I was first introduced to Singapore by Anthony Bourdain. As any good Foodie, I have watched every single one of his shows and Singapore resonated with me. Why might you ask? Singapore is a melting pot of food, culture and culinary visionaries. This comes as no surprise as Singaporeans consist of Malaysian, Chinese and Indians. The food has adapted to the vast multicultural population.
A food culture that runs deep; Singaporeans take pride in their food. The world’s cheapest Michelin Star meal resides in Singapore, Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle. S$2.00 equates to $1.46 USD (at the time of this article.) Anyone visiting Singapore comes here to do one thing and one thing only, to EAT.
What is a Hawker Center?
Hawker Centers are food stalls in open air complexes offering inexpensive foods. Centers were built in Singapore in the 1950’s and 1960’s as an answer to unhygienic food preparation and as a way to manage unlicensed vendors. Health code ratings, licensing and a standard for hygiene are requirements for today’s Hawker Centers. These centers have become more than just the food, it not only offers affordable food options for all walks of life, it has become community gathering spots for the locals and those abroad.
Stall owners have perfected their craft after years and years of practice. Many specializing in only one dish. To our luck, some stalls passed down their culinary secrets to the 3rd and 4th generations.
Why do I love Hawker food so much?
The ambiance of walking into a food center is not like walking into any other food court. I wouldn’t even call it a food court, but rather a gathering of food heaven.
Hawker centers have a buzz and energy about it that I can’t explain. When you walk into a center it’s hard not to become overwhelmed at the many food options. You can take your pick from chicken and rice, pork barbeque, satay, prawn mee, a variety of noodle dishes and carrot cake just to name a few. The aroma of beautifully sautéed noodles in a dark soya sauce to fried bananas fills your nose as you walk through the many stalls trying to decide what you want to eat. My only dilemma during our visit to Singapore was how little stomach space I had to the amount of food I wanted to consume.
Michelin Star & Bib Gourmand
Singapore has 29 Michelin Star eateries ranging from fine dining restaurants to Hawker stalls. Stars range from 1 to 3 and are awarded based on quality, mastery of technique and consistency of food. Michelin Stars are like status symbols and we had the pleasure of eating at Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle, earning 1 star.
1 Star: A good restaurant with quality food and consistently high standards.
2 Stars: A restaurant worth a detour with outstanding quality and excellent cuisine.
3 Stars: An exceptional restaurant that offers distinctive dishes with exceptional ingredients and execution.
Michelin also awards eateries with what is called a Bib Gourmand. These are eateries that meet standards of quality, skill and consistently high standards in their foods for S$45 or less. In 2018, 50 Singapore eateries received this award, 12 more than in 2017.
5 Tips for First Timers at a Hawker Center
Tip #1: Don’t order the first thing you see.
I recommend when you arrive at any Hawker Center for the first time to get a feel for the lay of the land. There are so many choices that you want to be able to take in the food choices before you begin ordering.
Tip #2: Bring cash.
Most Hawker Stalls are a mom and pop shops that will only accept cash. It’s rare to find a stall that will accept a card.
Tip #3: Share your plate.
Most stalls offer small, medium and large portions that can range anywhere from $2 – $10 USD, depending on the size. I recommend ordering a small plate and sharing as you will want to try a variety of dishes. When you order, most stalls will try and upsell you. Order a small and if you like the dish and have room after you have had 5 other dishes, go back and order a second plate.
Tip #4: Reserve seating.
If you ever see a table with a pack of tissues on it, don’t even think about sitting down. The pack of tissues means someone has already claimed the table. At many Hawker Centers, there will always be someone selling tissue. Another important note is that napkins aren’t provided and patrons use tissues instead. I have also seen people use umbrellas, USB cords or other personal items to reserve seating. Just keep in mind that if you see something on the table, it probably means someone has already claimed it.
Tip #5: Halal and Non-Halal.
After you are done eating, don’t forget to clean up after yourself and put your tray/plates away in the appropriate place. There will be signs letting you know if the tray intake is for Halal or Non-Halal foods. Be respectful and mindful.
Amoy Hawker Center
Address: 7 Maxwell Road Mnd Building Annexe B | Tanjong Pagar, Singapore 069111, Singapore
A Noodle Story (Bib Gourmand)
I had one of the best dishes I have ever had thus far at Amoy Hawker Center. Till this day I can’t stop thinking about Hawker Stall, A Noodle Story and wished we had ordered two large bowls of this delicious Singaporean style ramen. The noodles were light, chewy and bouncy. The wontons were delicate and had the most wonderful filing inside. The soft boiled soy flavored egg was like eating silk it was so smooth. I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing the cha-su was. It literally melted like butter. The crispy potato wrapped prawn was delectable and fried to perfection.
If you are in Singapore you must visit A Noodle Story. A triad of flavors distinctly different from any other ramen you have ever had.
Pok Kee Fried Carrot Cake
Contrary to what you may think, carrot cake doesn’t contain any carrots at all and is a savory dish and not a desert. Singaporean Carrot Cake is also known as chai tow kway. It is a radish cake made with rice flour and shredded white daikon. Most carrot cake is stir-fried with egg, vegetables, and green onion. You can order this white or black. The black version is mixed with dark soya sauce. We ordered the dark carrot cake and opted for spicy. I loved the chewy texture of the cake coated in the dark soya sauce. It had the perfect amount of saltiness, not too salty with a hint of sweetness and a kick from the spice. I couldn’t get the carrot cake into my belly quick enough. A definite must try dish.
Maxwell Hawker Center
Address: 1 Kadayanallur Street, Singapore 069184, Singapore
Lim Kee Banana Fritters
This was the first thing we purchased at Maxwell and my husband loved it. It is a Thai banana deep fried with a creamy sweet custard inside. It is served piping hot, so be careful when you bit into it. The crispy outer dough was a perfect balance to the caramelized banana inside. Then you bit down further and you get a mouthful of sweet cream that takes the soft gooey banana wrapped in a crispy batter to the next level. I can definitely see how this can be addicting as a quick snack or the perfect dessert to an end of any meal.
Fu Shun Jin Ji Shao La Mian Jia
I have never had barbeque pork and roasted duck like this before. My mouth waters every time I think about it. A heaping serving of barbeque pork and roasted duck sits on top of the egg noodles covered in dark soya sauce. The pork had the right amount of meat to fat ratio topped with the best crispy skin I have ever had. The crispy skin was so addicting I wish more came on the plate. That says a lot as we ordered a large portion. The duck was juicy and roasted to perfection. My husband spent about 20 minutes in queue for this plate of yummy goodness and it was worth the wait.
We only had time and room in our bellies for two Hawker Centers during our visit to Singapore. Check out these other centers:
- Lau Pa Sat Haker Centre
- Old Airport Food Centre
- Tekka Centre
- Chomp Chomp Hawker Centre
Interested in watching some of our food adventures in Singapore? Check out our videos below.
Don’t forget to Like and Subscribe so that you don’t miss more of our adventures around the world.
Traveling internationally? Check out 5 Tips for Planning an International Trip.