Two years after its relocation to a larger site and transfer of management to NTUC Foodfare, Bedok Interchange Hawker Centre (BIHC) remains popular with diners.
The hawker centre was busy when The Straits Times visited it yesterday. Even at about 5pm, queues had already started to form in front of stalls such as Pin Xiang Chicken Rice and halal stall Inspirasi.
One of the diners, Ms Marliana, 26, a housewife, said: "Even on weekdays, from 6pm till late at night, the hawker centre is crowded. During weekends, my family can't find a seat."
The National Environment Agency (NEA) said yesterday that NTUC Foodfare will run another seven hawker centres next year, after its successful pilot managing BIHC since 2014.
"NEA has observed that the pilot for the existing hawker centre has worked well, and will take the pilot further by appointing Foodfare to manage a bundle of five existing and two new hawker centres."
BIHC at Block 208B, New Upper Changi Road, near Bedok MRT station, is bigger than the Block 207 one it replaced in 2014. It now seats over 1,000 diners, instead of 900.
Several diners also remarked that the new centre has a nicer environment. Said student Jaslene Thoo, 21: "Cleanliness and hygiene are better now. (In the old centre), the floor was a bit wet."
Foodfare took over the management after the old centre - managed by NEA - was replaced.
An NTUC Foodfare spokesman said Foodfare addresses cost-of-living concerns, and that "affordability of cooked food is top on our list". The spokesman added that Foodfare helps to "ensure a good food mix at hawker centres" and "that food is prepared in a hygienic manner".
One less happy development for diners is the increase in prices at some stalls. For instance, the price of a plate of Hokkien noodles at Gim Chew Fried Hokkien Noodle has risen from $3 in early 2014 to $3.50, while a stick of satay at Jit Sing Satay now costs 60 cents, up from 50 cents.
While Foodfare is not imposing price caps on dishes at BIHC, it says it "will monitor the price increase of basic food types, to check against unreasonable price hikes at existing hawker centres, to make dining at these hawker centres affordable to all".
Hawkers wishing to increase their food prices need to submit proposals to Foodfare for review. They must also get Foodfare's approval before changing the types of food they sell.
Foodfare staff are present on site every day to manage operational and housekeeping matters.
Most of the hawkers The Straits Times spoke to said they do not take issue with Foodfare's approach.Mr Low Kia Moh, 60, the owner of Katong Fried Oyster stall, said that under Foodfare, things are a bit better as it is "quick to solve problems". Photo: The Straits Times
Mr Low Kia Moh, 60, the owner of Katong Fried Oyster stall, said that under Foodfare, things are "a bit better", adding that Foodfare is "quick to solve problems".
Said Mr Jack Chuan, 27, owner of Jit Sing Satay: "It's easier to have someone (from Foodfare) physically here than to travel down to NEA (when the centre was managed by NEA) to settle issues."
He added that Foodfare "keeps track of the cleaners, and makes sure they are doing their work", and said the collection of used trays is "much faster compared to the past".
While the new centre accommodates larger crowds compared with the old one, a number of stall owners said competition is also more intense, and that business has suffered as a result.
One of them is Madam Khoo Poh Hong, 55, from Song Zhou Luo Bo Gao, who said sales has dropped by about 30 per cent compared with two years ago.
And not all diners are satisfied.
Said Miss Jasmine Tan, 45, who works in the food and beverage industry: "The portions are still the same, but the food (at some stalls) is more expensive."
This article was first published on Dec 21, 2016. Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.