To Tekka, to Tekka, to buy...

Be it a weekend or a weekday, the scene at Tekka on Buffalo Road is never different. It is always bustling with activity as people throng the place for a variety of reasons.

Not only is Tekka known for its wide range of fresh fruits and vegetables, but also for its mouth-watering cuisine and shopping options.

When people first enter the Tekka Centre, they are likely to be greeted by the delicious aroma of food from different parts of the world.

There are numerous foodstalls that line the foodcourt - from Malay to Chinese to Indian to Sri Lankan to Thai. You don't need a passport to sample the food from various countries.

You just need to head to Tekka to get your food fix.

The wet market in Tekka is an experience not to be missed.

The slippery floors do not faze customerswho go there for a good bargain. You can hear meat and fish vendors calling out to the customers in sweet voices to buy their wares.

One meat vendor, Mr Sarvanan, who has been around for 45 years, says: "During weekdays, some people come to buy meat, but it is more crowded during weekends."

The neighbouring chicken stall is run by Madam Banu Bhibhi who proudly shares: "I used to run the stall with my late father. I have been here for nearly 20 years." Her customer, Ms Vaziha, comes all the way from Hougang to buy fresh chicken from her.

She shares: "I have been coming for nearly 10 years as I find the chicken is fresh and tender."

It is not just the meat and seafood that draw the crowds, but the variety of colourful, fresh fruits and vegetables. Mr Chia, who has been in Tekka for the past 33 years, says there is a crowd mostly during weekends. He gets his fruits like watermelon, jackfruit, papaya and bananas from Malaysia.

Another stall, Chia Vegetables, imports its vegetables from Thailand, Myanmar and even Vietnam. One of the stall-helpers said: "People usually come in the mornings to purchase their vegetables."

Mrs Linda McKenzie, 44, a homemaker who has been visiting Tekka since she was a young girl, talks about her favourite food as she recalls her childhood days:"It's a must to visit my favourite teh halia shop, appom shop and puttu mayam shop. I'm a nostalgic person and these foods remind me of when my parents used to take me to Tekka for breakfast as a little girl. They are not the same stalls but the food is what I look for."

Although she lives in Sengkang, Mrs McKenzie still visits Tekka, along with her husband and four-year-old daughter, to buy fresh produce. She says that her husband, a New Zealander, likes the place for its ambience.

She adds: "It's a hive of activity at 7am which is when we are normally at Tekka. He loves walking towards our regular greengrocer and being welcomed by the sound of music.

"As a Caucasian, he appreciates the time the sellers give him in explaining some fishes that are alien to him and how best to cook them. He loves the familiarity of the place, how they look out for our daughter as she goes from stall to stall saying her hellos. Everyone knows us and we feel very comfortable there."

Property agent Priti Sule may not visit Tekka as often now but used to visit the market almost every month.

She recalls: "I first visited Tekka about 23 years ago. At that time, we had no choice but to go to Tekka for our needs. As things are now easily available in the neighbourhood, I visit Tekka only once in four to six months.

"For things required for prayer, I still have to go to Serangoon Road. And, of course, the food is a draw."

Sengkang resident Ms Maheswari is yet another fan of the market. She goes to Tekka once every two weeks. She says: "Tekka market offers home cooks a wide range of vegetables for all sorts of cuisines.

There is a wide range of fresh seafood and you generally get a good price if you are a regular.

Plus I still get my meats like fresh goat meat cut the way my family likes it and, as a regular, I get some great tips from the butcher and fishmonger on how to cook the meat or seafood."

There are also people from all walks of life who visit the food centre to satiate their appetite.

The crowd is diverse and locals and foreigners go to this place in search of good food that is authentic and cheap.

Mrs Gopalan Nair, who lives in Yishun and has been visiting Tekka for years, says: "At Tekka, you can get a lot of things. You can buy fresh fish - the people are very friendly and they give old-timers like me suggestions on selecting the right fish."

Mrs Nair usually spends half a day around Tekka buying fruits and vegetables. Before heading home, she buys lunch from Allauddin's Briyani.

