Singapore is as clean as a modern city/country gets. Singapore even has a ban on chewing gum and as such, my brother and I disposed our few piece of gum before we landed in Singapore. We never got a chance to eat any street food in Korea and we were dying to try some in Singapore. Of course this being Singapore with its strict no litter regulations, street vendors have long been outlawed and all hawker stands have moved indoors. Where as in Delhi, Bangkok, or even in New York City I would have thought twice before eating anything off the street, I knew that in Singapore I could eat anything and everything from the hawker stands and I’d be just fine. So during our one week in Singapore, we set out to eat whatever we wanted from the hawker stands.
Food centers or food courts where a cluster of hawker stands are gathered are everywhere in Singapore. And it seemed that no matter who you were and where you came from, you ate at one of these food courts. Recently I learned a Malay word “makan,” which means to eat. I think the Singaporeans live to makan and the frenetic scenes we witnessed at every one of the food courts we visited were an indication of Singapore’s strong eating culture. The first day in Singapore we walked down the street from our hotel to the Singapore Food Trail. We tried several local dishes, including something called rojak (rojak means mixture in Malay). Rojak is a traditional fruit and vegetable salad, and the one we got included large chucks of pineapple, cucumber, jicama, and fried dough. The mixture was doused in a thick brown dressing, which was too sweet to my liking, and tossed with chopped peanuts for additional texture. I found the combination of fruits and vegetables a bit odd, but it seemed to be a very popular dish amongst the locals.
We also had a bowl of fish ball soup- the texture of the fish balls were quite interesting in that they were really bouncy, unlike oden. Both the broth and the fish balls weren’t fishy or greasy, and I liked the simplicity of the dish. I also liked the Hokkien mee, fried noodles with prawns, cuttlefish, and lots of garlic. I’ve heard that Hokkien mee is often considered the national dish of Singapore and I think rightly so. It’s a wonderful combination of Southeast Asia and China, just like Singapore. For dessert we had a bowl of shaved ice, sweetened with rainbow colored syrup and topped with condensed milk. A fun treat for kids of all ages.
In the days that followed we feasted on numerous hawker stand dishes. One day we walked over to Chinatown to visit the Maxwell Food Centerfor the famed
Tian Tian Hainanese chicken rice stand (the very same one featured on Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservationa). We wanted to beat the rush so we aimed to arrive before noon, and by doing so we only waited about 10 minutes. It was good and tasty but I didn’t think it was anything too special. Yes, the chicken was moist and the rice was cooked well and delicious. And yes, it was cheap (~$3.00) but would I return there again? There are so many Hainanese chicken rice places all over town that I don’t think it’s worth trekking over to Chinatown for this particular one. My brother’s friend told us as much but we wanted to see for ourselves. And he was right. I did love the fresh fruit and juice stands there- I got myself a fresh sugarcane juice and a slice of watermelon. Oh, that sugarcane juice!
The highlight of our hawker stand experience in Singapore came at Food Republicinside the Wisma Atria Shopping Center on Orchard Street. Not knowing
exactly what to eat, we thought we’d follow what the locals were doing. We walked around the food court once, looking at what everyone was eating and searching for vendors with the longest queues. We spotted a long queue belonging to a Hokkien mee specialist Thye Hong and it was obvious what we had to do. We patiently waited our turn at getting a plate of the best Hokkien mee served piping hot on banana leaves. We also got a bowl of braised beef noodle soup from another vendor. The chef there held a large piece of dough on his shoulder and with a knife he cut small strips of the dough straight into a pot of boiling water. It was fascinating to watch how our noodles were getting made and cooked to order. The two noodle dishes were so vastly different but we enjoyed them both. Even though the Hokkien noodles sat on the table while we waited for the beef noodle soup, the texture and the consistency of the noodles remained as if they were just prepared. It was fantastic.
We visited at least one food court each day we were in Singapore, and yet I know there are hundreds more. Next time!
Singapore Food Trail (at Singapore Flyer): 30 Raffles Avenue Singapore 039803
Maxwell Food Center (Chinatown): 1 Kadayanallur Street, Singapore 069184
Food Republic (Wisma Atra): 435 Orchard Road, Singapore 238877