S'pore's last kacang puteh seller continues 50-year family tradition in the midst of a pandemic

Stories of Us: Not your typical job.

Syahindah Ishak | August 17, 2020, 08:41 PM

If you find yourself walking past Peace Centre at Selegie Road, you might notice a humble little pushcart accompanied by a cheerful man, a.k.a. Singapore's last kacang puteh seller, a.k.a. Amirthaalangaram Moorthy.

For those unfamiliar with the term, "kacang" means nuts in Malay and "puteh" or "putih" refers to the colour white.

In the past, kacang puteh was a popular snack commonly seen on the streets, particularly near cinemas as it was famously dubbed the 'Singaporean popcorn'.

Now however, kacang puteh pushcarts can hardly be found.

Well, with one notable exception.

Passed down from generation to generation

53-year-old Moorthy is a a third-generation kacang puteh seller who inherited the business from his father, who himself took over from his father.

His family has been selling kacang puteh for over 50 years, previously selling their kacang puteh at Balestier Road.

When I went down to Peace Centre at around 3.20pm on Monday (Aug. 17), Moorthy was seated on a stool listening to the radio on his phone.

Even with his mask on, the wide smile and laugh lines are evident. A smile he warmly offers to anyone who walks past.

Many snacks to choose from

Moorthy's pushcart had a variety of nuts, beans, peas, legumes and crackers to choose from.

Photo by Syahindah Ishak.

Photo by Syahindah Ishak.

There are also some salted chickpeas and boiled peanuts in the corner.

Photo by Syahindah Ishak.

Moorthy sells his kacang puteh at S$1.20 a packet.

They mostly come in a paper cone, like in the olden days, but if Moorthy is feeling a little generous, he would put the snacks inside a slightly bigger plastic.

Moorthy’s kacang puteh are mostly handmade from scratch with his very own secret family recipe.

His daily work routine begins around 7am.

He would wake up to cook each snack, and even spends his off days (every Sunday) prepping for the coming week.

Together with his 50-year-old wife, they operate the stall from Monday to Saturday, from 10:30am to 7pm.

Photo by Syahindah.

Didn't want father's efforts to get wasted

The couple does this full-time and Moorthy said that he can't see himself doing anything else but sell kacang puteh.

He added that he didn't want to let his father's efforts over the years go to waste. Taking his mask off momentarily to drink water, he tells us how he had always wanted to take over the business.

Even when he was young:

"Last time, my father sell. He cannot do, I do. He never ask me to do it. I want to do it myself.


Other business, still running. If this (kacang puteh) not running...how?"

Moorthy and his wife have two children, a daughter and a son, both in their 20s.

But it seems like neither of them intend to follow in their father's footsteps.

Moorthy said that they each have their own careers in other fields, although he still hopes that they might change their mind one day.

Photo by Syahindah Ishak.

Business during Covid-19

The kacang puteh business is already a dying trade to begin with, but life became significantly harder for Moorthy when the Covid-19 outbreak reached Singapore.

During the two-month circuit breaker period, his business was completely closed and he was left to survive on whatever he already had at that time.

He only resumed operations when Singapore moved on to phase two of post-circuit breaker.

Moorthy said that on an average day, he usually gets about 300 customers.

But now in phase two, on a good day he gets about 150.

Yet, Moorthy remains unfazed and optimistic.

When asked how he's coping with the business struggles during this pandemic, Moorthy simply replied: "Little bit, little bit [...] slowly, slowly."

He added: "Sometimes have five people (customers). Sometimes 10 people. Sometimes no people."

During our 20-minute chat, about five customers came over to purchase some kacang puteh.

All of them appear to be from the older generation.

Interaction with customers

Moorthy admitted that he very rarely gets younger customers.

Some younger-looking people walked by the store appeared fascinated at the sight of a kacang puteh stall and stopped to stare at it for a while.

A few took out their handphones to take a pic. But left soon after, kacang puteh-less.

Some who walked past were really friendly, giving Moorthy a hearty wave and chatting with him for a while.

Moorthy explained that these "regular customers" work at Peace Centre and they all know one another well by now.

One man, who was also working at the centre, came out to offer Moorthy more paper for him to make paper cones.

The man told me that Moorthy was a "nice man" who always has a smile on his face and cooks delicious snacks.

When I purchased (another) packet of kacang puteh, Moorthy happily handed me an extra pack full of boiled chickpeas.

Photo by Syahindah Ishak.

The man was absolutely right.

Stories of Us is a series about ordinary people in Singapore and the unique ways they’re living their lives. Be it breaking away from conventions, pursuing an atypical passion, or the struggles they are facing, these stories remind us both of our individual uniqueness and our collective humanity.

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Top images by Syahindah Ishak.