Wafting into the warm night air is a potpurri of aromas – the sharp tang of the vinegar splashed onto fishball noodles, the buttery sweetness of flaky tau sar piah (baked pastry with sweet fillings), the sweet scent of steaming crabs. The cacophony of hawkers about their business competes with the swell of a Teochew opera in full swing. If you forget about the modern skyline against which these scenes are unfolding, you will be forgiven for thinking you are back in post-war Singapore.
As part of Singapore’s Golden Jubilee celebration and in conjunction with this year’s Singapore Food Festival, the Singapore Food & Beverage Alliance (SFBA) has turned a stretch of the swanky entertainment hub, Clarke Quay, into a food trail of delectable Teochew favourites. ‘A Wok Down Memory Lane’ revives the nostalgic charm of the iconic Ellenborough Market which had pride of place along the Singapore River in 1800s - 1960s.
“As Singapore’s most popular riverfront F&B; and entertainment hub and a must-visit destination for locals and tourists, we are pleased to host ’A Wok Down Memory Lane’ at Read Bridge, a popular meeting spot in our precinct with a rich history. This event not only underscores Clarke Quay’s standing as a foodie hotspot, it reinforces our position as a family-friendly lifestyle destination,” said Adrian Lai, Centre Manager, Clarke Quay.
A Taste of the Past
Named after Edward Law, the 1 st Earl of Ellenborough and Governor-General of India (1841-1844), the Ellenborough market sold fresh fish and dried seafood products in the day. At night, it came to life with hawker stalls selling traditional Teochew favourites like steamed fish, cold crab and braised duck, which earned it the nickname Teochew Market. It was also affectionately known as Sin Pa Sat (New Market).
Teochew cuisine is known for its light, clean taste and simple cooking methods, usually braising and steaming. Among the most famous of Teochew dishes is Cold Crab. At ‘A Wok Down Memory Lane’, Swissôtel Merchant Court’s Chef Jason Teo stays true to the original recipe by steaming market-fresh crabs with a splash of Chinese wine before chilling them and serving them cold. He is also presenting another Teochew mainstay, Steamed Pomfret, using his own family recipe served with a dipping sauce of fermented soy bean paste in true Teochew style.
Ming Fa Noodles House, a 42-year-old Teochew fishball noodles stall had its start as a pushcart at the Ellenborough market. Just as his father used to do, Lim Gek Meng still makes his fishballs fresh daily from yellowtail fish.
The nostalgic food fair also brought in other Teochew delights. Poultry specialist, Mr Duck, presented Braised Duck ( lor ark ) stewed in a light and savoury sauce of dark soy sauce, soya sauce, and five-spice powder. Their version preserves the traditional texture and taste while using a unique blend of herbs for a healthier interpretation.
There is also authentic Teochew-style Bak Kut Teh (herbal pork rib soup) inspired by hawker stalls that once lined the Singapore River prepared by homegrown restaurant, Xiao Chen Gu Shi . Traditional Teochew bakery, Thye Moh Chan serves up their oven-fresh Tau Sar Piah , a popular pastry for auspicious Chinese occasions. The 70-year-old store still handcrafts its pastries and uses traditional baking methods.
In keeping with this year’s Singapore Food Festival theme ‘A Fresh Taste of Tradition’, creative takes on Teochew cuisine was also showcased. Teochew sisters, Candy and Jenny from Everything Foods, gave the Teochew Carrot Cake a modern twist by pairing it with salted egg sauce that usually accompanies crab and prawns.
Sights and Sounds from the Past
Along with a taste of history, visitors will also get treated to sounds from the past. When the Teochews came to Ellenborough Market, they did not just bring their cuisine with them, they brought their culture as well. Teochew opera or ’chao ju’ was introduced to Singapore in the 19 th century right here at the old market. Over two weekends, Tok Tok Chiang and Nam Hwa Teochew Opera Troupe will transport visitors to an era past with cadences of traditional Teochew operas, martial arts and acrobatic performances.
Back in the day, it was common to find hawkers selling supper wherever Teochew opera troupes performed. A staple was the ‘Teochew Opera Porridge’, recreated at ‘A Wok Down Memory Lane’ by award-winning celebrity chef, Eric Low.
By hosting this homage to the culinary heritage of Singapore, Clarke Quay has shown that beyond its reputation of a leisure and entertainment hub, it is also a place rich in history and tradition. ‘A Wok Down Memory Lane’ gives visitors a chance to savour the rustic flavours of old Singapore at the exact location where history was written.