Have you ever wondered why the mama shop is called as such? I always thought it’s because it’s my mother who always ask me to go buy thing from the shop for her, that’s why it’s called the mama shop.
Mama shop, contrary to popular belief, did not derive its name from the word mother and no, it isn’t because mothers (housewives) patronize the shop and that’s why it’s called the mama shop.
The mama in mama shop was actually derived from the Tamil word “mamak”, which means uncle or elder.
This was because the earlier mama shops were operated by Indian immigrants who were mainly traders or businessmen. They cater mainly to the residents in the immediate vicinity, and business owner and patrons were a tight knit group and business was conducted on a friendly and personal basis.
Back then, there were unlimited credit and bargaining, discounts and delivery of goods were commonplace. Over time, the businesses shifted from serving the Indian community to serving the community at large with business being conducted in the Malay language.
When Singapore started to place its people into its public housing, these mama shops found themselves relocated into the estates, placed at the void deck below HDB blocks. However, this resettlement has also caused a weakening in the sense of community that the villages used to have, which has struck a blow to them in terms of loyal patronage.
Combined that with the increase in competition from convenience stores like 7-11 and Cheers and supermarkets like Fairprice, most mama shop owners found it hard for their businesses to survive.
So the next time your mom say go mama shop buy things for her, remember to ask if she knows why it’s called the mama shop and see if she knows.