In the day, Singapore's Central Business District is buzzing with people moving in and out of offices in skyscrapers, traffic zipping along its arteries and veins and heaving with office workers trying to get through the day. At night, it is a ghost of itself, withdrawing into the cover of the night, catching its breath before the clock starts up again. At the heart of it all is the Lau Pa Sat, a place which gives respite and feeds the soul both day and night.
The Lau Pa Sat today lies in the heart of Singapore’s Central Business district. When night falls, and office buildings empty out, and the peak hour traffic has transited to a gentle ebb, that’s when for me, the Lau Pa Sat comes alive. (Lau Pa Sat translated, means “old market”)
Office workers seeking quick sustenance, friends getting together to release the day’s stresses and tourists seeking a taste of local flavours gravitate to this majestic complex like bees to honey.
Yes, the building is majestic – a fine example of Victorian architecture made strong and beautiful with filigree cast iron beams from the factories of Glasgow in the 19th century. The early incarnation of Lau Pa Sat today can be traced back to 1894.
It was not always where it stood today in the shadows of skyscrapers. It’s early “life” was as a “regular” market along the coastal road of Singapore at Telok Ayer. As Singapore commercialised and prime land was taken by the government for redevelopment, the Lau Pa Sat moved quite a few times. It was relocated to its current location when the land it occupied was required to build Singapore’s first metro line.
The Lau Pa Sat is a special place because come 7pm every evening, a side road linked to the market, Boon Tat Street, is cordoned off and cut off to traffic. Satay vendors jump into action, setting up their stalls and seating for the hungry and the curious who will soon descend upon it. On a perfect evening, one can dine in the centre of the city, under the stars and moon with a nice breeze blowing in from the nearby marina all for meal that can start from as low as USD$5 or so.
Recently, the management of the food centre have also brought in a live band to add a different dimension to dining…for those who actually like live entertainment. Indeed, there’s something retro about live entertainment while one dines….In Asia, this has mainly been the domain of high-end restaurants. (I remember a time when i was kid and all chinese banquets I added had some songstress adding colour to the event.)
The Lau Pa Sat is significant because it gives some insights to the foodways of Singapore and how much of a melting pot we have become. Satay has always been a long time staple in open air markets. Typical local dishes like Chicken Rice, Hokkien Noodles etc are also “traditional”. But in recent years, Singapore has seen growing communities from around Asia. Japanese and Korean food can also be easily found in Lau Pa Sat…at local prices.
The Lau Pa Sat at night – it can certainly bring on some major food delirium !!