Having now spent a considerable amount of time in Singapore (almost three weeks total!), I’ve developed quite a soft spot for Singapore as one of my favourite places to eat. As a tourist Singapore is a great city to hang out in. It’s modern, but still boasts a lot of culture with places like Chinatown, Little India and Joo Chiat; it’s clean, but still has old-style eateries (Hawker centres); and it’s hot so girls don’t wear too many clothes (personal preference).
The sheer number of options when you find yourself standing in the middle of a busy Hawker Centre can be a little intimidating, so with all the foods I’ve eaten here it seemed only logical that I put together some sort of basic what’s what and where to give you a head start on your next one day stopover in the garden state. Because I’m a cheapskate, I almost exclusively eat in Hawker Centers. I’m sure Singapore has a bustling restaurant scene, I just know nothing about it.
What is a Hawker Centre?
A Hawker Centre is Singapore’s solution to unhygienic street food. Vendors set up stalls in various centres around the country, and hygiene standards are high enough that there is no need to worry about food poisoning. The end result is a food court selling the best food ever, at really reasonable prices. They are open air affairs, with fans, but it’s still pretty hot in the middle of the day. I don’t know about you, but I think the sweaty middle back really makes me feel like I’m eating in Asia. As a general rule, look for the Hawker with the long line, they’re generally selling something wonderful. Okay, let’s get to the food.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
One of the few Asian dishes I can actually make, chicken rice is a staple Singaporean food. To the uninitiated it may sound boring, so let me school you a little. The chicken is cooked (only just) with spring onion and ginger, then the chicken broth is used to make the rice, adding more ginger and garlic in along the way. The succulent chicken and fragrant rice is topped with homemade chili sauce and dark soy.
Tian Tian chicken rice is surely the most famous place around, put on the map by Anthony Bourdain. Their chicken rice is top notch, as is most of the food at Maxwell Hawker, which means you should be prepared to queue. If you have the time, take a trip out to Bishan and try Ming Jee, where the chicken is served cold.
Char Kway Teow
A long time favourite in Malaysia and Singapore, Char Kway Teow consists of stir fried flat rice noodles with egg, prawns, cockles, Chinese sausage, bean sprouts and chives. You’d be hard pressed to find a hawker centre not serving a decent version of this dish.
Every person in Singapore will tell you a different favourite prata spot. Doughey roti is usually fried plain or with egg, but is also offered with a variety of other flavours (banana, cheese, meat, onion), and served with a dal curry. I tend to order one egg and one plain. I’ve heard Zam Zam in Bugis makes a good prata, but they weren’t making them fresh when I asked, so I visited the shop three doors down on the corner possibly named “Best Biryani”. They were piping hot, crunchy, doughey and cheap.
Another solid option is Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s in Joo Chiat. The atmosphere is very local, the prices are great, and you can watch Mr Mohgan make your prata fresh. Served piping hot.
Kaya is a jam made from coconut juice, eggs and sugar. This original favourite breakfast in Singapore consists of toast with generous servings of butter and kaya. Opt for the set which includes two half boiled eggs (which you can dip your toast into), and a cup of fresh kopi. If you’re staying in Chinatown there are a couple of original places you can visit (Ya Kun Kaya Toast, Tong Ah Eating House, Killiney Kopitiam), or you can visit one of the many Toast Box or Ya Kun chains in the mall.
Idli and Dosai
I fell in love with these South Indian breakfast foods on my visit to Chennai. Take the MRT to Little India and you can find a plethora of shops selling these great foods. I tried a few, and settled with the most authentic to be Murugan Idli Shop, a popular chain from Chennai. My suggestion would be to go with one idli, one podi idli, one ghee dosai, and one vadai. It all comes with four different chutneys, sambar (a spicy dal curry) and is served on a banana leaf. The norm is to eat with your hands.
Wantons, noodles, pork – heaven? You can find this almost anywhere, each place you go having a different variation on the popular dish. My favourite was a soup-based version from Maxwell (are you wondering if I have a favourite Hawker Centre?), a few stalls to the left of Tian Tian; the soup is what really makes this version special.
As one of my all time favourite dishes, I’m always looking to try a good Laksa. The soup is primarily made from coconut, but includes prawns and fish sauce. The final product is combined with rice noodles, prawns, cockles and beancurd puffs. There are a few different types of Laksa, but the clear winner was a Katong version from Joo Chiat. The Hawker is just to your right as you enter Roxy Square. There’s also an excellent version at Hong Lim Food Centre in Chinatown (Trishaw Laksa, #02-67).
Curry Chicken Mee
Also found in Hong Lim, this dish is served with egg noodles, and a boat load of chicken and bean curd. It’s quite spicy, but wonderfully enjoyable. Easy to find, just look for the line. Interestingly, this is the closest thing I’ve had to a KK Malaysia Laksa.
Fried Carrot Cake
Another favourite of Singapore and Malaysia. Not to be confused with your mum’s favourite birthday cake, this dish is made from radish cake, cut into cubes and fried with eggs (white version) and dark soy and sugar (dark version). The white is savory, while the black is sweet, and a little crunchy. Personally I find carrot cake to be an overrated dish, and wouldn’t consider it a must try.
Fish Head Curry
Sounds terrible, tastes amazing. I tried this in Gayathri’s in Little India (my one expensive restaurant visit – $17!) and boy was it good. The curry was sour, spicy, and just look at the colours. There is a famous fish head hawker in Maxwell, but every time I got there he was sold out.
A Malay-Indian dish of beef or mutton bones, which are cooked in a spicy cumin and chili infused (and BRIGHT red) stew until the marrow inside gets soft and spreadable. Golden Mile Food Centre on Beach Road has a wicked version downstairs (there’s a lot of signage, you shouldn’t miss it). The meat is so succulent, and you can suck the marrow out from the bones. It’s one of the more messy dishes to eat; you’ll want to bring some paper towels.
Frog Leg Congee
Congee is Chinese porridge, and it’s made from rice. Frog legs, are…well… frog legs. They taste like chicken and feel like fish. Tiong Shian Eating House in Chinatown serves a nice version in a claypot. They also have century eggs available if you’re feeling especially adventurous. Open until 4am.
As you can see, Singapore is quite the foodie haven. Generally considered as only worth a day or two visit, and as having very little to see, I think that Singpaore’s foodism (food tourism) is underrated.