedil, otah, beef lung and fish cake from $1 for each item

Geylang Lorong 9 Fresh Frog Porridge

What: This stall, also known as Shi Sheng Claypot Frog Porridge, originated in Geylang and has been in the business since 1995. It is known for its kung pao-style claypot frog dish, which is served with a bowl of plain congee.

There is also a ginger and spring onion claypot frog dish served with plain congee, or a frog porridge served with chunky pieces of tender frog meat.

Prices: $8, $16 and $22 for kung pao (dried chilli) frog; $8, $16 and $22 for ginger and spring onion frog; $8, $16 and $22 for frog porridge; $2, $3 and $4 for plain porridge

Old Airport Road Satay Bee Hoon & BBQ Steamboat

What: A family-owned business which started in 1960, the stall is known for its thick, smooth satay bee hoon sauce. The Chinatown stall is the third outlet. The other stalls are in Old Airport Road and the Singapore Flyer.

The Chinatown one offers new snacks such as mashed potato with cheese or with milk. There is also a Thai meets Korean-style BBQ steamboat menu.

Prices: Satay celup and BBQ steamboat cost $30 for two people and $40 for three people; $2 for plain bee hoon with satay sauce; $3 for a plate of assorted vegetables; $5, $8 and $10 for satay bee hoon; $2 for mashed potato with cheese or milk