1 July 2012 marks the first-year anniversary since the close of the iconic Tanjong Pagar Railway Station. Last year, Yahoo! Singapore marked its closure with a multimedia series featuring the people of the station. One year on, we ventured in search of the people behind the famous Chappati, Nasi Briyani, Ramly burgers and Nasi Padang to discover where they have moved to.
The Tanjong Pagar Railway Station had long been renowned for its tasty and affordable hawker fare.
With little notice since the station closed down on 1 July last year, though, many customers were left wondering where its hawkers moved their stalls to — or if they decided to stop selling their delicious food altogether.
Run by the Hasan brothers — 70-year-old Mahmoodul Hasan, and 67-year-old Masudul — the coffee shop spaces inside the building and along the end of the train tracks played home to at least 14 stalls, and a wide variety of mostly Malay and Indian food.
Since the station closed, however, the brothers parted ways after working together for 27 years.
9 Hoe Chiang Road
After taking a roughly five-month break, Mahmood brought three of his food stalls to 9 Hoe Chiang Road.
There, he sells Indian food, drinks and furthest inside is a Muslim food stall. Four of his staff who worked at the station for about five years moved over to Hoe Chiang Road with him.
Before the closure of the railway station, though, Mahmood expanded his business to Lau Pa Sat Festival Market, and runs one stall, called So Sedap! at one end of the food centre, beside fast-food restaurant Wendy’s.
He told Yahoo! Singapore that another shop space at Lorong 36 Geylang is still under renovation, and is likely to open in a month or two. He still hasn't decided what to sell there yet, but he believes it will likely be similar to his offering at Hoe Chiang Road.
Reminiscing the years he spent at the railway station brings tears to his eyes, however, and Mahmood says he misses it and thinks of it every day.
“If it (the building) was open, I would go back there every single day,” he said, sharing his memories of the friends he made and the time he spent in a prayer room above the coffee shop whenever he needed a moment of quiet.
He also found great affinity with the cats and chickens at the train station, saying there were at least 20 of each that would flock to him whenever he was there.
“I went back about a month after the station closed, and one chick appeared out of nowhere and ran up to me,” he shared fondly.
Geylang Serai — Labu Labi
In the meantime, his younger brother, known as Mansur, runs a sizeable shop space in Geylang Serai called "Labu Labi", where he brought in three of his previous food stalls — his famous Chappati stall, the Nasi Padang stall and the teh tarik stall.
Paying a visit to the eatery, located at the junction of Geylang Road and Joo Chiat Road, this reporter met some familiar faces such as drink stall vendor Kak Ros, who said she had only started working there alongside the others when the eatery opened about a month ago.
"It was hard getting by over the past few months, but I'm happy to be working again," she said with a smile.
Labu Labi is open 24 hours, and so Kak Ros says she and her colleagues do 12-hour shifts.
Tanjong Pagar Plaza — Nasi Briyani
Breaking out on his own was 62-year-old Mohamed Ali Latif, who for eight years sold Nasi Briyani at the railway station.
His son Shah, 37, tells Yahoo! Singapore it hasn't been easy over the past year since their move to their current home, a stall tucked at the corner of a coffee shop at one end of the second floor in Tanjong Pagar Plaza.
Signs pointing the way to his family's stall are fairly prominent, but one would only notice them if one were to venture up to the second floor, and to the right end.
"Many of our old customers still don't know where we are now," said Shah, the only of Ali's three sons who is actively helping his parents in the business.
"It's like starting all over again — we're not holding up very well," he said with chagrin.
Despite their less prominent location, many briyani lovers have still found their way to or discovered Ali's stall, and the family dishes out its plates of chicken and mutton with fragrant briyani rice from 10:30am to about 2:30pm--although they usually sell out by about 1:30pm.
His is truly run like a family business, with Ali's wife greeting customers and acknowledging them as "brother" and "sister", and Ali himself exchanging friendly handshakes and boisterous hellos with many of his regular customers.
Ali says he has been selling about 30 per cent less than he used to at the railway station, though, because of rising costs of ingredients and the different dynamics of the crowds in the business district area.
"After 2:30pm, it's deserted here," he says. "(At the railway station) we had walk-in crowds, commuters and more. There are fewer people coming through here."
Asked if he plans to expand the business, Ali said, "Maybe later, but I want to preserve the quality of my food--that's why I'm keeping it all in one place first."
Shah shares that the family first heard about the station closing a year beforehand, in mid-2010.
"That's when we started looking for another stall to go to," he said, adding that it was some of their customers who helped them to find and secure their current location.
Reminiscing about the station, Ali says no matter where his business moves to, "you'll never get a place like the railway station".
"It was a typical family-gathering area, and you meet people from all walks of life," he shares. "We made so many friends, regardless of standing in society--and now that I'm alone here, it'll never be the same."
WHERE ARE THEY NOW? THE KTM RAILWAY STATION FOOD HAWKERS
- Level 2, Tanjong Pagar Plaza (the end nearer to Tanjong Pagar Market)
Items sold: Nasi Briyani
- 9, Hoe Chiang Road
Items sold: Indian food, drinks, Muslim food (and in future, Ramly Burger)
- Stall number 24 (near Wendy’s), Lau Pa Sat
Items sold: Indian and Muslim food
- At the junction between Geylang Road and Joo Chiat Road, Labu Labi
Items sold: Chappati, Nasi Padang, drinks
- (upcoming) Lorong 36 Geylang