To the younger readers, a 'chopper' here does not mean a type of kitchen knife. I was not going to participate in any gang fights which were frequent occurrences in Joo Chiat in that era. They still are and I am not referring to the famous neighbourhood squabble in Everitt Road. Fights still break out every now and then mainly because of the many bars and massage parlours that have sprung up in that area recently.
A chopper was a small bicycle with its rear tyre slightly bigger than its front one. It was very popular at that time:
Riding my chopper, I discovered many interesting facets of Joo Chiat. Sad to say, most of them are no longer there today. Today, Joo Chiat is more well known for its food and food-related businesses, besides its bars and massage parlours, of course.
I am writing a series of posts about Joo Chiat and this is the first one. Today I will describe one of Joo Chiat's more popular and well-established businesses which is still in operation today. I do not have a habit of advertising for a business (especially since I do not earn anything from this). However this time I am providing the name card and detailed instructions on how to get there because my blogofriend Evan requested for them:
This popiah skin manufacturer has been around since 1938 although I cannot confirm whether it has always been in Joo Chiat since I was not even born yet at that time. So this shop has survived World War II. Whilst other local popiah skin manufacturers like well-known第一家(Tee Yih Jia) have fully automated their operations and even gone global, this one in Joo Chiat has chosen to stand still in time but yet has stood the test of time. 'Tee Yih Jia' literally means 'the first (company making popiah skins)' but since the company was established in 1969, it is definitely not the first homegrown company making popiah skins - Kway Guan Huat (郭源发) was established more than 3 decades earlier.
At Kway Guan Huat, the popiah skins are still made the traditional way. Each piece is made by hand, hence no two pieces are exactly alike. A worker holds a lump of very soft and pliable dough high and swings it skillfully with his hand. He then very deftly touches a large flat heated pan (the kind used for cooking roti pratas) with the dough. The worker must do this with just the right touch, literally. If done correctly, a round thin piece of dough is left stuck on the pan to cook. After about 10 seconds, the cooked dough is then scraped up from the pan and stacked with earlier cooked ones. The whole process may seem very easy to an onlooker but I am sure that in reality it is not.
In the olden days, there used to be a row of about half a dozen workers all doing the same routine as described above but on different pans, of course. It was quite fun to watch so many of them doing the same action simultaneously. It was like they were doing a military drill. But last Friday when I visited the shop, there was only one worker doing his thing. I suspected that perhaps business had not been as good as before.
There was another reason why I had the impression that their popiah business might not be doing very well. One of the shopkeepers peeked out and saw my car parked by the roadside. She then promptly handed me a pamphlet that extols the virtue of a $460 air cleaner for my car. But at that price, I really felt that it would clean out my wallet more effectively than the air in my car. That sum of money could buy a popiah feast for about 100 people! So I replied politely that I would read up the pamphlet first and then revert if I was interested. Why the need to diversify to a totally unrelated product if the popiah business was thriving right?
Below are other details of Kway Guan Huat:
1 kg of plain popiah skins – S$16 (pro-rated charge for weights less than 1 kg)
1 kg of egg popiah skins (available on Sat, Sun and PH only) – S$18
Vegetarian popiah ingredients (toppings not included, enough for about 10 rolls) – S$22
Crab meat popiah ingredients (toppings not included, enough for about 10 rolls) – S$20
So how do you get there? Most conveniently by car or taxi, of course.
Photo 1 - The shop is at 95 Joo Chiat Road. If you are coming from Geylang Serai, the shop is on the left-hand side of the road, just after the junction with Joo Chiat Terrace.
Photo 2 – The shop front
Photo 3 – The 'Popiah Dance'
Photo 4 – Stacking up the finished product
Evan, do remember to invite Chris and myself if you are cooking a popiah feast, alright?