As old estates go, Singapore‘s Tanglin Halt has got to be one of the most talked about and romanticised ones, thanks in no small part to its impending redevelopment, and even a charming feature film (Wanton Mee by Eric Khoo) centred around it.
Named after the trains that used to ‘halt’ in their tracks here, the 31 housing blocks, seven commercial buildings and two markets and food centres that make up the estate are set to be demolished starting end-2021 through a period of seven to 10 years to give way to new projects.
That means its residents, small family-run businesses and many food stalls will all soon be gone. There is only a short window left if you’re planning to experience its old school charm in full. So make haste and visit while you still can; some folks have already moved out. If you’re heading down, be sure not to miss these places.
Hock Ann Confectionery
There’s just something about the way breads are made (and smell) in traditional bakeries like Hock Ann Confectionery that appeals to our sense of nostalgia and comfort. From cream pastries to pandan chiffons and custard puffs, baked goods from a bygone era still sell like hot cakes here. The good news is, while the venue itself may be closing, they’ve already announced an online store where the more than 50-years-old confectionery will go on doing what they do best.
In a country filled with supermarkets, convenience stores and artisanal grocers, it’s a treat and otherworldly experience to shop at Kian Seng, a provision shop that has stood the test of time peddling all sorts of knick knacks for almost 50 years now. A few items you can only find here and nowhere else: traditional gem biscuits, unbeatable prices, and proprietor Lim Ang Ah’s welcoming smile.
Tanglin Halt Food Centre
If there’s one place you must visit, this is it. One of two food enclaves affected by the redevelopment, Tanglin Halt Food Centre will be one of the first sites to disappear, since its demolition date is one of the earliest, by end-2021. Must-try stalls at the three iconic hexagonal buildings that form the food centre include Chef Hainanese Western Food for their value-for-money grilled platters, as well as Hakka Thunder Tea Rice for bowls of rice and ingredients soaked in delicious tea broth.
Tanglin Halt Market
A stone’s throw away from Tanglin Halt Food Centre, the Tanglin Halt Market, set to be demolished in 2024, boasts another set of food stalls that will soon be missed by legions of fans. There’s the famed Guangzhou Mian Shi Wanton Noodle, the star of the aforementioned film Wanton Mee, which opens till the wee hours to cater to supper-goers. And then there’s Tanglin Halt Original Peanut Pancake. The stall sees snaking queues of people every morning going after its mouthwatering peanut-filled pancake wraps that are known for being chewier and more fragrant than anywhere else.
The residential blocks
While public housing flats are commonplace in Singapore, the designs of some of the residential blocks here are actually rather unique. The low-rise three and four storey flats are an uncommon sight given the nation’s penchant for high-rises, and the rows of 10-storey blocks with diagonal staircases are also highly distinct and characteristic of the area. Take a good look around. It’s unlikely future public flats will feature such an aesthetic.
BONUS: Museum @ My Queenstown
Not a storied venue like the rest, but still worth visiting is this community museum set up by non-profit organisation My Community. Found right beside the Tanglin Halt Food Centre, the shophouse space contains exhibitions and items of interest that tell stories of the Tanglin Halt area and the broader Queenstown neighbourhood. As residents and shop owners begin their exodus, My Community has been collecting personal items from them as a way to preserve their memories, even when the museum moves to its new home on Margaret Drive in due time. The volunteers here offer guided tours too.