'Stepping back to 1960s Singapore': Ghib Ojisan visits mama shop for first time

'Stepping back to 1960s Singapore': Ghib Ojisan visits mama shop for first time
PHOTO: Screengrab/Youtube/Ghib Ojisan

Growing up, most Singaporeans would have fond memories of visiting mama shops.

The traditional provision stores provide cheap drinks and snacks, but is fast becoming a rare sight. 

In a YouTube video posted on August 26, Singapore-based Japanese YouTuber Ghib Ojisan decided to visit a mama shop for the first time to try some old-school snacks and candy and find out more about the vanishing trade.

Located at Block 113 Bedok North, the mama shop is run by Uncle Lim and has been around for 44 years.

For those unfamiliar, mama shops are general provision stores traditionally owned and operated by Indian Singaporeans back in the olden days, where the name 'mama' means 'uncle' in Tamil.

Uncle Lim also explained that mama shops existed as a convenience for nearby residents, especially the young and elderly, as the shops are commonly located at the easily accessible void decks of HDB blocks.

Although the number of mama shops decreased significantly in the late 1990s due to the rise of chain supermarkets and convenience stores, a handful of stores, like Uncle Lim's, still remain.

Peeking behind the counter of the homely shop, Ghib was immediately wowed by the vast display of items surrounding him, even pointing out the small nook in the ceiling filled with supplies.

"Stepping into his shop is like stepping back in time, this is like 1960s Singapore," he marvelled.

Looking through the racks full of snacks and sweets, Ghib was evidently shocked by the low prices that he picked up a pack of the cheesy Super Rings snack to have a second look.

"Wah, so cheap!" He exclaimed in Mandarin. "One dollar?"

Spotting several traditional curry puffs on display, Ghib opted to try the chicken flavoured pastry, giving a thumbs up of approval and describing it as "quite spicy" and "almost like a pie".

He also tried an ice popsicle, a "soft" layered cake gifted by an elderly customer, and several old-school sweets such as Hacks spicy candy and eyeglass candy, also discovering several interesting unique candy including a spinning lollipop and a candy jackpot.

To Ghib's astonishment, Uncle Lim also sells groceries and other daily necessities such as eggs, chilli and potatoes at low prices.

"In Japan convenience stores, they charge a premium fee," he explained. "But Uncle Lim's [shop]… it's too affordable."

True value of mama shops

Affordability aside, Ghib believes that mama shops provide additional value to customers as compared to convenience stores or supermarkets.

"People go to your mama shop not only because it's convenient. We crave that human connection because recently we don't have that anymore," he explains.

Uncle Lim agrees and goes on to elaborate: "Don't treat them as customers [but] friends."

In fact, Uncle Lim would help parents hold house keys for customers so their children can pick it up when they come home later. He would also bring purchases up to the homes of some customers at no extra cost.

While Uncle Lim plans to retire in a few years, Ghib urged everyone to support mama shops, saying: "In order to sustain the business, I feel like the people need to support these shops.

"Nowadays our life has become very efficient, very convenient, but I feel like we have lost the human connection… the kampung spirit that is almost gone.

"In a modern country like Singapore where many things change quickly, sometimes all we need is a constant, something that will always be there regardless of time and I sincerely hope mama shops can survive."

In the comments, several netizens agreed with his sentiments to support small businesses.

Many also shared their fond memories of visiting mama shops when they were young.

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