Changi Airport food street hawkers not from original stalls

From ‘Airpost’s hawker stalls: Not so famous after all’, 2 Aug 2014, article by Rebecca Lynne Tan, ST

THE week-old food street at Changi Airport, which was touted as offering 13 popular hawker stalls from different corners of the island, is not what it has been made out to be. The Straits Times has found that of the 13 stalls at the 10,800 sq ft Singapore Food Street in Terminal 3’s transit area, seven bear no direct links to the original famous stalls.

Some are new start-ups while others are named after streets or areas well-known for particular dishes, but have no connection to the original brands. For instance, Jalan Tua Kong Minced Pork Noodles at the airport food street is not an offshoot of the famed 132 Meepok in Marine Terrace, which was located in Jalan Tua Kong in the 1990s. It is also not related to Jalan Tua Kong Lau Lim Mee Pok Kway Teow Mee in Bedok Road. Instead, it is run by Mr Tan Dee Hond, 33, who told The Straits Times that he had worked at the Lau Lim stall for about two years.

The owners of two popular char kway teow stalls at Old Airport Road, Dong Ji and Lao Fu Zi, said they did not open the Old Airport Road Fried Kway Teow & Carrot Cake stall at Terminal 3. Nor is Mr Elvis Tan, 54, who owns East Coast BBQ Seafood at East Coast Lagoon Food Village, behind the airport’s new East Coast Lagoon BBQ Seafood stall.

When asked if naming the stalls after a street or an area famed for a particular dish was a misrepresentation, Select Group’s executive director Jack Tan, 45, said: “If you use the name of the stall, then you’re in trouble, but if you don’t use the name and just use the street, it’s a free-for-all.”

…It is a common practice for hawkers to capitalise on the name of a well-known location-specific dish such as Katong laksa and Jalan Kayu roti prata. But the prevalence of the practice does not make it right, said Mr K.F. Seetoh, 50, street food advocate and founder of street food guide Makansutra.

He said: “The new stall will be living off someone else’s reputation, someone else’s good will. You cannot register a street name and there is no law against it, but it is not right.”

When the ‘food street’ was launched last month, it boasted ‘household hawker names’, yet with a surprising omission of a dish that even Gordon Ramsay swears by; Laksa. Otherwise, it came across to me then as a rather obvious tourist trap and I was skeptical that our hawker heroes would sell out to a place that calls itself a ‘street’ when it’s actually in a building. Changi Airport’s media release was also damningly cringeworthy, describing the assemble as ‘specially curated’ from all over Singapore, as if they sent hawker archaeologists out with a bag of money to hunt down the holy grails of local delights.

If even our locals could be fooled into thinking that the char kuay teow in Terminal 3 is the same as what you get in an old-timey hawker centre, what more foreigners? Location, location, location. One reason why ‘Katong Laksa’ wasn’t in the list could be that food enthusiasts have been doing so much detective work over the years on a brand notorious for its copycats, that it would have hawker geeks up in arms in protest should anyone even have the cheek to ‘borrow’ the Katong name once more. According to Leslie Tay, the real Mccoy, the ‘Janggut’ style, is from an unassuming stall in Telok Kurau. Fans of prata would also appreciate that there’s only one ‘true’ Jalan Kayu stall, the Thasevi one.  Some hawkers continue to exploit the good name of a place that doesn’t even exist anymore, like ‘Blanco Court’ Kway Chap.  Ponggol Nasi Lemak and Punggol Nasi Padang  are also two completely different entities.

In 2010, a relative of the man behind the original Tai Hwa Hill Street ‘Minced Pork Noodles’, or more affectionately known to Singaporeans as bak chor mee, was brought to court for claiming that his own version in Vivocity food court was the original and in the process ‘misleading the public’ with this ‘publicity gimmick’. Since then, we’ve only heard of such name-stealing suits from the big boys in the FnB industry, like Subway trying to take down Subway Niche for example. If anything, ST’s reveal on the Changi Airport Food Street misnomers helps to raise awareness of where the real deal is located, and if you’re a savvy traveller in transit who’s done your fair share of culinary homework, you would skip the wannabes and go for something less pretentious like Ya Kun Kaya Toast. If you’re a Singaporean and you’re willing to travel all the way to Changi Airport to queue up for counterfeit char kuay teow on a weekend instead of going to Old Airport Road hawker centre, then shame, SHAME, on you.

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