#reclaimingsg is our series about all things related to our memories of and how we feel about Singapore. We are not so ready to “archive” yet, hence the word “reclaim”. We’re also hoping to do a series of different hawker centres in Singapore. This marks the first entry for Chinatown Complex Food Centre. If you would like to contribute, contact us!
(Chinatown Complex Food Centre: Part II)
The food centre was closed for renovations in March and has reopened.
A few years ago, I worked a 5-minute walk from the Chinatown Complex. However, we seldom went there for lunch because of the incorrigible weather and the crazy lunch crowds that would descend upon the place at noon. Whenever we went, often during the austerity period at the end of each month, we would be greatly pleased by how much we saved and promise to eat there more regularly the following month (that seldom happened). Sometimes, we would lament the fact that there were too many choices available, walk around the place for a good 10 minutes to “try something new/different” before deciding on what we usually did anyway. Indeed, the proliferation of choice did little to help increase our lunching efficiency.
Earlier this month, I headed down to Chinatown to get some Chinese New Year decorations for some ex-colleagues who just moved into a new office and decided that there is no better place to start our new hawker centre series than the Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre.
The food centre sits above the wet market on the second floor and compared to most hawker centres, this one is pretty massive. The layout is a little confusing, but if you are looking for anything, just ask. Old aunties and uncles are very helpful. I went on a weekday afternoon and had an erm, second lunch:
Run Ji Cooked Food 润记熟食, #02-140
I ordered a “mixed” duck rice plate (S$2.50) which came with a nice portion of braised duck meat and duck kidney. The rice came soaked in dark soy sauce in a good, delicious way. On the side of the plate, there was a dollop of hae bi hiam – their own version of spicy fried shrimp sambal – that went very well with the rice. I wasn’t supposed to be very hungry but polished that plate pretty quickly. It wasn’t the best plate of duck rice, but it had a very comforting, home-cooked taste.
Just before I left, I asked the auntie how long they have been running the stall. “20+ years on the second floor,” she replied in Cantonese. “Another 50 years on the first floor. I started helping out my father when I was 13, and now I’m 83.”
That was just pretty amazing to learn and I didn’t even know the food centre has been around for such a long period of time. She carried on to reveal, after I asked about the hae bi hiam in my spectacularly shaky Cantonese, that the idea to include the fried shrimp came from Malay dishes and that she would sometimes just have that to go with plain rice or porridge.
Xue Hua Fei 雪花飞, #02-19
Somewhat emboldened by success at talking to the nice old lady at Run Ji, I asked the bubbly-looking auntie at this dessert stall the question I’ve always wanted to know the answer to. Why is ice jelly also known as “o-yo”? Unfortunately, she didn’t have the answer (“你们叫o-yo 我就这样叫 lor”) and provided several more alternative names for the dessert in various dialects. I really should bring paper and pen next time.
Chinatown Complex Market & Food Centre
336 Smith Street
Open daily; operating hours may differ from stall to stall