This was my third visit to Singapore, so it felt like the perfect time to dig a little deeper into the local culture and the day-to-day life. It all started with a simple lunch at the Maxwell Food Centre. Conveniently located just a short walk away from Chinatown, it seemed like a perfect place to grab a bite to eat and rest my feet after a long day of walking around.
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I had no idea what awaited me inside.
Rows upon rows of food stalls, tantalising smells, and the clinking sounds of woks and wooden spoons greeted me as I stepped foot into what I later learned was one of the best hawker centres in Singapore.
Overwhelmed by choice, I roamed wide-eyed through the rows of stalls within the bustling hawker centre. Mutton, crab, chicken, duck, oysters, soups in all colours and flavours, and of course, bean curd and sugar cane juice, the locals favourite.
Remembering a Wikitravel article, I read on the way over about the unique kinds of fish dishes in Singapore, I gravitated towards the Fish Head Soup, a Singapore specialty. I had to have it. And it was amazing! From that moment onwards, I was hooked. I wanted nothing more than to continue trying local foods in Singapore, and I was determined to make it my focus for the trip.
3 days and 5 of Singapore’s best food courts later, here is a list of my absolute favourites!
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Fish Head Bee Hoon
A seafood soup with a slightly sweet and flavourful milk-based broth with greens, rice noodles, and fish. If having a fish head sticking out of your soup bothers you, try the sliced fish variety instead. It’s just as delicious and eliminates the work required to get the fish off its bones.
For just $5/bowl, this fish soup was the dish that got me hooked!
Find it at the Maxwell Road Food Centre in Stall 77
Soya Sauce Chicken
The stall selling this dish looked just like 10 other stalls selling chicken dishes inside the Chinatown Complex Food Centre, but it was the long line of people curving all around the corner that made me try this rather simple but incredibly delicious meal. The 15-minute wait was absolutely worth it! The chicken, which cost me just $2.50, was tender and juicy. I wanted to suck it dry instead of chewing it, and the blend of chicken juices mixed with the soya sauce that coated the stir-fried rice noodles is still making me salivate now.
Chicken Fried Rice
It is a staple in any Asian cuisine and a dish without any surprises. Chopped chicken is wok-fried with rice, spices, and sauces. It was simple to make, but as you would expect, it tasted phenomenal. The fried chicken was tender and wonderfully flavoured, and this dish is some of the best comfort food I have ever tasted.
Chicken Rice (not the fried variety) is also a great choice for those looking to try something simple at a hawker centre. It’s a Singapore favourite. If you want the best of the best, head to Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice stall (#01-10 at the Maxwell Food Centre), which serves the best chicken rice in Singapore.
Chwee kueh is not a dish you’d typically pick from the menu at the hawker centres, but it’s one you absolutely shouldn’t miss. Chwee kueh is a steamed rice cake garnished with oil and some pickled relish on top. The savoury taste of the relish perfectly compliments the jelly-like texture of the rice cake, making it a great snack! For $2/5 pieces you simply can’t miss it!
For the best Chwee Kueh in Singapore, head to Jian Bo Shui Kueh stall #2-05 in the Tiong Bahru Market Hawker Centre.
Bak Chor Mee
This is another savoury, comforting dish that is remarkably simple but absolutely perfect. There are different variations of this popular hawker dish, and the one I tried featured yellow egg noodles topped with minced pork, braised mushrooms, and a chilli vinegar sauce that pulled everything together.
You can add pork meatballs, pork loin, and various trimmings like chicken cracklings, crispy fried shallots, and fresh scallions. This dish can be found at all hawker centres in Singapore, but you can’t go wrong with Tai Wah Pork Noodle (#02-16 stall) in Hong Lim Market & Food Centre.
This popular Malay dish has a base of rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves, eaten with a variety of accompaniments like fried anchovies, braised pork, fried chicken, and otah, which is a grilled fish paste. Nasi Lemak is usually topped with fresh cucumber slices, boiled peanuts, and a fried egg, but this can vary from stall to stall.
Like many hawker dishes, Nasi Lemak is typically served with a healthy portion of Sambal, a red chilli sauce made with garlic, ginger, shrimp paste, and sugar. There are probably hundreds of Nasi Lemak vendors to choose from, but Spice & Rice (#01-15 stall) in Amoy Street Food Centre is amazing.
