Regarding The Circus At Newton

I've Been Labelled "Food Critic"

Apparently, this has got to be the last food blog to write about the recent brouhaha(haha!) about overcharging at the place formerly known as the Newton Circus Hawker Center.

Fortunately, an alert reader from Germany (no less), Ping, pointed me to the article by Shuli Sudderuddin that was published last weekend. Previously, Ms. Sudderuddin sent me an email which resulted in a short phone conversation (about 10 minutes) regarding my views on the hawker center.

My friends were surprised that they dedicated almost 2 inches to my comments. While I usually bend over backwards to beat around the bush so as to leave no stone unturned, the journalist would, in a supreme effort of separating the Gist from Goulash, write something like: “Ivan thought it was good”.

After all the sound and fury, I think what was lacking, as is so often the case in financial scandals involving governments, bankers and touts, is simply accountability.

The Newton Food Center enjoys three distinct advantages over all other hawker centers (including Lau Pa Sat). It is the most central of hawker centers in Singapore; it enjoys a certain “celebrity” status by way of our Singapore Tourism Board and thirdly, they have touts.

Yes, you just try and find an empty table at any of the other hawker centers. At the Newton Food Center, a quick gesture or show of interest and you will be shown to a spanking clean (well, relatively) table by an amiable tout and ordering food from multiple stalls is a breeze with their Tout-to-Tout Network™. Now that’s service.

Why even in 5-star hotels in Singapore, you have to suffer the indignity of actually getting up from your table to gather food at the different buffet troughs.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the simmering stock of contention and reduce it.

Assume price of prawns is $12 per 100g.
Further assume the price includes the weight of the shell, head and funny wriggly thingies; much like how the durian-mongers charge. Hmmmm…

Now the total price of the 8-prawn course was $239.
Each prawn is about $30.

Total weight of prawns consumed is 100(239/12)… err… carry the 2… about 1992g

Therefore, each prawn is about (1992/8)… do I need cosine?… around 249g.

Now let’s turn this around and present it thusly:

Price: $12 per 100g of prawn.
Weight of 1 prawn: 249g
Price of 1 prawn: $30

Therefore price of 8 prawns: 8(30) = $240

Because you are a good customer and in life it is not good to split hairs, I give you family discount: $239.

Don’t tell my boss ok?

When I was young, I was taught to chew my food properly so that the broken-down pieces would be easier to swallow. Likewise, I think if the customer was presented with this breakdown, he can then make an informed decision whether or not to include the course of 8 prawns.

Remember in school we were taught that the answer is not as important as showing the steps taken to arrive at the answer? Well, it applies here too.

Pithy New Age hippie fortune cookie takeaway:

The journey is more important than the destination.

Yes, this is a generalization but like all generalizations, I don’t really care.

Some might cry “Caveat Emptor” (meaning “unlike you, my snotty education included Latin”), but I think proactivity (literally, “pro” meaning “something” and “activity” meaning “I should do if I don’t want to get into trouble”) on the part of the tout or any other salesperson is always a good thing. The customer may always be right but we should remind them what’s on the left too.

So. Perhaps someone should recommend a set of “good practices” or guidelines on accountability (not in so many syllables) so that future tourists (and locals) can eat with confidence.

At least until they have dinner at Sin Huat.

Posted on 27th Mar 2009 in Food and Drink, Mail, Musings


There Are 3 Comments


xiix commented on March 27, 2009 at 11:46 am

Am ashamed to say I (or rather my ang moh friends) fell similar tactics by the low-lives at Newton Circus a few years back.

I was ordering food for my ang moh friends and the bloody seafood @$$e$ touted them and they ordered some ‘king prawns’ to try. Cost of said tasteless and dry prawns? $240. I regret not calling the hotline and report them, wonder if it is too late now. I still remember the smug look on the guy’s face, going ‘gotcha!’. I told him $240 can go Punggol eat seafood until you drop dead. Hope this money make you really happy.

I personally feel that Newton Circus should be closed – for good. The food is crap nowadays.

Uniquely Singapore indeed! so pie say, especially when all my friends can remembered was the £30 prawns of 4.


ivan commented on April 1, 2009 at 11:53 am

@xiix: I think it would be a waste to close everything down because that’s not solving the problem entirely.

Furthermore, I read that the stall was charged (heh heh) for “overcharging” which I am not entirely sure if there’s a case for it as it actually assumes there is an official regulation on how much food items can be charged. If so, I’m sure the government body that enforces that regulation will be swamped with complaints.

Or is it merely a populist move on the government agency’s part? The news report wasn’t very clear about it.


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