Sunday, 12 October 2014

A day back to the history of Balestier Road; 16 good eats along the way

Home is everything you can walk to.’ - Jerry Spinelli

Balestier Road was better known for its labyrinth of old shophouses of lighting and electric shops that will not bring about excitement and familiarity among the younger generations. That was not the case for me. My grandfather’s shophouse was located in the heart of this ageing yet bustling food street; this was my playground since childhood. I watched this space grow from old sweaty uncles in white singlets serving my coffee shop breakfasts to the new current addition of commercial buildings and backpackers’ hostels.

Beyond the peppery fragrance of Bak Kut Tehs and savoury-sweet aroma from Tau Sar Piahs around Balestier Road is a long history dating back to the 1800s. The name was borrowed from the first United States consul in Singapore, Joseph Balestier, who then owned a sugar plantation here. While Balestier Road is the official label that we are all accustomed to now, there are a few colloquial names attached to it. Some come with interesting meanings that I didn’t even know of:

‘O Kio’ in Hokkien; directly translates to Black Bridge.

‘Wu Hap’ in Cantonese; directly translates to Taro Plantation as it was one of the more commonly grown vegetables here then.

‘Thannir Kampam’ in Tamil; directly translates to Water Kampong as the villagers would draw water from this area and sell it at the nearest market.

‘Kebun Limau’ in Malay; directly translates to Lime Garden.

Many are envious of the rich culture in China, Zhong Hua 5000 Years, and Europe, with its Napoleon Warring Years. Singapore has its own history beyond the mere 49 years. Sidenote: Happy Birthday, Singapore!

Jalan Dusun



Photo credit: Timeoutsingapore

Hidden behind the modern high rise buildings is Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall. Though his name rings a bell to many of us, we do not know much about his contributions to shaping Singapore’s nationalism. There is no more excuse as it’s free entry to this 2 storey colonial style villa that used to be an enclave for the Chinese labourers in the early 20th century. This space is now a national monument with artifacts, calligraphy works, old photographs, book, paintings and structures. Recognise your other forefather apart from Sir Stamford Raffles.

Address: 12 Tai Gin Road
Admission: Free for Singaporeans & Permanent Residents | $2 - $4 (for Tourist & Foreign Citizens)
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm, Closed on Mondays



Photo credit: indesignlive

Zhongshan Park is an integration of the memorial hall, dedicated in the honour of Dr. Sun Yat Sen. It was only a few meters walk before I was wholly immersed in the concept of ‘Garden in the City’. I could not resist the luring shadows of the umbrella-like trees; I took off my heels and detached myself the city-stress.

Coming back on to the main road, you will have a few famous eats that have been around for decades.

1. Loong Fat Tau Sar Piah

Photo credit: cavinteo

Address: 639 Balestier Rd, Singapore 329922
Opening Hours: Closed on Sun, Mon to Sat and PH: 08.00am - 04.30pm

2. Sea City Curry Rice
Address: Blk 1 Thomson Rd #01-326

3. Whampoa Food Street Keng Fish Head Steamboat House


Photo credit: hautestuff

Address: 556 Balestier Rd
Opening Hours: Monday - Friday 11am - 3pm / 5pm - 11pm | Weekends & Public Holidays 11am - 11pm

Boon Teck Road


Photo credit: budgethotel Singapore

Balestier Hawker Centre did not turn into a market only in the 21st century. During the pre-war days, it was a market for selling produce from nearby rattan plantations along Whampoa Road and sugar plantations in Jalan Ampas. Balestier market did not lose its food relations even during warring days. It was used as a food rationing centre by the Japanese soldiers; only to be rebuilt into a hawker centre in the later years.

