There are many cities that are great spots for gourmands and food loving folks alike but none of them are quite like Singapore. In a country where eating is practically a national sport, you can be assured you’re in for a treat. The city boasts of snazzy bars and top notch dining establishments offering an array of cuisines to choose from but the heart of Singapore and all its glorious food lies in their hawker centres.
Hawker centres are open air spaces that house a number of food stalls serving inexpensive but delicious food. It's where the locals eat and it’s where you should too, to really get the flavour of what Singapore has to offer. Singapore’s DNA is a Malaysian, Indian and Chinese cultural mix and that's most evident in the variety of food you'll find at these hawker centres. Lots of Durian, the more popular cousin to our Jackfruit that has a similar intense odour but is loved in Singapore and turns up in ice creams, milkshakes and all sorts of unusual sweets apart from being eat in its native form.
Noodles dishes are plenty but the one that stands out the most is the Char Kwey Teow that’s found at every second hawker stalls. Thick flat Malaysian style noodles tossed with shrimp cockles and slathered in a special sauce makes for one indulgent Singaporean treat. Another variety of noodle dish that’s equally popular is the Hokkien Prawn Mee and completely unlike the kwey teow. Fried egg and rice noodles which is then cooked in an aromatic broth of pork bones and prawn heads, served with prawn, fish cake or perhaps squid and has its own unique flavour and texture.
Fried Carrot Cake is not a weird version of the traditional dessert that first comes to mind. In Singapore this is a street style speciality that’s whipped up in minutes consisting of chunks of egg, and white radish that resembles a carrot and where the dish gets its name. You could also find a black version of the same which is basically covered in a molasses coating and much sweeter but just as tasty as the original cubed radish cakes.
Plenty of Malaysian influences in the food but the most prominent that you'll find at every second stall is Satay, skewered meats usually pork and beef served with a thick peanut sauce and Laksa curry. The Laksa is a symphony of flavour that is a spicy soup with a mix of seafood, sometimes chicken, coconut milk and noodles. It’s a meal in a bowl and while you do get versions of Laksa like Katong or Asam the most common one in Singapore is Curry Laksa that uses vermicelli and pork bits in addition to the seafood.
Satay is always a great appetizer but another great dish to kick off a meal is Popiah, Singapore’s answer to the Chinese spring roll. A thin paper like wheat crêpe full of filling is wrapped tightly into a roll and cut into manageable pieces. The filling usually consists of prawns, boiled egg, sprouts, turnip, lettuce and a thick sweet hoisin sauce. You can pop them as is or ask for some chilli sauce and enjoy them.
The only traditional breakfast to be had in Singapore is the Kaya Toast with soft boiled eggs. The toast is made from a local white bread and then smeared with kaya, a local jam made from egg, coconut milk, sugar and pandan leaf and topped with melted butter. The eggs are a breakfast accompaniment but this combination of Kaya Toast is a fabulous snack and relished by locals everywhere.
Despite all the variety and choice the undisputed king of the Singaporean Hawker Centre and possibly even the country’s national dish is the Hainanese Chicken Rice. If there is one dish they’re addicted to it’s this humble serving of chicken and rice. Don’t be fooled by its simple and almost Spartan like presentation of white rice and what looks like a boiled bland chicken with a small spicy dipping sauce. This chicken that’s been blanched for hours in aromatics and the rice that’s cooked in that heady chicken stock is a subtle flavour bomb that's only enhanced with that table side dipping sauce. The magic is in its delicate but intense flavour that’s converted the most intense sceptics into ardent fans.
It would take you days and a solid stomach to really do justice to the variety at these hawker centres but this should give you a good head start and certainly won’t strain your wallet.
By Roxanne Bamboat