Well, this place is literally hidden, in a Community Club. The first of its kind, it is planted inside a place where one least expects to find a hawker centre, until now. Community Centres are increasingly infused with commercial spaces – MacDonald’s and other eateries have long been introduced. I suppose food is one of the best ways of getting people to come together, so you could say it sits well with the objective of a Community Club. For me, i’m just glad that there is finally a decent hawker centre in Hougang, where i live.

Probably drawing from past experiences, the hawker centre is built with a very high ceiling, making the place bright and airy. The seating is well spaced out, so it feels comfortable having a meal here. It can still get warm, but that’s part of the package of dining in a hawker centre. There are two interesting concepts introduced in this hawker centre – self-payment kiosks (you’ve probably heard/read about it in the news) and wall advertising space.

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Self-payment kiosk
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Wall advertising space

The self-payment kiosk is a productivity improvement initiative that will probably start appearing in all hawker centres. There are quite a few implications with its introduction. It does relieve the stall owner from having to rely on another person to handle taking of orders and payment collection, which is commonly done in traditional hawker centres stalls. If the stall owner is manning the stall himself/herself, there is no need to go through the tiresome routine of removing gloves, collecting and giving change, then putting on gloves again to handle the food. In this sense, there is definitely productivity increase. But this may not really result in savings for all, which it is supposed to. The negative side of introducing this mechanism is that it allows the hawker centre managing agent to collect the stall rental on a per transaction basis, where a certain percentage of every item sold goes to the managing agent, much like how it is done in a food court. I think that is a sad development. I wish the hawker stall owner could just pay a fixed rental and be rewarded with a windfall income if they make really good food. Taking away a percentage of that income is like a punishment for doing well. But alas, this is the sad reality of land-scarce Singapore, where every inch of space is taxed to the max.

As for the wall advertising space, it is a fantastic idea. You can walk down the centre aisle of the hawker centre and get an impression of the food choices available without having to roam through the stall fronts like a robot vacuum cleaner. I suppose the stall owners have to pay for the advertising space but it is worth it.

Ci Yuan Hawker Centre is just coming to 5 months old now, and i suspect not a lot of people are aware of its presence, so it wasn’t crowded on the two occasions i was there. The food is pretty good for a hawker centre, and the variety is definitely the nicest aspect of any hawker centre. I don’t have any particular recommendation for this hawker centre now, except maybe the pasta stall that is supposedly run by a former Valentino’s chef. The pasta sauce was a bit starchy, which I think is characteristic of cheap pasta, but it tasted good.

Pasta with ham and mushroom
Pasta with ham and mushroom

When I’m out of ideas of where to eat, this hidden gem hawker centre in Hougang is now my go-to place.

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