Heritage

This 100-Year-Old Mama Shop On Pulau Ubin Sells Drinks & Snacks, Is Open 7 Days A Week

Yak Hong, 100-year-old mama shop in Pulau Ubin


Old-school provision shops in Singapore are increasingly hard to come by these days. Especially one that’s in such an ulu place you wonder how they even survive. Well, that was our thought when we came across a mama shop in Pulau Ubin, surrounded by the many bicycle rental stores in the area.

With a sign that says “Yak Hong”, it’s a super old-school mama shop that seems suspended in time. We found out that, in fact, it’s a 100-year-old provision shop, and that it’s been run by the same family since it first opened.


Family business run by an auntie who lives on the island


Now, Madam Ng spearheads the business. But the 75-year-old auntie is not a Pulau Ubin native. In fact, she grew up in Punggol Village and only moved to the island when she married her husband at 25. Yak Hong Provision Shop was started by her father-in-law, who started the business at 26 and passed away at 80.

It’s been 49 years since then, and the shop has been open every single day. Except for the roof of the shop, everything else, including the pillars and walls, have been around since her father-in-law ran the shop.

“Auntie, can I take some photos of you?” we asked her. She replied in Mandarin, “Can, but I’ll go prepare some lunch for my husband first”.

Watching her lovingly prepare food for her husband, it’s clear that family still comes first for Madam Ng. After all, it must’ve taken great sacrifice to leave her family behind at Punggol Village and start life anew on Pulau Ubin.

Her children and grandkids would visit her every weekend. In fact, while we were there, there was a teenage boy helping her out with shop operations. We assume that he’s her grandson.

She was smiling as she walked back to us, seemingly happy that customers wanted to chat with her. As we complimented her smooth complexion, she laughed and commented that it’s because she lives on Pulau Ubin. “It’s quieter, and the air is nicer here. Everyone on the island knows each other,” she explains, “It feels like the old times.”

Back in the 70s, about 2,000 people lived on Pulau Ubin. Now, there are only 20 left.

Other than the remaining residents on the island, Yak Hong Provision Shop caters mostly to Singaporeans that head there for daytrips.


Not as many customers as before


Remember the period right after the circuit breaker when we couldn’t travel out of Singapore? Most of us ended up exploring offshore islands like Lazarus Island and Pulau Ubin.

“I used to run out of seats for customers during COVID,” Madam Ng recounts. That was when business was booming for her. “But now, everyone goes overseas.”

We were there at 1pm on a Saturday and could count the number of customers that dropped by on one hand. But that doesn’t seem to bother Madam Ng that much. Or perhaps, she has gotten used to it.

She shares with us: “Even though demand for provision is low, I still have a lot of joy living here.”


Getting supplies from Singapore’s mainland


If you were expecting prices to be lower here because it’s a kampong, think again. They prices are comparable to mainland Singapore because they get their supplies at Changi, which is 15 minutes away by bumboat.

In the past, Madam Ng used to go down to source for the supplies herself. But her body isn’t as young as it used to be. Ever since she had knee surgery, she’s hired workers to pick up the goods from Changi along with daily necessities needed by the family. “I’m not strong enough to do it by myself anymore,” she laments.

On weekdays, it takes a while to get in and out of Pulau Ubin as her workers will have to wait for 12 passengers before the boat can embark. Otherwise, you’ll have to charter a private bumboat. This has increased operational costs for the store.

Despite that, Madam Ng has managed to keep costs for her provisions similar to those you find elsewhere in Singapore. A bottle of mineral water costs $1.50, while a fresh coconut goes at $5 or $5.50 depending on the size. Madam Ng also serves up hot drinks for her customers such as milo ($1.60), kopi o ($1.40), and kopi ($1.50).


Remember these old-school ice pops?

We also decided that we wanted to stock up on our personal pantries while supporting her and grabbed some packets of Sour Power candy ($1.80) and BBQ-flavoured peanuts ($2).


Stop by this 100-year-old mama shop when you’re at Pulau Ubin


They say old-school mama shops are disappearing, but places like Yak Hong Provision Shop give us a glimpse of what Singapore was like in the past. The next time you’re going on a hike in Pulau Ubin or checking out the last Malay kampung, we’d recommend dropping by Madam Ng’s shop.

For now, she has no plans to hand over the shop to her children. After all, they’ve got their own jobs. “I’m not sure how much longer I can still do it,” Madam Ng tells us, “But I will keep going until I can’t.”

Address: 49 Jln Endut Senin, 508296
Opening hours: 8am-7.30pm, Daily
Contact: 6214 0772


Photography by Huy Pham. 

Dewi Nurjuwita

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