1 / 13

Mama shop

Mama Shop – The Original Supermarket

14 January 2013

When you ask a Malay, Chinese or Indian where to find a “mama shop”, they mostly know what you’re talking about (despite its uniqueness these days), but have no idea where to point you to. It shows two things: that mama shop is iconic to this city; and their numbers are eroding.

 

Mama means ‘uncle’ in Tamil, referring to the men of Chennai descent who set up five and dime stalls along five foot ways. Their little “wall stores” miraculously contain a vast number of items, from ice creams to soft drinks and personal hygiene supplies to kitchen supplies. But their presence, like many pre-independence old trades, is diminishing.

 

According to a report by The Straits Times in 1986, the number of mama shops fell from 136 in 1975 to just 40 in the same year the article was published. It was attributed to the demolishment of shophouses, where these stores reside, and that no new license was issued since 1974, because “of the government’s programme to resite hawkers and mama stores”, the then Environment Ministry was quoted saying. They were resited to HDB void decks and hawker centres.

 

These days, mama shops and the snacks they sell reflect the changing times. But as they strive in a losing battle to offer a better range to compete with the supermarkets, they also preserve bits of their past in packets of cough drops and sour plums – goods offered since time immemorial. One unique feature about them is that they offer singular or very small portions – like a pack of six mint drops and one banana. We feature six of the remaining “wall stores” in Chinatown, Arab Street, Geylang and Little India – old neighbourhoods where some of the last few are found today. Text and images by Sheere Ng @ Makansutra

What to read next

University of Miami Online

Online Master's Degree Programs Designed to Fit Your Schedule. Top Ranked & Accredited. The U is Within Reach. Learn More Today!

Already Have Your Bachelor's Degree?

Learn more about earning your master's or doctoral degree from Walden University. Study online and further your career. Request free information!

Hilton HHonors™ Card

Apply Today! Earn 50,000 Hilton HHonors™ Bonus Points. Terms Apply.

Drivers Born Between 1953 And 1983 Must Read This

United States drivers who drive less than 50mi/day will be surprised. If you pay more than $50/month for auto insurance, you better read this...

Helping You Move Forward to Reach Your Destination

Shift your career. Fuel what drives you. Explore new adventures at every turn.

The Best of Both Worlds.

The 2015 Dodge Challenger Classic design meets powerful performance. Meet the Dodge Challenger. Your day just got a lot more interesting.