Cafe Old Market Square (formerly known as Restoran Sin Seng Nam) began in 1928 with a Hainanese immigrant Choong Yoo Ying and his two brothers. In those days businesses were family affairs.
Hainanese (or Hailam) people are well known to be pedantic. They stay loyal to their rituals and remain uncompromising in their methods. This has worked as their steadfastness has been the key that has made their cuisine extremely popular. Hainanese food epitomises their work ethics. It reflects perfection of recipes and their tenacity to continually reproduce that same perfection time and time again. Effortlessly.
If only walls could talk
Sin Seng Nam became popular. The humble coffeeshop wasn’t just a place to savour a favourite brew. It was a place to meet friends, conduct business, relax and enjoy life.
As Kuala Lumpur progressed, buildings cropped up beside this old coffee shop. Courthouses, the Bar Council, Banks, and offices all arose over time. But Sin Seng Nam stayed the same. Its clientele grew. Its patrons not only included petty traders, miners and gamblers; it soon included judges, businessmen and members of government – in fact the entire spectrum of society went there. Everyone partaking in the same fare, at the same price, enjoying the same ambience.
Even the Punjabi community used to conduct their monthly meetings on the 1st floor of the building to keep in touch with their community issues
We don’t realise the significance of small things until we have lost them
Over 85 years with multiple generations frequenting the place, it became famous. In mid 2013, Sin Seng Nam closed. Time had taken its toll on the building and extensive refurbishment was required to restore this 100 year old building to its former glory.
With its closure we looked around our modern concrete jungle and realised that this one coffeeshop that remained the same from the beginning, encapsulated an integral part of our culture. The building has actually been marked as a heritage site. It had history plastered on its walls.
So instead of allowing a modern day business to occupy this strategic spot, we began with a wish to restore the place, along with its traditional fare, to allow our own future generations an insight into our history.
Giving the past a future
It was a transformation without a major transformation. We wanted to keep everything exactly as it was and not radically change anything. The place has high ceilings and large windows which provide a constant cooling breeze - natural air conditioning. The wall tiles were meticulously cleaned, mosaic floors scrubbed, marble tables and wooden chairs restored. Repairs were made, structures were reinforced and generous coats of paint applied – It was paramount that all else remained the same.
Honoring traditions, we serve the same food with the wish that the moment our patrons step into our premises, they will be spellbound by the sheer volume of history and immersed into an era known by our forefathers. We are a haven with a taste of heaven.
A Hainanese immigrant Choong Yoo Ying started ‘Restoran Sin Seng Nam’ with his two brothers at the building fondly known as ‘The Vatican’ or ‘The Red House’.
After 85 years, the coffeeshop served its last meal on 28th February 2013. It was the end of an era.
The founder's son, Choong Ah See took over when his father passed away and his uncles retired. He was assisted by other family members.
Restoration began to transform this beloved eating place back into its former glory. Cafe Old Market Square is born. The reason why it is called Old Market Square is because the very place where the building is standing was the place where a market was located before Central Market was built.
Cafe Old Market Square
2, Medan Pasar, 50050 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia