Kacang Puteh anyone?

During my school days at SJI (now SAM), scatter a handful of peanuts and the pigeons comes fluttering to feed. This was quite a scene at the courtyard of former SJI (St Joseph’s Institution) now known as SAM (Singapore Art Museum). At one end of the school’s tuckshop sat an Indian man selling kacang puteh. In front of him was an array of plastic containers containing a variety of nuts. Cashew nuts, peanuts as well as the  sugar-coated ones, chick-peas, green peas and a variety of other nuts of sorts that catered to our likes. With his paper-cone ready, he will scoop your favourite nuts with a spoon and pour it into the paper-cone filling it to the brim. At only 20cents, you get to munch to your hearts content…and perhaps scatter a few pieces on the courtyard for the waiting pigeons. A familiar sight of the kacang puteh seller were also seen at the lobby area of cinemas. Cinema patrons would buy their favourite nuts and munch away while watching the movie. You may occasionally hear the crunching sound from the cinema patron seated next to you as one grinds away. Mostly plied by the Indians in the earlier years, the kacang puteh seller is now becoming a fast disappearing trade.

kacangputeh1
^ A kacang puteh seller dressed in white shirt and sarong plying his trade. (Photocredit: National Archives of Singapore, circa early 1990s)

If you happen to travel along Selegie Road, you may still catch a glimpse of the kacang puteh seller. Mr Nagappan, who has been selling kacang puteh for more than 15 years, sits at his pushcart in front of Peace Centre selling your favourite snack.

kacangputeh2
^ Below is the article published in The Straits Times seen in the above photo displayed on Mr Nagappan’s pushcart.

The Straits Times, Saturday May 21st 2005, by Lin Zhaowei

Sell kacang puteh? It’s a tough nut to crack.
For nine hours everyday, Mr Nagappan Arumugam faithfully stands at his little stall at Peace Centre shopping mall in Selegie Road, selling kacang puteh. His small metallic pushcart is stuffed with plastic bottles containing more than 20 varieties of peas, peanuts and beans. True to tradition, his one-dollar snacks are served in white paper cones.

His day begins at 11.30am, and when he gets tired, he pulls out his plastic stool to sit on. There is no signboard to indicate his presence and many people simply pass him by without a second glance. Mr Nagappan, 62, has been selling kacang puteh for about 15 years. Before he moved to his present location eight years ago, he was plying his trade at the old Hoover cinema in Balestier Road.

Before popcorn invaded cinema here, people picked up cones of kacang from sellers like him to munch through a movie. At that time, these kacang puteh sellers, dressed in their white shirts and sarongs, would roam the streets calling out to customers. They packed their nuts in bags, arranged them neatly in a wooden box and carried it on their heads. They sold the kacang in cones made of carbon-laced newspapers or torn pages from the Yellow Pages. Time has seen their numbers dwindle, as tastes change. The few existing sellers no longer peddle their goods on the streets.

It seems that tougher times are ahead for Mr Nagappan. “Business has gone down in recent years. I used to make about $700 to $800 a month. Now I make only about $200 to $300 monthly.” Mr Nagappan prepares most of his nuts himself in the rented flat he shares with a friend in Geylang Bahru. The rest are bought off the shelf.

He has a wife and four grown-up children in India, but could not convince them to live here with him. He visits them about once a year. He forsees the demise of the kacang puteh trade in around 10 years’ time. “Kacang puteh doesn’t appeal to the younger generation.”

If you still savour munching your favourite kacang from the paper-cone, perhaps this is one place you may still get to relieve the memories of your younger days…kacang puteh anyone?

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20 Responses to “Kacang Puteh anyone?”

  1. Lam Chun See Says:

    You mean we can still buy kacang puteh from this Mr Nagappan’s pushcart at Selegie Road? There is so much construction going on at the previous Selegie Complex area.

    I seem to recall that the kacang puteh man outside my primary school used to get old exercise books from us to use the paper. My favourite was the sugar-coated ones.

  2. ordinary guy Says:

    Hi Lam,

    The photo I took of Mr Nagappan was 2 weeks ago. His pushcart was located in front of the entrance of Peace Centre along Selegie Road. He is still there. I love the sugar-coated peanuts too. We managed to immune ourselves against carbon-laced peanuts given that the paper-cone used were from old newspapers, magazines, exercise books, telephone directory and the pages from Yellow Pages. We survived it all.

  3. Lam Chun See Says:

    I just saw a similar stall at Turf City. Actually I have seen it many times before. Goes to show that they are just not the same anymore; more like the other modern day stall – so much so that I didn’t remember it was there.

  4. yg Says:

    I don’t really fancy nuts, so the kacang puteh stall was not my favourite. however, when i did eat, i would go for the steamed soft yellow nuts ( i don’t know the name for it). my time, it was either 5 or 10 cents a paper-cone full.

  5. Thimbuktu Says:

    Its been quite a long ago since my photo of “Mr Kachang Singapore” with your truly at:

    http://www.phlog.net/user/thimbuktu

    Pls check it out to share.

    Regards.

    James Seah

  6. Elvin Says:

    HI..does anyone know if that man is still ard?

    • ordinary guy Says:

      The last time I walked along the path outside Peace Centre about 4 months ago and he was still around.

  7. Unk Dicko ( The Wise Old Owl ) Says:

    YG, the soft yellow ones you once loved are not nuts but actually beans. My favourite too. They are called Garbanzo beans ( kabuli chana ) and have a most delicious taste from its buttery texture. Indians used it in some of their curry. Among the kachang puteh variety sold..this is one variety that carries the most nutrients and health benefits. Pity that kids and most young people have not taken to kachang puteh as we did.

  8. boo Says:

    yes, the man is still there up to now.

  9. Sally Lee Says:

    How can I get a Kachang Puteh Man for a day<

  10. Aben Says:

    I like his sugar coated rice cracker (rectangular, squarish flat shaped, fried and coated with sugar) but I’m not sure if its named this way. Probably he prepare this himself but any idea where else selling this commercially?

  11. Rena Seah Says:

    Will he interested in taking Company event on site? I thought of hiring him for 3 hours to my company site for small internal events.

  12. Tim Says:

    I think this uncle has retired. I pass by this place twice and recently (In March 2012) and his pushcart is not to be found anymore.

  13. Naga Says:

    Guys …. Leave your worry to me… My friend and I starting kacang puteh business soon … In tampines central… With modern style of
    Flavours… But with the same old crunchy taste…we also introducing more varieties
    Which probably not many Singaporeans
    Know of….. These are only available in mainland India… We are introducing many varieties of kacang putih in Singapore… So.. Look out for them soon guys…

  14. andrew chin Says:

    Naga….can u give me your contact number and where u r located in Tampines central? I am looking to buy kacang putih in bulk for a Xmas church community party catering for min 400 people….plse email me at artg01@singnet.com.sg or sms me at 90705703

  15. jaynealethea Says:

    As an events planner and a child that grow up on lots of sugared kachang puteh i bought from cinemas! I’m happy to say that I’ve incorporated this kachang puteh for hire service at my business http://www.partyparlorsg.com for those who might feel the nostalgia and want to hire our kachang puteh carts or who want to share the stories behind kachang puteh 🙂 Hoping to bring this back to all singaporeans! (more unique then your regular popcorn candyfloss hehe) we serve up at least 6 varieties of nuts like sugar nuts, garlic flavored ones, Peas, Muruku and more! feel free to contact me at partyparlorsg@gmail dot com

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