From a little street in Singapore – Hock Lam Beef 100 years on

11 10 2011

I first came to know of Hock Lam Street’s famous beef noodles back in heady days of the late 1960s. I must have been about three then when I willingly accompanied my mother on her regular shopping forays to the area around, an area that was the 1960s equivalent of today’s Orchard Road, only because of the promise of a reward of what had become my favourite bowl of beef balls floating in the piping hot rich brown broth of beef soup. The memory that I have is not of the stall in particular, which to be frank I don’t have a recollection of, but of sitting at a table laid out on a five-foot way on the outside of a coffee shop at the corner of North Bridge Road and Hock Lam Street, eargerly awaiting my reward which my mother would have placed an order for and the taste of the broth and bouncy beef balls which I somehow could never have enough of.

A long way away from the five-foot ways of the 1960s Hock Lam Street.

The Hock Lam Street where my first encounters with the piping hot bowl of beef ball soup was (photo source: http://picas.nhb.gov.sg).

Today, a little over four decades have passed since the last time I found myself at a table on that particular five-foot way, and it is comforting to know that it is not just that distant memory of a long lost Hock Lam Street that remains. And while the area in which it operated has undergone a complete transformation into a soulless and sober place that bears little resemblance to the bustling streets where shoppers came for the latest fashions and to indulge in some of their favuorite hawker fare – Hock Lam Street itself now buried under a shopping mall, the folks behind the beef noodle stall are still dishing out noodles in their signature beef broth. The business is still very much in the family and is now run by Ms Tina Tan who seeks to continue with a tradition that goes back three generations before her, albeit in the much more comfortable surroundings of the three outlets that she now operates under the name Hock Lam Beef. The business was featured on a television programme on Singapore’s food history in the years since independence, Foodage, which aired on Okto recently in which Tina recalls a very different environment that her father, Mr Anthony Tan operated his stall in – the hot and sweaty and rat infested streets of the old Hock Lam Street, has certainly come a long way. Last weekend, Hock Lam Beef which traces its history back to Tina’s great-grandfather, celebrated its 100th anniversary with a celebration which included lion dances in which all proceeds for the day was donated to the Make A Wish Foundation. For me, it was a reason to celebrate with Hock Lam Beef, not just because of its centenary, but also because it is wonderful knowing that one of the things that I remember my childhood for, is still around in a world that has changed too fast.

A lion dance to celebrate 100 years of Hock Lam Beef.

Inside the China Street outlet.

Ms Tina Tan and staff at Hock Lam's China Street outlet during the 100th Anniversary Celebration.

Mr Anthony Tan, Tina's father who ran the stall when it served my favourite bowl of beef ball soup.

Mr Anthony Tan and staff at the China Street outlet.

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One response

16 10 2011
Francis Lai

I remember “jalan jalan” with my partner (now my spouse) at the old Hock Lam Street in around mid-1975, I think. We had stopped by and tried a roadside hawker selling beef noodle soup there one evening. Till to date, I don’t know if this is the same one you’re blogging about. i remember then the street was very crowded with people and the hawker stalls selling cooked foods and other merchandise were the crowd pullers. Wow !

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