Is Katong too cool?

Is Katong too cool?
(clockwise from top left) Fanny Ice Cream's Woon Shung Toon (far left) and Kwan Kum Hon (left) sell icy treats for hot days; Azzura Gelati serves gelato and waffles; Wings World features a range of chicken wings with flavours such as Italian Herb; Brotzeit serves German food such as pork knuckles and beer.

SINGAPORE - Hawker Pang Weng Hong, 61, has been selling his fried Hokkien prawn mee, fried mee suah and fried kway teow in a Katong coffee shop for 43 years.

When the coffee shop was taken over by an operator in 2012, he contemplated retiring. But he decided to stay on and "see how" his stall would fit into the new operator's plan to convert the place into a "hawker bar".

The coffee shop at the bustling cross-junction of East Coast and Joo Chiat roads has been renamed Alibabar and Mr Pang is still enjoying brisk business.

He says in Mandarin: "At first, I said no to the changes, when I knew the coffee shop was going to have a bar. But after they did it, I think it is okay. There's a lot of competition now, but we still can survive because we have customer support."

Indeed, many regular customers still queue up for his noodle dishes, which come with a portion of fried lard. "No lard, no good," he says with a hearty laugh.

His stall retains his hawker roots, in contrast to the other hipster stalls in Alibabar, such as French stall Le Petit Paradis; and iCookuEat, which serves homey Eurasian food.

Alibabar's bar section, which sells kopi and toast for breakfast, becomes a watering hole in the evening for residents and working professionals winding down for the day, with its wide selection of craft beers.

On setting up his neighbourhood bar, owner Tan Kay Chuan, 46, says: "I could have done an Italian restaurant, but at the same time, I wanted to retain some character of the area. I didn't want it to be just any coffee shop. I wanted it to be a neighbourhood bar, where people can come in their T-shirts and shorts.

"Katong has become a vibrant foodie hub and we want to blend in with the landscape."

It is the juxtaposition of old and new in Alibabar that exemplifies the current food and beverage landscape of Katong.

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