Lau Pa Sat

Lau Pa Sat

Lau Pa Sat or Telok Ayer Market in the heart of the financial district in Shenton Way in 1992 and the Market today. -- ST PHOTOS: FILE, ALPHONSUS CHERN

The 121-year-old Telok Ayer Market, or better known colloquially as Lau Pa Sat (""old market"" in Hokkien), looks much the same as it did when it was built in 1894. To spot the difference, count the number of skyscrapers that stand like glittering sentinels around the grand olde dame.

In architectural parlance, it is the largest Victorian filigree cast-iron structure in South-east Asia, the most visible sign being the delicate metalwork that the stately octagonal structure wears with such grace.

Most now know the “Old Market” as a food centre serving the office crowd and tourists, but you can trace the history of Lau Pa Sat back to the founding of Singapore.

Sir Stamford Raffles commissioned the construction of a commercial hub in Telok Ayer in 1822, to replace Singapore’s first market, which was located at the south bank of the Singapore River.

The market, then known as Telok Ayer Market, overlooked the sea, and produce could be loaded directly on and off boats.
The building was rebuilt a few times until the current one was designed and built by architect and municipal engineer James MacRitchie, who also designed (you guessed it) MacRitchie Reservoir.

Telok Ayer Market was gazetted as a national monument in 1973 and became a food centre known for its good and cheap hawker food.
In the mid-1980s, when a Mass Rapid Transit tunnel was being built under the market, the whole structure was taken apart, each of its 7,000 components logged and put in storage.

In 1988, it was painstakingly put together again, like a three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

As the Telok Ayer Festival Market in the early noughties, the reassembled market was pimped up with live entertainment, a pub and other gimmicks. But the way to Singaporeans’ hearts is, as always, through their guts.

Food chain Kopitiam has managed Telok Ayer Market since 1995, and it re-opened in July 2014 after a $4-million revamp.

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