Foodie paradise, parking hell

The Urban Redevelopment Authority last week banned new eating houses from opening in seven areas - after complaints about traffic congestion and parking problems. This week, Samantha Boh and Danson Cheong take a closer look at the newest additions to URA's blacklist.

This neighbourhood off Upper Serangoon Road sees restaurant crowds in the evenings on Fridays and weekends.
This neighbourhood off Upper Serangoon Road sees restaurant crowds in the evenings on Fridays and weekends. PHOTO: DESMOND LUI FOR THE STRAITS TIMES
The URA has banned new eateries from opening along some stretches of Bukit Timah Road. ST PHOTO: DANSON CHEONG
Mr Tan Soon Huat, 57, starts work at 6am and is one of a team of some 10 workers who keep Wong Chiew Eating House going. ST PHOTO: SAMANTHA BOH
Chinese Muslim Feroz Mak opened Mak's Place as he found it hard to find good halal Chinese food when eating out. ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM
Guan Antique's Mr Ng Ah Choon (left) - with co-owner Chua Chye Hong - said the people patronising the shops in the area are getting younger, with "most coming here to eat or for coffee". PHOTO: EDWARD TEO FOR THE STRAITS TIMES



Big draw: Variety of halal food

Cereal prawns, kung pao chicken and salted-egg crab are seldom seen on halal menus.

But in a stretch of Changi Road between Frankel Avenue and Jalan Eunos, there are close to 10 eateries serving all manner of halal eats - yong tau foo, chicken rice, even dim sum.

"As a young man, I felt very out of place when I was outside because I found it hard to find good Chinese halal food," said Mr Feroz Mak, 61, a Chinese Muslim.

So he started his own eatery, Mak's Place, in Changi Road and cooks from his mother's recipes.

The area is popular with Muslisms. Diners come in groups, sitting by the roadside. "We come here for gatherings," said polytechnic student Syauqina Alyani, 20. "We like the variety of food and the kampung atmosphere."


He has seen shops come and go

An array of Chinese food offerings such as roasted duck and 24-hour dim sum is the reason why Wong Chiew Eating House, which has been in Sembawang Road for over 10 years, continues to be the main draw of an otherwise-quiet street where businesses struggle to stay afloat.

Mr Tan Soon Huat, 57, who has worked at the coffee shop located between Mandai Road and Transit Road for 10 years, said the rest of the shops on the stretch have changed hands more than once during his time there. "It is difficult to survive; there aren't many people coming by here."

But new shops are still moving into the area, including Golden Wheat Spa, which opened in February, and Sher Casual Dining & Bar, which joined the row of shops in July.



Heart of Malay culture and heritage

While often in the shadow of the trendy and youthful Haji and Bali lanes, Kampong Glam still beats as the heart of Malay culture and heritage.

The home of Malay royalty in the early days, it is the largest of seven new areas where the Urban Redevelopment Authority has banned the setting up of new restaurants because of parking problems and traffic congestion.

Shops, cafes and businesses abound in Bussorah, Arab and Baghdad streets, the main thoroughfares of Kampong Glam.

History runs in the veins of store owners such as Mr Mohammad Aljunied, 54, a descendant of Arab merchant and landowner Syed Omar bin Ali Al Junied, after whom Aljunied Road was named.

"In the old days, the shop owners wore sarongs, and there were carts on the roads selling snacks like popiah," said Mr Mohammad, who now runs his family's Muslim fashion boutique, Toko Aljunied.

Another who has watched Kampong Glam evolve is Madam Siti Alijah Ali, 62, who has been a manager at unit 115 - now Alibaba Textile - for 23 years. Kampong Glam will always have its place in Singapore history, said Madam Siti.

"Where else would you go for real authentic Malay food and clothing?" she asked.



Area gains fresh vibe with cafes, better mix of shops

Previously known as a night spot lined with pubs, Kampong Bahru Road gained a fresh vibe after a handful of cafes set up shop in the area.

The 100m stretch between Blair Road and Everton Road is slowly gaining traction as a weekend afternoon hang-out, with patrons flocking to eateries such as Strangers' Reunion and Highlander Coffee and The Dough Shoppe.

Mr Ng Ah Choon, 60, owner of Guan Antique, said he used to share the stretch with a fruit store and restaurants before the pubs moved in. The cafes now are part of a second wave of new shops. "The crowd is definitely getting younger, and most coming here to eat or for coffee," he said.

Ms Liu Xiaoqian, 30, a gallery assistant at Studio 67, said she likes the better mix of shops now. Other new entrants include photography firm Sophia World and Cellarbration, which sells alcohol.


Controlling floods and foodies

The Bukit Timah Road area has the dubious honour of being one of the most flood-prone in Singapore. But with the expansion of the Bukit Timah Canal in full swing, floods along the busy thoroughfare are thankfully less frequent, said residents.

However, accessibility is still a problem. "Getting in and out of the area is very difficult when you don't drive," said resident Joshua Loke, who is self-employed.

Mr Loke, 29, has lived in the verdant, tree-lined neighbourhood for almost a decade.

"In the morning and evening during rush hour the roads are jammed with cars," he added.

The area should become more accessible after stage two of the Downtown Line opens in 2016.

Residents told The Straits Times that many people visit the area for its restaurants, which serve everything from Italian to Greek cuisine. That prompted the Urban Redevelopment Authority to ban new eateries from opening in the areas between Wilby Road and Elm Avenue, and from Anamalai Avenue to Fourth Avenue.

But when the crowd ebbs late at night, silence descends. "It's very quiet, so quiet that at night you can sometimes hear drivers drag-racing along the road," said Mr Loke.



Grounds for friendship

Walking into Ho Tit Coffee Powder Factory is like going back in time - 61 years to be exact. That is how long the coffee producer has been at its Upper Paya Lebar Road premises.

The interior is decorated with coffee tins and black-and-white photographs, and there is also coffee-grinding equipment dating back some 40 years.

Every week, owner Dominic Chua, 51, and his wife, Madam Cynthia Aw, 49, roast some 450kg of coffee beans imported from countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Colombia.

Their customers are mostly regulars but there is also the occasional walk-in. "They find out about us from the Internet and come out of curiosity," said Madam Aw.

Many become friends, she said. "Instead of just coming for our coffee beans they will sit and chat with us, and we will teach them how to brew and drink their coffee."



Eateries act to ease the squeeze

Jalan Riang is a little nook in a quiet neighbourhood off Upper Serangoon Road that faces a squeeze in the evenings on Fridays and the weekends.

Regulars of the five cafes and restaurants there - which serve cakes, pizzas and seafood - drive in and clog up the narrow street.

To help keep things in order, business owners along the stretch have employed traffic marshals and valet drivers since last year.

Mr Kelvin Lim, owner of Australian bistro Rokeby, said they decided to do this after discussions with the area's MP and the Urban Redevelopment Authority last year. "Our main business is to operate F&B outlets, but we're also focusing on the traffic issue to manage the situation," he said.

"We'll do our part to help the community in the area."

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