4. Rochor Beancurd House


Photo credit: rochorbeancurd

Address: 432 Balestier Road #01-436

5. Balestier Market

Address: 411 Balestier Road
Opening Hours: 9am - 9pm (generally)

a. Boon Pisang Goreng

Photo credit: makansutra

b. Bugis Street Chuen Chuen Chicken Rice


Photo credit: pingram

c. Ah Hui Big Prawn Noodles


Photo credit: burpple

d. Ah Hui Fishball Noodles


Photo credit: misstamchiak

6. Hong Kong Street Chun Tat Kee


Photo credit: cavinteo

Photo credit: thebondingtool

Address:  412 Balestier Road
Opening Hours: Mon - Sun: 11am - 11pm

The shophouses were built by wealthy developer Madam Sim Cheng Neo and designed by Kwan Yow Luen in 1928. This 'Singapore Eclectic' shophouse style is described as 'Late Style'; a unique blend of western and eastern elements. Though commercialised now, these shophouses still retain its mystical facade.

Photo credit: balestier12011

The rich culture and ethnic diversity of Singapore have played a role in creating a distinctively local architecture. The traditional Chinese warriors on pillars were replaced with Sikh Guards; a local adaptation when Sikh came to Singapore as Sepoy (policemen and security guards).

Photo credit: dayshotel

At the end of Boon Teck Road, you will see the last free water kiosks in Singapore. You may find it absurd now to be drinking from metal tins by the road side but its significance goes beyond quenching your thirst.

Photo credit: ourexpatadventure

It is a voluntary effort from Thong Teck Sian Tong Lian Sin Sia. This water kiosks symbolise clean water as a luxury in Singapore since the earlier days. Clean water sources were appreciated by the labourers such as the trishaw riders and rickshaw pullers.

Photo credit: ghettosingapore

Shaw Plaza

Photo credit: balestier12011

I am perpetually curious about the entertainment scene during my grandparents' and parents' days. Little did I know the once prominent Shaw's Malay Film Production Studio stands near the current Shaw Plaza. Indicating an essence of its glorious past, there is a faded Shaw Brothers' logo at the top of the abandoned building.

Along the same lane, there are some eateries that you might want to try.

7. Kai Juan Bak Kut Teh


Photo credit: burpple

Address: 395 Balestier Road
Opening Hours: 24 Hours daily, except till 2pm on Sundays.

8. Loy Kee Chicken Rice


Photo credit: 12ttniang

Address: 342 Balestier Road
Opening Hours: 730am - 930pm

9. Lam Yeo Coffee Powder


Photo credit: arihara1010

Address: 328 Balestier Road
Opening Hours: Mon - Fri: 9am - 7pm | Sat: 9am - 5pm

Photo credit: ura

Further down the same street lies Goh Chor Tua Pek Kong Temple. This was where people, both locals and workers, congregate, socialise and entertainment. This temple was built by the Chinese labourers working for Joseph Balestier 1847; you can imagine the rich history it speaks.

Kim Keat Road


Kim Keat area off Balestier Road was named after Chua Kim Keat of the Straits Trading Company. He was of Peranakan descent and the only son of Chua Kai Hoon of Malacca.

10. Three Wombats Cafe


Photo credit: groupon

Photo credit: voucherlicious

Address: 18 Kim Keat Road
Opening Hours: 11am - 10pm

11. BJ American Diner


Photo credit: dealsg

Address: 312 Balestier Road
Opening Hours: Mon - Fri: 12:00 - 15:00 | Mon - Fri: 17:00 - 23:30 | Sat & Sun: 10:00 - 23:30

12. Sweetlands Bakery


Photo credit: balestier12011

Address: 10 Kim Keat Lane
Opening Hours: 24 Hour

13. Eastern Rice Dumpling


Photo credit: hungrygowhere

Address: 300 Balestier Road
Opening Hours: 24 hours

14. Sing Hon Loon Bakery


Photo credit: hardwarezone
Address: 4 Whampoa Drive
Opening Hours: 24 Hours

Photo credit: mybusybodycorner

Opposite the start of Kim Keat Lane is Balestier Point. Balestier Point is an architectural inspiration drawn from Moshe Safdie's Habitat 67 in Canada; consisting cube-like blocks arranged to form a stepped terrace structure. This block is a combination of a residential area and a shopping centre. The most envious is - all units have their own gardens. 

Rangoon Road

15. Founders Bak Kut Teh


Photo credit: danielfooddiary

Address: 154 Rangoon Road
Opening Hours: 9am - 11pm

16. Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh


Photo credit: hungrygowhere

Address: 208 Rangoon Road

Opening Hours: 10am - 11pm

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