On the subject of some of our lost makan (food or eating) places, there would be many that we can collectively remember, which could be the many stalls that lined much of the old streets of Singapore, or the ones that appeared in car parks in the evenings as they emptied of their day time occupants. In an effort to clean up the streets of Singapore and to improve hygiene of street food vendors, many of the hawkers were taken off the streets in the 1970s, moved to purpose the built food or hawker centres we are familiar with these days. With the food centres, proper rubbish disposal facilities and running water could be provided, as well as well maintained food preparation areas – a huge improvement on the pushcarts that were used, where leftovers could have been tossed into the drains, and the lack of running water often meant that water for washing was often reused. One such food centre that my parents were fond of going to, being close to where we lived in Toa Payoh, was the one that my parents referred to as “Under the Flyover” along Whitley Road. This was built to house hawkers at the end of Balestier Road near its junction with Thomson Road, and came into being sometime in the 1970s.
The food Centre was referred to by my parents as “Under the Flyover” as it was literally located under the flyover that connected Jalan Toa Payoh to Whitley Road (now all part of the Pan Island Expressway or PIE – the original flyover is the one that now carries the west bound traffic on the expressway). Popular particularly with taxi drivers, it was well known for the stall which sold Prawn Noodles with large prawns, and another which served Pork Porridge and Macaroni Soup, Singapore style (usually Macaroni boiled in clear chicken broth, served with shredded pieces of chicken or with minced pork). My favourite stalls there were however the one that served cut fruits, for the triangular colourful pieces of jelly that was sold, the Won Ton noodle stall and the Char Siew Rice stall.
During the year that I was in Primary Six, and equipped with a monthly bus pass, I had the freedom of hopping on and off the public buses as and when I wanted, and as the food centre was located conveniently along the public bus route home, I could often stop over at the food centre with my schoolmates on my way home from school. We would always head straight for the cut fruit stall – for its refreshing iced pineapple juice, displayed in a clear plastic container in which cut pieces of boiled cubed pineapple could be seen at the bottom of. Another favourite of ours was the Indian convenience store that operated out of one of the units close to the entrance from the bus stop where we could pick up Shoot! and our favourite snacks.
The food centre remained a popular choice of my parents for dinner or a late night supper even after we had moved further away from Toa Payoh. Sadly, the food centre has gone the way of many other things I loved about Singapore, disappearing sometime in the early 1990s, and what is left in its place is an empty plot of land which is used as a heavy vehicle park, and now, not one, but two flyovers (a newer flyover was constructed to carry eastbound traffic on the PIE) cross over the what had once been the food centre that had a hand in feeding the growing appetite of my youth.