These delightful Hokkien-style dumplings look simple, but they pack a ton of flavour. Bak Zhang are usually filled with savoury minced pork, shiitake mushrooms, chestnuts, and salted egg. They are then wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed until the glutinous rice is fragrant and chewy.
Rice dumplings are the perfect street food, portable, wrapped in eco-friendly packaging, with no need for utensils. To sample Bak Zhang are considered the gold standard by Singapore locals, visit Hoo Kee Rice Dumplings (#01-18 stall) in Amoy Street Food Centre.
Fried Oyster Omelette
Newton Food Centre is full of hidden gems. This bustling hawker centre is particularly known for Hup Kee Fried Oyster, the famous vendor that specialises in a fried oyster omelette. It’s beautifully simple, letting the crispy fried egg showcase fresh, plump oysters. Hup Kee offers a citrusy chilli dipping sauce with an amazing tangy heat that compliments the richness of the oyster omelette.
Kampong Carrot Cake
It’s not a cake, and it doesn’t even taste like carrots, yet this dish has earned the Kampong Carrot Cake stall (#02-26) in Tiong Bahru Market Hawker Centre a spot on the list of Top 5 Hawker Stalls in all of Singapore.
The fried carrot cake itself reminded me more of Pad Thai than any carrot dish I’ve ever had. The cake is made out of radish cake and coated in a carrot sauce mixed with egg and vegetables. It is probably my favourite hawker dish in Singapore!
Moving onto desserts…
If you have ever had soybean ice cream at a sushi restaurant, then you’ll find the taste of soybean curd somewhat familiar. Its gelatinous texture sits in a sweet, milky base and is a favourite with the locals.
The spot to try it is at the Lao Ban Soya Beancurd #01-125 Stall at the Old Airport Road Food Centre in East Singapore.
Ice Kachang Or Ais Kachang
Ice Kachang (meaning ice beans) is technically a Malaysian dessert, but is probably one of Singapore’s most ubiquitous desserts. It is probably the closest thing to a healthy ice cream that you’ll find here in Singapore. It consists of shaved ice flavoured with fruit syrup, topped with fruit jellies, milk, and bits of fruits on top. The treat is cold and refreshing and so much better for you than ice cream, yet feels equally delicious!
Offered in many coffee shops, hawker centres, and food courts around Singapore, it’s an easy one to find. I recommend the Cold Desserts stall at the Lau Pa Sat Festival Market purely for their amazing selection of flavours and Ice Kachang varieties.
One of the biggest issues I came across when eating my way through Singapore’s Hawker Centres is that I could not handle all the food I wanted to try! There was only so much I could eat in my short 3 days in the city.
If you have more time to sample the best hawker food, Singapore has lots of local favourites that are worth a try. Here are different kinds of local food that you can find at a Singapore hawker centre.
- Fried Char Kway Teow – “stir-fried rice cake strips” is a national favourite in Malaysia and Singapore. Made from flat rice noodles, stir-fried soy sauce, chilli, shrimp paste, prawns, bean sprouts and chives.
- Bak Kut Teh – meat bone tea usually eaten with rice or noodles. Despite its name, there is in fact, no tea in the dish itself.
- Satay – a dish of seasoned, skewered and grilled meat served with a sauce
- Laksa – popular spicy noodle soup that consists of rice noodles or rice vermicelli with chicken, prawn or fish, served in spicy soup. You can also find vegetarian versions of Laksa. If you prefer to eat plant-based, check out stall #01-33 at Teck Ghee Market & Food Centre.
- Chilli Crab – mud crab stir-fried in a semi-thick, sweet and savoury tomato and chilli-based sauce. Despite the name, the dish is not very spicy. Chilli Crab is typically served with rice or fried buns to mop up all that delicious chilli sauce.
- Hokkien Mee – a filling noodle-based dish packed with umami. Often accompanied by shrimp, barbeque pork belly, egg, and crispy fried pork lard. Ah Hock Fried Hokkien Noodles at Chomp Chomp Food Centre is a local hotspot for Hokkien Mee.
- Curry Chicken Noodles – the name says it all: rice or yellow egg noodles swimming in a curry broth and topped with Hainanese chicken, potato, fried bean curd, and bean sprouts.
- Bee Hoon – an economical fried rice vermicelli noodle dish browned with shrimp, sliced shiitake mushrooms, and bok choy. You can find countless variations, but you can’t go wrong with Zhu Jiao Shu Shi at Tekka Market Food Centre. While you’re there, check out the wet market and shopping area in the same complex as the food centre.
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