Tradition and technology meet at the oldest Indian Vegetarian Restaurant

11 11 2011

As a child, one of the things I would look forward to is my mother’s return from her visits to the market. She always had a treat for me, be it in a tiffin-carrier or something wrapped in a piece of leaf or paper tucked away in her rattan marketing basket. I was never disappointed by the choices she made and one of them would usually include one of my all time favourites – Putu Mayam. My earliest impressions of the soft stringy looking South Indian String Hoppers were that they resembled what we would refer to as Bee Hoon or Rice Vermicelli, pressed together into a flat pile. It was something that may be eaten with curry, which my parents often did, or as it is often served in Singapore, accompanied by orange coloured sugar and grated coconut. It’s something that we still find in Singapore, only that it isn’t made with the love and care of the hawker, but, as with most local snacks and cakes we find these days, produced in a factory. Ironically, it is across the Causeway where most of the factories that produce Putu Mayam are located that we still find Putu Mayam, or Putu Mayong as it is known as there, being made as it might have been all those years back – the dough of rice flour mixed with hot water, salt and oil pressed using a Idiyappam (its proper name) mould and cooked over a steamer fashioned from upturned rattan baskets (I have seen this being done at two locations at Pulau Tikus and Air Hitam in Penang).

Putu Mayam or Idiyappam served with Dhal Curry at Ananda Bhavan.

I was to discover, much to my surprise, that there are still outlets in Singapore that maintain the tradition – one being Ananda Bhavan, which I had a chance of visiting a month or so back thanks to the good people of the television series on Singapore’s food history, Foodage (in which Ananda Bhavan and its late 3rd generation owner Nadarajan was featured). It is here, at Singapore’s oldest Hindu vegetarian restaurant that Idiyappam is made as it might have been – soft and moist and unlike the somewhat dry out of a plastic bag variety we tend to find these days.

Putu Bola served with orange coloured sugar and palm sugar.

The visit offered a lot more than just Idiyappam of course, there was another old favourite – something that is perhaps less common than Putu Mayam – Putu Bola – made from the same dough and rolled into a ball, as well as a chance to watch an Appam making demo and dig into the wonderfully tasty Mysore Masala Thosai, try some Naans, some sweets and Masala tea.

Appam making demo - first heat and oil the pan.

Pour the batter into the oil and heated pan.

Spread the batter over the pan.



Remove from pan when lightly brown.


Ananda Bhavan traces its history back four generations to 1924 and was started by the the great-grandfather of current generation that runs the business at the location of one of its current outlets at the Ellison Building along Selegie Road and has over the years re-invented itself to cater to the changing needs of its clientele, offering home delivery services and catering – orders can be placed over the phone or online – as well as through a recently introduced free smartphone application (for the application on Apple iTunes App Store – click here). The restaurant also caters to groups of a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 30 for dining with activities such as appam or prata making apom or prata. Arrangements can be made by dropping an email to Mr Viren Ettikan.

Ananda Bhavan also offers North Indian food such as Naans.

Sweets for the sweet - Jalebi (think it is called that).

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:

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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A tour of Singapore’s food history in 8 hours

11 08 2011

Produced by Sitting In Pictures, Foodage is a series of eight 1 hour episodes shown on Okto at 10pm on Thursdays, which made its debut on 4 August 2011. Foodage traces Singapore’s food history in the years since independence through collective personal memories, home movies and photos, recapturing our lifestyle and food trends over the years.

Catch Ukelele Man, Dick Yip, better known as "Uncle Dicko" amongst his fans and readers of his blog The Wise Old Owl, as he entertains with his ukelele in Episode 2 of Foodage.

The second episode of Foodage, “Food to Roam”, will be on the air this evening (Thursday 11 August). A synopsis of the episode provided on its Facebook Page:

In the 60s, hawkers roamed the kampongs and the streets of urban Singapore. The children who grew up in this foodscape share their memories – the roving calls of these hawkers were music to their ears, and fed their seemingly insatiable appetites. Their memories – both pungent and poignant – are set against a turbulent backdrop of merger and independence, lawlessness and unemployment and the Big Fire. The food on offer in this episode includes, Indian rojak, wanton mee, kaya bread, mee siam and tuckshop tidbits. The Singaporeans sharing their stories, include Jerome Lim, Peter Chan, Shaik Kadir, Yeo Hong Eng, Andy Lim, Toh Paik Choo, James Seah, Lum Chun See, Aziza Ali, Dick Yip, Ong Yew Ghee, Ivy Lim-Singh, Geraldene Lowe-Ismail…. watch out for The Foodage sweet spot moment when the strains of the “lang tin ting” man of the 50s gives way to the “ukelele” man of the noughties.

Do follow Foodage on Facebook:

See also:

Andy Lim: Sounds n Music Of Food Hawkers

Lam Chun See: Foodage Episode 2 (Okto Channel, Thursday 11 Aug, 10 pm)