She said: "My husband likes the biryani from here as it is quite tasty and always tells me to buy it if he knows I am visiting the market."

Similarly, Ms Azizah, who has been buying biryani from Allauddin's for the past 10 years, says the reason she likes the biryani is because it is "not oily and not spicy".

The queue during weekends is no different as people wait patiently for their favourite biryani. Mr Balaji, who travelled all the way from Pasir Ris to buy it, says: "I like the biryani and the dalcha (a Hyderabadi stew made from mutton, chana dal and tamarind) that accompanies it. It is not oily at all."

Apart from Chinese cuisine and Indian biryani, one can also find authentic Sri Lankan cuisine. Mr Odi, the owner of Raja Bojun, set up his stall in Tekka about two years ago.

Interestingly, Raja Bojun means "a king's meal". Mr Odi surely lives up to this, by providing his customers, both Sri Lankans and locals, a variety of Sri Lankan cuisine at affordable prices.

Many visit Tekka to buy ingredients for their dishes. Even celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain has made trips to Tekka to shop for ingredients. In 2003, he visited the market to film his TV series A Cook's Tour.

Another chef, Trinidadian Hasan Defour, who is based here, shops at Tekka for ingredients to make Caribbean dishes for his restaurants in Singapore.

Says Mr Defour: "I first visited Tekka when we were looking for ingredients to create the Lime House menu back in July 2013. Caribbean cuisine has a very Indian influence so we were advised to try Tekka market to find comparable ingredients that could be easily sourced in Singapore.

According to him, the shopping experience at Tekka is unique because of "the animated people, the vibrant atmosphere and different culture and languages".

In addition to buying food, people also visit the third floor to get their clothes stitched and sari blouses made. Mrs Janaki, who travels all the way from Pasir Ris to get her sari and blouses sewn here, says: "I have been coming here for a long time to get my saris and blouses stitched. The people here do a good job and mostly complete the job in time."

But the Tekka allure doesn't end there. Did you know that Tekka has an antique store? Nestled within the rows of tailoring and clothes shops on the third floor is Poh Antiques. For those who love antiques, this place is a treasure trove. They sell statues, clocks and porcelain artefacts to name a few.

Around Tekka Centre, there are many shops and food places that benefit from the crowd that visit the vicinity. Karthika, which is on Buffalo Road, is one such store.

It sells mainly products and ingredients from Kerala. Says the shopowner Jay Kumar: "People come to shop here mainly during the weekends. During the weekdays, only a few people visit this area."

What they usually come for are products like the famous Kerala banana chips. Karthika also sells spices and fruits like Nendrapazham (bananas that are usually eaten steamed or fried with ghee and sugar) that are hugely famous in Kerala.

On Buffalo Road, apart from fruits and vegetables, one can also find shops selling fresh flowers and garlands usually used for prayers.

Sri Kavitha flower shop is one such store that makes garlands for all occasions. Also, there are shops selling Indian magazines and papers which are frequented by people from different parts of Singapore.

Longtime buddies Ms Vasanthi and Ms Indira make it a point to go to Tekka every

two months to shop for flowers and magazines and chat over food. Although both of them don't live close by, they like to visit the market and eat at the Indian restaurants around the area.

It is not difficult to understand why people find Tekka so appealing. For a cultural immersion of the senses, one just needs to head down to Tekka which can be described as the heart and soul of Little India. Ultimately, the charm of the place lies in its diverse cultures and tradition

that one discovers in his journey down to Tekka and Buffalo Road.

tabla@sph.com.sg

About Tekka

Tekka Centre, formerly known as Kandang Kerbau Market, is a famous landmark in Little India. It was established in 1915 between Hastings Road and Sungei Road but has since been relocated to the current location on Buffalo Road.

The old building (right) had a high roof and was known for its grille work which allowed air and light into the market. It was demolished in 1982 to make way for road widening.

Tekka Centre is a two-storey building that houses a wet market, food centre and shops. It is just a two-minute walk from Little India MRT and is also easily accessible by bus.


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