The Adam Road Hawker Centre, opened in 1974, was one of the series of dedicated food centres created in the 1970s. As part of the government’s wider effort to remove hawkers from the streets, it was built independent of a wet market. The hawker centre had its roots in an earlier market started in 1971 when the Public Works Department laid the ground for temporary food stalls next to Bukit Timah Canal. This was opposite the present food centre. This first establishment was actually a series of temporary sheds that housed 32 stalls.
Then Minister for Law and the Environment E W Barker opening the new Adam Road Food Centre, 1974. Image courtesy of National Archives of Singapore
In 1973, when the government announced plans to build a highway across Bukit Timah Road to link Adam Road to Farrer Road, which affected the centre, plans were then made to shift it across the road to its present site. The new hawker centre was officially opened by the then Minister for Law and National Development, E W Barker on 28 September 1974. It had 32 cooked food stalls, as it had in the old centre. Most of the hawkers who started at this new centre were from the first batch of vendors who were “originally stationed at the junction of Farrer Road and Adam Road where conditions were not healthy”, having been next to a canal.
The design of the first centre was a basic U-shaped layout that was linked at the front by a covered walkway. The middle of the centre was an open space with the round tables with four round seats were permanently mounted on tile floors. The stalls were overlaid by mosaic tiles and had steel frames and bars that held up a zinc corrugated roof over the stalls.
Soon after opening, the Adam Road Hawker Centre had already been famed as a place for great Malay food. It was known to provide cheap and “very tasty” food. It is still particularly famed for its nasi lemak and mutton soup. In 2016, Adam Road Food Centre stall serves 1,000 plates of nasi lemak daily.
Besides good eats, Adam Road Food Centre has also been a favourite visit by many across the years. In the 1980s, Adam Road Food Centre was the designated hawker centre for police personnel lunch breaks. They would take lunch there after their tour of duty before returning to the station. It was also frequently patronised by students studying nearby (University), chauffeurs and the residents nearby.
However, having been built so close to the Bukit Timah Canal, the centre was constantly flooded in the 1980s when it rained heavily. Quite often, customers were stranded in the hawker centre during times of serious flooding. Adam Road Food Centre underwent major repairs and redecoration in 1997.
In 2001, the food centre was closed for 5 months for another round of renovation, and reopened in mid-May 2002. The upgrading works cost $1.73 million and was the first Environment Ministry hawker centre to be completed under its upgrading programme. The upgraded centre had a higher roof in the same shape as the old one to improve ventilation, new tiles and the rules floor was raised to prevent flooding and a courtyard with umbrella-covered tables and chairs. All the food stallholders chose to stay after the upgrading ad been completed. The refreshed centre, including the outdoor seats and rectangular tables, could accommodate about 410 persons, up from 345 prior to this exercise. The five old angsana trees located outside the centre were preserved as part of the government special effort retain the uniqueness of the eatery. These trees give shade, limited shelter from rain and sun, and also serve as a muffler for traffic noises.
Other unique characteristics of the food centre, such as the nine-sided, almost circular, shape of the building and the central outdoor dining courtyard, were retained to maintain the sense of familiarity to the centre.
The sense of belonging of the old stallholders had been so strong that all of them chose to remain in the newly revamped centre although they were all offered alternative sites during the renovation.
Over the years, great effort has been taken to keep the Adam Road Food Centre a clean and conducive place to dine. It underwent further updating and face-lifts in 2008 and 2016.