Petty Trading

I refer to Roger Poh's article, "Singapore 6th most expensive city: allow small businesses and petty trading" [link]

In this article the author described the drastic change in our trading demographics where the number of small businesses have dwindled to almost non-existence. One of the main reason why these "petty traders" disappeared from the scene was the clamping down on such activities by authorities. As stated in the article, even ice cream vendors face more restrictions to peddle their wares these days. 

In my days (I'm an old fuck), not only "Mama" shops were a common sight in HDB void decks, there were other interesting hawkers that plied their trades at the void decks or door to door through the pigeon holes. There was an elderly Malay lady who sold authentic Sng Pao in her own house. I swear upon the black book that her Sng Pao was the best in Singapore. The commercial versions didn't stand a chance at $0.20 each. Her own $0.20 versions was majestic, twice as big, twice as flavourful and was "organic" as compared to the commercial counterparts. Her menu was was follow:

1) Rich, generous, milky Bandung Sng Pao
2) Sng Muay (sour plum) Sng Pao 
3) Pineapple Sng Pao (with real chunks of fruits)

I kid you not, no adults in the neighbourbood knew the existence of this underground Sng Pao stall. As kids, we loved it. It felt like a secret base, illegal trading. Something so wrong yet so right. I promise you, none of the kiddy customers of this Malay lady will have forgotten these memories.

There was a fat Chinese lady who would carry two huge pots of Soon Kueh door to door. To think of it today, it was really hard work for a young lady to do so. I know I will sound biased to say this, her Soon Kueh was really the best I have ever eaten. That is the second swear on the black book today in the span of 3 minutes. My sisters and I loved her Soon Kuehs and would be salivating like caged monkeys behind the steel gates of our HDB flats in Holland Village Block 12 when we heard the fat lady coming our way.

At random void decks, it was a common sight to see "Ting ting Candy" vendors with their huge floury trays, Malt Candy Grandma vendors squatted in their malt full galvanised steel buckets and twisted the stubborn malt with wooden skewers. And who could forget the Muah Chee sellers? In the name of hygiene, by mid 90s, most if not all vendors were wiped from the surface of Singapore's glorious hawking history. Propaganda was a great success, resulting in citizens believing in the evils of unlicensed street hawkers. If hygiene was a legitimate reason, how do we explain the disappearance of casual road-side newspaper vendors but Buzz! kiosks popping up around like mushrooms? Want to know why the Ah Peh cobblers went, just visit your nearest Mister Mint. Did they lose out to competition? Hell no. They were commercially vanquished.


In Liverpool, street vendors from all walks of life hawk their handmade merchandise of their local football club Liverpool FC for decades. The authorities did not clamp down on these activities because the football club has never made a complain about this despite the fact that the existence of these illegal merchants reduce the club's official merchandises sales resulting in the loss of potential revenue. The reason being, the football club has a philosophy of Community First. Despite the lack of success for decades since the club has fallen from grace, the club refuses to maximise profits that it badly needs to return to its former glory by clamping down the community to eliminate all illegal merchandise. Being the sole merchant of the club's products, it can easily increase prices of their official goods chop carrot heads. But they didn't. Community first. This is one of the key reason why the club still boast a very strong local support after years of mediocrity while the other clubs have to rely on tourists and blue plastic flags to spice up their stadiums. 

Back to our shores, would Kopitiam take it kindly if someone peddles their home made Nasi Lemak at the nearby void deck? How tolerant would Would Breadtalk take it graciously if a child tries honing his entrepreneurial skills by selling home made muffins made by the wide eyed little girl with pony tails next door? No - the authorities will tell you, you need a license for that.

So we need a fucking licence for this?


  1. I missed those homemade otaks!

  2. Nix,

    LOL I just found out we stayed very close. You stayed in Holland Village Blk 12, I stayed in Blk 19 then later to Farrer Rd.

    I miss my childhood days of street hawkers. They are all gone, though I still spot Otah and ice-cream in roti. Well.... I'm an old guy too.

    This blog brought me back in time. A memory lane.