SINGAPORE - If there is one thing Singaporeans love, it is good food. And Kovan has plenty of it, from Teochew porridge to nasi lemak and curry rice.
Once a part of Hougang, Kovan was recently in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. A double murder there last month shocked the country.
But there is more to this estate, which has long enjoyed a reputation of being a food haven.
Quiet in the day, the area that runs along Upper Serangoon Road comes alive on weekend nights as people flock there for late-night treats. In addition to family-run eateries, there are smaller cafes serving Western and Thai food, and a myriad of desserts.
"It's convenient for us, and the food here feels like an authentic, home-cooked meal," said finance manager Derrick Lee, 35.
He and his wife have made Soon Soon Teochew Porridge their dinner stop for years, as they travel from work in Shenton Way to home in Sengkang.
Some come from even farther.
Salesman Jimmy Lee, 29, lives in Tampines, but still makes the regular 2am trek to Punggol Nasi Lemak. "It's my favourite supper place," he said.
Then there are those who decided to eliminate the travel by moving to Kovan.
Said Ms Joline Ng, 40: "My family shifted here two years ago, because there are so many food options nearby. It's also near my daughter's school." Her daughter studies at Paya Lebar Methodist Girls' Secondary School.
Food here is good and cheap, say residents. A hawker centre in the heart of Kovan, where long queues for fishball noodles and char kway teow are a daily affair, offers a soya bean drink for just 30 cents.
The convenience is another draw. Kovan MRT station, which is on the North-East line, opened in 2003. The nearby Kallang-Paya Lebar Expressway provides a direct route to the city, and plenty of buses are available along Upper Serangoon Road, which cuts through the heart of Kovan.
With the area more accessible than ever, more young families and expatriates have moved in.
The old and the new mix freely in Kovan, which was once home to many Teochews, who called the place la gou jio or Hougang 6th Milestone, indicating its distance from the landmark Fullerton Hotel.
Many old buildings have been replaced, such as the Simon Road Market. Standing in its place is Kovan Residences, one of the many condominiums that now dot the suburb. But the Housing Board (HDB) blocks built in 1983 still remain, along with some of the shops that moved in then.
Retiree Francis Chng, 58, has lived the changes. Born in a nearby kampung, he now lives in one of Kovan's newly minted condos.
"In the 1960s, us kids would catch guppies in the big longkang (drain) beside the wet market," he recalled. "There were rambutan and durian trees everywhere, and shops selling chicks and ducklings to the villagers."
He misses the open spaces.
What he does not miss are the secret societies which used to blight the area in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Crime has once again cast a shadow on the small estate after car workshop owner Tan Boon Sin, 66, and his son, businessman Tan Chee Heong, 42, were killed at Hillside Drive on July 10.
A veteran policeman has been charged with the grisly murders.
Recently, police have also put up two crime alerts on house- breaking at the Hillside Drive estate.
Several residents admit that the private estate can get quiet at night, and could do with more street lamps and police patrols.
But those who live in a small cluster of HDB blocks on the opposite side of the road believe the area is lively enough, with a bowling alley which closes late, and a 24-hour coffee shop.
Coffee shop owner Sam Toh, 53, lives in the same row of terrace houses as the one where the double murder took place.
He said: "Okay lah, no danger. It's very quiet, very peaceful and tranquil. This thing was an exception, it's something that could have happened in any estate."
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