Singapore’s first privately-run, 700-seater hawker centre
First published on . Updated on 8 Nov 2013.
What’s it like? Singapore’s first privately-run hawker centre by a social enterprise (the grand-sounding Best of Asia) is certainly a novel business idea – some stallholders pay rent, while others receive a fixed salary and co-own their stall with the enterprise. Since opening last October 2012 at the two-storey Bedok Market Place to much fanfare, however, the concept (which occupies the upper deck) doesn’t look to have taken off; the cavernous 700-seat space was depressingly empty on our weekend visit, with less than 20 patrons spotted during lunch hour. It doesn’t help that much of the initial buzz has seemingly faded; we were told by one hawker that the weekly flea market, which sells furniture and handicrafts, had ceased due to licensing issues. There’s still sporadic live music performances on weekends, but the eclectic collection of tired-looking furniture at both ends of the centre and tacky decorations – think conical glass bottles with fake flowers at each table – were underwhelming.
What to eat? Stalls open at different times of the day (about half were open during our visit, with at least five of the 32 stalls unoccupied), although the varied food options run the gamut from Indian, Vietnamese and Thai to Western and seafood. By far the most popular option here is Heavens (#02-08), an offshoot of the famous Heavens Indian Curry in Ghim Moh. Its specialty is hand-made putu mayam ($2.20/two), a popular breakfast snack of steamed pancake-like beehoon served with grated coconut and orange sugar – a little too sweet for our taste, but a nice alternative to the usual prata choices.
Offerings in the Muslim section veer from the palatable to the weird. A watered-down tom yam soup from MJ’s Thai Muslim (#02-24, $5) lacked the requisite fiery heat and contained – strangely – carrots and peas, while the selection of mee goreng and fried rice (all $3.80) at the unnamed stall 24 next door was comfort food at its best. It’s manned by gentle mute Ms Salamah Hassan. Hawker stalwarts such as chicken rice can be found at Big Bowl Chicken Rice (#02-10, $3), but it’s nowhere near the class of the original Sin Kee Margaret Drive outlet. Interestingly, Omo Gold Bar (#02-05/06) proffers wine and beer from 4pm onwards, which range from France and Australian wines (from $24/bottle) and UK, Germany and Belgium imported brews such as the Warsteiner Premium Pilsner ($10), Real Pils ($10) and Fuller’s London Pride ($12). But it’ll take more than booze in a coffeeshop setting to make up for Kampung@Simpang Bedok’s lacklustre atmosphere. LMK