Physical and virtual tours to revive Chinatown Complex

Above: Mr Ngo Meng Nguen from Xing Long Food Stall cooking his "secret dish" Chee Cheong Hor Fun (left), an off-menu item sold only to regulars, which participants will get to try on the tour. ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG Below: Mr Poon Sun Hay from Pa
Mr Poon Sun Hay from Pan Ji Cooked Food making Sachima, a crispy snack covered in sugar syrup. The 64-year-old is reportedly the last seller of handmade Sachima here. ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG
Above: Mr Ngo Meng Nguen from Xing Long Food Stall cooking his "secret dish" Chee Cheong Hor Fun (left), an off-menu item sold only to regulars, which participants will get to try on the tour. ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG Below: Mr Poon Sun Hay from Pa
Mr Poon Sun Hay from Pan Ji Cooked Food making Sachima (above), a crispy snack covered in sugar syrup. The 64-year-old is reportedly the last seller of handmade Sachima here. ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG
Above: Mr Ngo Meng Nguen from Xing Long Food Stall cooking his "secret dish" Chee Cheong Hor Fun (left), an off-menu item sold only to regulars, which participants will get to try on the tour. ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG Below: Mr Poon Sun Hay from Pa
Mr Ngo Meng Nguen from Xing Long Food Stall cooking his "secret dish" Chee Cheong Hor Fun, an off-menu item sold only to regulars, which participants will get to try on the tour. ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG
Above: Mr Ngo Meng Nguen from Xing Long Food Stall cooking his "secret dish" Chee Cheong Hor Fun (left), an off-menu item sold only to regulars, which participants will get to try on the tour. ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG Below: Mr Poon Sun Hay from Pa
Mr Ngo Meng Nguen from Xing Long Food Stall cooking his "secret dish" Chee Cheong Hor Fun (above), an off-menu item sold only to regulars, which participants will get to try on the tour. ST PHOTOS: CHONG JUN LIANG

Visitors can sample traditional food, learn about heritage at Hawker Day Out event

For many of his 37 years as a hawker in Chinatown Complex, Mr Poon Sun Hay would rise at 5am and head to his Pan Ji Cooked Food stall to make Sachima, a crispy snack covered in sugar syrup.

The 64-year-old is reportedly the last seller of handmade Sachima here, with no one to inherit his trade. Except for the older generation, few would have heard of it.

As part of a Hawker Day Out event to be held from this coming Saturday to Sept 6, curious foodies can visit his stall, one of several stops in a tour of the complex.

The event consists of four guided tours through Singapore's largest hawker centre, giving visitors the chance to sample traditional dishes and learn about their heritage.

Sachima, for example, was supposedly eaten by the conquering Machurian army in the 1600s.

Each tour focuses on a different aspect of hawker culture, with visits to some of the 226 food stalls in the complex and opportunities to interact with the hawkers and try off-menu items such as Chee Cheong Hor Fun.

The tours are also available virtually over Zoom, where participants can interact with the hawkers and guide, and sample the dishes through a food platter delivered to their doorstep.

Conducted by local tour agency Tribe, the tours will also explore the history of hawker culture here.

Three of the physical tours will cost $25 per person, while the last, a "Hawker Discovery" tour, will cost $10 per person. A maximum of 10 are allowed for each session.

The virtual tours are priced at $25 per person, with a maximum of 20 people allowed in each session.

Tribe's head of partnerships and business development Law Yock Song, who curated the tours, said the tour agency is in talks with Indonesian ticketing platforms to see if such live-streamed tours can be expanded to an overseas market.

"Covid-19 has made us more innovative. We believe it's a better way to engage our audience," he said.

For the physical tours at Chinatown Complex, there will be eight sessions each day over the two weekends during the event. For the virtual tours, there will be three sessions each day over two weekends.

  • TOUR PRICES 

  • $25

    Cost of a physical tour or virtual tour of the hawker centre per person. 

    $10

    Cost of a "Hawker Discovery" tour per person.

The tours include vouchers for the stalls at Chinatown Complex.

There will be promotions such as discounted food, free drinks, goodie bags and a contest where patrons can vote for their favourite hawker.

More details are available at this website.

The Singapore Tourism Board is providing funding and marketing support for the event, which is part of the SingapoRediscovers campaign that aims to boost local tourism in the wake of Covid-19.

It was announced last Monday that Singaporeans would get $320 million in SingapoRediscovers Vouchers to spend as part of this campaign.

The event is organised by the Chinatown Complex Hawkers' Association together with EatShopPlay, a private organisation promoting hawker culture.


A customer buying sachima from Mr Poon Sun Hay, owner of Pan Ji Cooked Food. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

EatShopPlay's co-founder Nicole Lim said yesterday that she and her co-founder learnt that many hawkers have fascinating stories to tell, but Singaporeans often take hawker cuisine for granted.

She said that if Hawker Day Out is successful, EatShopPlay hopes to organise similar events in the future.

"We want to do this so the next generation can still enjoy hawker food," she said.

Mr Law said tour guides who have been affected by the absence of tourists can also benefit from such events.

The Chinatown Complex Hawkers' Association hopes the event will help rejuvenate not just the hawker stalls but the entire complex, which houses around 480 other stalls selling sundries and fresh produce.

 
 

The association's secretary, Mr Yao Fang, said that business has been badly hit as some stores depend on tourists for up to 70 per cent of their business.

Hawker Tan Ming Han, 34, helps out at his family's dried cuttlefish and biscuit stall, which saw an 80 per cent fall in business due to the outbreak.

Although business has improved recently, he is concerned for the other stalls in the complex.

"Chinatown Complex has sort of been forgotten by people.

"I hope through this event we can re-energise it and bring business back to the rest of the complex through a multiplier effect," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 23, 2020, with the headline 'Physical and virtual tours to revive Chinatown Complex'. Print Edition | Subscribe