Created at the heart of Serangoon Gardens Estate in 1972, Chomp Chomp Food Centre is a part of the district’s suburbia charm. The estate was established in the 1950s by a private developer who built over a former rubber plantation and Chinese kampong. When completed in 1956, Serangoon Gardens provided accommodation for the English-speaking middle-class civil servants of Singapore.
Chomp Chomp Food Centre, 2002
Courtesy of National Environment Agency
It did not take too long for street hawkers to make a beeline for the newly opened estate. By 1960, the middle of the district had been so congested by food hawkers that clashes arose. A year later, the government built the residents of the Serangoon Garden Estate their first market. Yet, the street hawkers proliferated and many of them set up their stalls around an empty piece of land in front of the Serangoon Garden Circus, between Farleigh Avenue and Serangoon Garden Way (at the present-day bus-stop). Again, the limited space led to clashes. Following this, 30 hawkers from the site were relocated to the nearby Maju Avenue where they set up sheds on both sides of the road. The original empty ground was then paved and transformed into an “eating esplanade” where 25 street hawkers plied their trade. These were the hawkers who would eventually become the pioneers of Chomp Chomp.
Chomp Chomp was finally built on a piece of ground along Kensington Park Road, opposite the “eating esplanade”. In May 1972, Chomp Chomp Hawker Centre was officially opened by then then Minster for Law and National Development, E W Barker. It was the third of the purpose-built hawker centres which not attached to any market then, and after Serangoon Gardens, there were plans to build six more these kind of hawker centres in Singapore. Chomp Chomp was also one of the four projects started by the then MP for Serangoon Garden and Parliamentary Secretary of Home Affairs, L P Rodrigo, for his constituency. The hawkers who had their stalls at the “eating esplanade” were moved to Chomp Chomp when it opened. Built at cost of $95,000, the new hawker centre opened with 36 built-in stalls, with sinks, wash basins and electric neon lights at each stall. The stallholders had to provide their own tables and chairs for their customers and they had to move them whenever it rained. The tables and chairs were kept and stored in their stalls at the end of the day.
The English name of the hawker centre was actually a loose adaptation of its Teochew name, Tiong Toing. The Mandarin equivalent is zhong zhong, which Chinese characters stood for loyalty and righteousness. The name Chomp Chomp was chosen by the committee the hawkers had formed among themselves. Boys from Serangoon Garden Secondary School helped put up the “Chomp Chomp” signboard at the front of the centre. Chomp Chomp was also officially known as the Serangoon Garden Food Centre.
Over time, Chomp Chomp became a very popular visit for locals and tourists alike. One reason for its success during its early years was because it was well supported by the children in the schools of the area. There was also a movie theatre nearby. They had formed a significant client base for the hawker centre. By 1987, Chomp Chomp was touted as one of the five most popular food centres with highest business volume on the island. It came alive in the evenings when diners thronged the place for their dinner and supper.
In 1996, most of the stallholders of Chomp Chomp went from being renters to becoming owners of their own stalls in the hawker centre under the government’s Stall Ownership Scheme. Following this, Chomp Chomp received a new roof in 1998. The Environment Ministry (ENV) built a roof over the customer seating areas. After the centre reopened in April 1998, customers were no longer subjected to the elements while they dined. Together with other renovations, the 1998 upgrading cost $265,000. Chomp Chomp underwent another upgrading in 2003 to make its outlook “fit in with the rest of the upgraded estate”.
Today, Chomp Chomp remains one of the most popular local eateries. It was voted Singaporeans’ favourite hawker centre in 2011, 2012 and 2013 by the City Hawker Food Hunt.