Nov 13, 2017
There is not a more quintessential dining experience in the city than pulling up a plastic chair to tray full of food at a hawker center. Here, our abridged guide on what to order from the plethora of tasty plates dished out at these colorful outdoor food centers. Story and photographs by Lauryn Ishak.
1. CHAR SIEW NOODLE
Egg noodles are tossed in hoisin and black soy sauce, topped with char siew (barbecue roast pork) and garnished with green vegetables and pickled green chili.
Is there anything more satisfying than meat on a stick, grilled over a charcoal fire, and dunked in ground-peanut sauce? Here you’ll find it served with a lontong (compressed rice cake) or ketupat (rice dumpling) on the side.
3. CHICKEN RICE
The most iconic of all hawker foods, this is a must-try when you are in Singapore. The simple combination of rice, chicken, chili sauce, black sweet soy sauce and ginger packs a flavor punch far beyond the individual ingredients. There is no right way to eat it; some prefer to mix chili and ginger and soy sauce carefully with each bite while others mix it all up on the plate.
4. BUBUR PULUT HITAM
This dessert—a blend of black glutinous rice, pandan leaves and palm sugar, served with lightly salted coconut milk—comes from Indonesia but is widely available in dessert stalls.
5. BAK CHOR MEE
Minced meat, pork liver, sliced mushroom, fried lard and noodles, tossed in a sauce of vinegar, chili and oil. The dish can be ordered dry, with soup on the side, or as a soup but without the sauce.
Katong laksa, the Singaporean take on the classic soup, consists of rice noodles afloat in a spicy coconut-milk-based broth, along with cockles, prawns, deep-fried tofu puffs and fish cakes.
7. CLAY-POT CHICKEN RICE
An to the hawker scene, here the rice is cooked in a clay pot over a charcoal fire before the chicken, Chinese sausage and vegetables are added. Each one is cooked to order, but it is worth the 20-minute wait. The best part is the burnt, crunchy, smoky, crispy bits of rice at the bottom of the pot.
Maxwell Road Hawker Centre
This hot spot next to Chinatown is perennially packed and you can count on long lines at Tian Tian Chicken Rice, where the classic dish has won international recognition—Anthony Bourdain tweeted praise for their chicken rice and Gordon Ramsay lost to them in a cook-off—but even the lesser-lined stalls have noteworthy noshes, like the delectable dumplings at Special Shanghai Tim-Sum and the bak chor mee at Ah Guan Mee Pok. 1 Kadayanallur Street.
Set next to one of the city’s biggest wet markets in Little India, the biryani, Tandoori breads and curries are delicious renditions of North and South Indian favorites, but the Chinese stalls are superlative as well, with standouts including 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodle and Heng Gi Goose and Duck Rice. For dessert, head to Hajjah Fatimah and order the burbur pulut hitam. 665 Buffalo Road, Tekka Centre.
Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre
Re-opened in May 2017 after three months of renovations, the space is now a sleeker spin on a traditional hawker hall. You’ll find a tasty laksa at the aptly named Teochew Fishball Minced Pork Noodle Laksa stall, with lots of coconut and chili. 30 Seng Poh Road.
Old Airport Road Food Centre
There is a glut of options at this classic food court. Traditional Claypot Chicken Rice and Chuan Kee Satay are scrumptious spots for their titular dishes, while Hua Kee Hougang Famous Wanton Mee has amazing char siew noodles, balancing spicy and sweet. 19 Old Airport Road.