The Tampines Round Market & Food Centre has been around since 1983 and while it is known for a variety of good food, the market also holds a treasure trove of stories by its hawkers and stall owners, especially those who have been with the market since its infancy.
Here are the stories of the people of Tampines Round Market & Food Centre:
The Power Couple
Mrs Chen Hui Zhen is an energetic woman who would most probably tell you that she has been working at the Tampines Round Market with her husband, Mr Chen Yong Zhou, for longer than you’ve been around.
The couple runs a roasted meats stall at the market which sees a brisk business especially on weekends.
“We’ve been working here for 34 years,” Mrs Chen grinned. “Previously we worked at a market in Toa Payoh for 10 years before coming here.”
Mrs Chen let on that that was where their relationship blossomed. “I used to sell fruits at Toa Payoh,” she said, “while he sold roasted meats.”
“He was always so busy manning his stall, until he had no time to wash his plates. I agreed to help him. That was how we started our relationship!” she exclaimed with a laugh.
After the couple got married, Mrs Chen devoted herself to helping out at her husband’s roasted meats stall where they roast and braise their meats daily.
The government closed down the Toa Payoh market in 1983 to build the MRT line. It was then that the couple found themselves moving their business to Tampines.
“Most of us here at the market have been working here for over 30 years. Many of us came here and started our businesses together. We’re like family.”
“They gave us an option to move to Tampines or Lorong Ah Soo,” Mrs Chen explained. We chose Tampines because many of our friends from the old market chose this as well.”
Even today, many of Mrs Chen old friends are still running stalls. “Most of us here at the market have been working here for over 30 years. Many of us came here and started our businesses together. We’re like family.” she said with a smile.
The Flower Lady
Perhaps one of the more interesting stories that Irene shared with us was how her shop came to be named after her husband and her.
“My neighbour took over a printing shop and wanted to design a name card for my new business as a gift,” she said. “He asked me, ‘What is the name of your shop?’”
“I said ‘my shop doesn’t have a name’. So he said, ‘OK, I’ll name it Henry and Irene,’”
When Irene first came to Tampines Round Market in 1986, she helped her mother-in-law run a flower and plant kiosk just outside the market. Not long after, she opened her own flower stall in the market as well.
Irene told us that her flowers come from a variety of countries, such as Malaysia, Vietnam, Holland, Taiwan, and China depending on the season.
While business has been brisk, she is seeing lesser customers as younger folks tend to avoid flower stalls in markets, opting instead to purchase their bouquets online or at malls.
“If you bought flowers for your girlfriend and told her you got it from the market, she’ll tell you, “Eh, you very cheapskate leh,’” Irene jested with a hearty laugh.
Instead, over the years, Irene sees more of her regular customers coming back to buy flowers. Having worked at the market for over 30 years, she now knows when her customers will come back to buy flowers.
“On the first and fifteenth days of the lunar month, people come here to buy flowers to offer at temples,” Irene explained.
“People also occasionally buy on Mother’s Day. Hindus buy the flowers, like chrysanthemums on Tuesdays and Fridays for prayers. My Malay customers usually buy during Muslim festivals like Hari Raya.”
The Sayur Sisters
“My late father owned this store before my mum and I took over three years ago,” says Zana.
Together with her sisters Eda and Ida, the 26-year-old runs a sayur (vegetables) stall at the Tampines Round Market & Food Centre.
“We thought of renting the store out to other people, but my mum said better to depend ourselves.”
Every morning, after morning prayers, the sisters rush down from Jurong West to Tampines in order to open their stall at 8am. Whenever stocks run low, the sisters head over to Pasir Panjang Wholesale Market to restock their vegetables.
“[The other stall owners] are very supportive, sometimes they buy us breakfast or lunch when we are too busy manning the store, other times they even cook for us!”
Zana acknowledges that running a business is challenging and requires a lot of perseverance before seeing the fruits. However, the difficulties of business are soften by the good rapport the sisters have with the rest of the market folks.
“They are very supportive, sometimes they buy us breakfast or lunch when we are too busy manning the store, other times they even cook for us!” said Zana. “Even our customers drop by to give us food, like kueh kueh or briyani.”
More stories of Tampines
The Tampines Round Market & Food Centre is one of the heritage sites on the newly launched Tampines Heritage Trail, which offers more stories of Tampines and its past. Some of the beautiful heritage sites you can find on it are the Lorong Halus Wetlands, a temple cluster at Tampines Link, and Our Tampines Hub.
The Tampines Heritage Trail is divided into three different components:
To find out more about the trail, check out this video by Roots.sg:
Cover images by Jiahui Wee.
This sponsored post allows our writers to jalan jalan at markets to find more heartwarming stories.