The Vanished Wet Markets & Hawker Centres

The government announced plans to build ten more hawker centres over the next decade last October 2010. Hawker centres had become part of Singapore’s unique culture since the mid-seventies. During the mid-eighties, there were 140 markets and hawker centres located all over the island, but now it is about 100.

Wet markets are the main sources of fresh produce such as meat, fish, vegetables and fruits. However, due to the competitiveness, convenience and cleanliness of supermarkets, the customers of wet markets are vanishing. Today, there are still large wet markets like Chinatown Complex Market, Empress Market (or Farrer Market), Holland Village Market, Tiong Bahru Market, Tekka Centre, Toa Payoh Central Market, Ghim Moh Market and Geylang Serai Market.

The National Environment Agency inspectors were vigilant to check street hawkers since customers were exposed to hygienic issues. After several food poisoning and epidemic cases, the Environment Ministry decided to clean up the streets so the first hawker centres were built in 1971. It is part of the government resettlement program.

The first hawker centre to operate in Singapore is Yung Sheng Food Centre at Jurong. Jurong West Street 52 Block 505 Market & Food Centre was the last hawker centre to be built in 1985, and a year later, the last street hawker was successfully resettled. Many hawker centres were renamed as (cooked) food centres between the late seventies and early nineties, but many still preferred their old names.

The former Telok Ayer Market is Singapore’s first ever market since 1825. It was a simple wooden structure standing next to the sea to allow goods to be loaded and unloaded directly to the boats. The market had to be dismantled in 1984 due to the nearby tunnelling of the MRT system and was finally reopened in 1991 as Lau Pa Sat ("old market”).

The Chinatown Complex Food Centre was the largest hawker centre in Singapore with an astonishing 803 stalls during the late eighties.

Maxwell Road Food Centre (originally Maxwell Market since 1935), Tiong Bahru Market (since 1955), Newton Circus Food Centre (since 1971), Chomp Chomp Food Centre (since 1972), East Coast Lagoon Food Village (previously East Coast Hawker Centre, since 1978) and Pasir Panjang Food Centre (since 1978) are other prominent hawker centres in Singapore.

Three entities which largely managed the markets and hawker centres are the Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), Housing Development Board (HDB) and Jurong Town Corporation (JTC).

Below are some of Singapore’s vanished markets and hawker centres (not in alphabetical or chronological order) in the past decades.

  • Orchard Road Market (1891-1982)
  • Orchard Road Carpark Hawker Centre (1966-1978)
  • Boat Quay Food Centre and Empress Place Food Centre (1973-1993)
  • Telok Ayer Transit Food Centre (early 1980s-1997)
  • Simon Road Market (1948-1999)
  • Commonwealth Avenue Food Centre (1969-2011)
  • Seletar Hills Market & Food Centre (1974-2005)
  • Lim Tua Tow Market (early 1960s-early 1990s)
  • Neo Tiew Market & Food Centre (1979-2002)
  • Labrador Villa Food Centre (1972-2008)
  • MacPherson Road Market (1955-1990)
  • Lakeview Market & Food Centre (late 1970s-2000)
  • Old Tekka Market (1915-1982)
  • Changi Market and Joo Chiat Market (1930s-1979)
  • Siglap Market (1945-1989)
  • Farrer Park Food Centre (1980-late 1990s)
  • Ellenborough Market (1845-1968)