The Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre is one of the estate’s most familiar landmarks, and a cornerstone of its cultural (and culinary) heritage. Walking along the rows of shops bursting with goods on the ground floor, or circling the hawker stalls smelling of grease and sweet chilli on the second, one is struck by the seemingly timeless quality of it all; as if here, like nowhere else in Tiong Bahru, the days do not pass at all.

History of the Tiong Bahru Market

Pre-war origins

Before World War II, two shophouses situated along Tiong Poh Road served as a makeshift wet market for the whole area, quickly drawing in a number of grocers and hawkers alike and becoming an early iteration of the modern hawker centre.

The Seng Poh Road Market

The predecessor of the Tiong Bahru Market, then known as the Seng Poh Road Market, was opened on 21 January 1951 and provided proper infrastructure for the establishment of the contemporary hawker centre. It was mainly constructed using wood, and featured roofs made of zinc. Stalls were organised according to the goods they sold.

Caption: The Seng Poh Road Market
Source: Remember Singapore

However, its initial period was fraught with problems: for example, a shortage of hawker stalls led to the setting up of illegal shops outside the market itself, as well as regular disagreements and brawls. When the hawker licensing system was introduced in the 1970s, more issues arose as the police conducted frequent raids on illegal hawkers.

Still, for the most part of its 50 years of existence, the wet market experienced few changes (save for a roof replacement). In this time, it firmly established itself as one of Tiong Bahru’s most popular food joints.

Overhaul and Renovation Of Tiong Bahru Market (Seng Poh Market)

In 2004, Seng Poh Market was shut down to undergo a complete renovation and remodelling at a cost of $16.8 million. It was reopened as a two-story complex in 2006 under a new name, the Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre.

Caption: The Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre today

Tiong Bahru Market today

Ground floor (wet market)

Today, the Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre boasts a history dating back at least 30 years. But it’s safe to say that it hasn’t lost one bit of its former spirit, bustling with activity each and every day. Down below, vendors and stall owners hawking everything from fresh flowers to colourful clothing chat comfortably with customers, as the cool afternoon breeze rushes past. For anyone yearning for a glimpse of the good old days, one gets the feeling that the Tiong Bahru Market might be the closest thing we have.

Caption: The florist’s stall overflowing with petals in every colour

Second floor (food centre)

Going up the white spiral staircase to the hawker centre on the second floor, you pass an elaborate mural depicting the market itself and the surrounding buildings, a historic area beautifully captured in brushstrokes.

Caption: The mural on the side of the staircase

Once inside the hawker centre, one is overwhelmed by a blend of every conceivable scent in the place, combining to create a distinctive aroma that can only be described as heavenly. (As we all know, the smell of food can do a great many things for your appetite!)

Caption: The Tiong Bahru Food Centre
Source: Channel NewsAsia

Fresh from a three-month renovation back in February to May 2017, the food centre looks (and feels) better than ever before, featuring newly installed fans and sunshades. But longtime patrons need not worry; the homely ambience of the place has not changed a bit, nor has the hustle and bustle of food being ordered and served. After more than a decade, the Tiong Bahru Food Centre has cemented its spot at the top of the food chain, and for good reason. It remains one of the best—if not the best—places to grab a bite, or commiserate with colleagues over a cup of kopi, or polish off a plate of a familiar favourite while enjoying the afternoon breeze.

Future of the Tiong Bahru Market

For a slice of life in Tiong Bahru Estate, there’s no better place than the Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre. Despite the rapid pace of the modernisation that has taken place all around the rest of the estate, it stands firm as one of the last bastions of the old Tiong Bahru, a reminder of a time when life was simpler and the neighbourhood just a little quieter. Still, there is something to be said for the continued vibrancy of this historically significant area and its rich heritage—and the Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre is but one piece of the puzzle.

Caption: Exterior of the Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre
Source: Channel NewsAsia

Written By: Soh Ying Qi