Whether you’re a local or an expat in Singapore, let this guide inspire your future hawker centre trips.
Within Southeast Asia, there are more than 15 documented versions of rojak, a fruit and vegetable salad. Check out one of Singapore’s own: Chinese-style rojak, which combines bite-sized pieces of raw cucumber, pineapple, jicama, bean sprouts, tau pok (tofu puffs), you tiao (Chinese dough fritters) and, sometimes even grilled cuttlefish, dressed with a prawn paste sauce.
Toa Payoh Rojak’s molasses-like dressing is sweet, salty and spicy, blanketed by a generous topping of crushed peanuts.
#01-108 Old Airport Road Food Centre, 51 Old Airport Rd, Singapore 390051
NEXT: Fish Head Curry →
Most fish head curries have South Indian origins but Ocean Curry Fish Head dishes up a bubbling clay pot that showcases Peranakan (Straits-born Chinese) and Indonesian cooking methods and spices – its coconut milk and tamarind flavours stand out. Plus, the stallholders have adapted a Nyonya (female Peranakan) curry recipe, and simmer the fish head directly in the sournoted curry, so as to impart greater flavour.
Don’t let the fish eyes put you off – pop one out and try it. We dare you!
181 Telok Ayer St, Singapore 068629
NEXT: Kaya Toast →
Kaya means “rich” in the Malay language – an apt name for a jam made from egg yolks, coconut milk and pandan leaves. Fun fact: It was the Hainanese cooks who worked on British ships who introduced kaya toast to Singapore’s shores. There are two types, the light green Nonya version, and the darker, more caramelised Hainanese kaya.
At Chin Mee Chin Confectionery, you’ll notice patrons drinking kopi (coffee) and dunking the charcoal-grilled sweet buns spread with kaya into soft-boiled eggs.
204 East Coast Rd, Singapore 428903
NEXT: Peranakan Popiah →
Unlike the original Fujian-style popiah (raw spring roll), which uses skins made only from wheat flour, water and salt, the addition of egg to the Peranakan popiah roll makes it denser and less dry. The Peranakan roll’s flavours are stronger, too: they might include bean paste, prawns, freshly ground chilli paste (instead of a sauce) and pork belly.
Go straight to Glory Catering for a great prawn and chilli paste popiah.
139 East Coast Rd, 428829
NEXT: Kueh Tutu →
While some think kueh tutu (tutu cake) is the evolution of South Indian puttu (steamed cylinders of ground rice layered with coconut), the snack more likely originated in Fujian, China. Back in 1930s Singapore, hawker Tan Yong Fa started selling these filling-less steamed rice cakes – and made them popular. Over the years the cake has shrunk in size, but has grown to include fillings reflective of the Malay Peninsula roots: peanuts, grated coconut, gula melaka (palm sugar) and even chocolate rice.
Like the ones at Kia Xiang Du Du Nyonya Kueh, the mark of a good kueh tutu is one that has generous fillings encased in a layer of rice flour.
#01-88 Beo Crescent Market & Food Centre, 38A Beo Crescent, Singapore 169982
NEXT: Hainanese Chicken Rice →
Anyone who’s ever tried this dish would know that it’s so much more than just chicken and rice – Chicken stock (no pork) and pandan leaves are used in cooking the rice for an unmistakable fragrance, while the chicken is tender, juicy and delicately flavourful. Singapore’s Hainanese chicken rice is also served with two sauces: chilli sauce made from chicken broth, garlic and ginger and a sweet dark sauce.
Fook Seng Goldenhill Chicken Rice has one of the best, with flavourful chicken, sticky rice that is perfumed with sesame oil and a sourish spicy chilli sauce that brings it together.
#01-415/417, 37 Jalan Rumah Tinggi, Singapore 150037
NEXT: Curry Chicken Noodles →
Talk about a Singaporean melting pot! This dish features coconut milk-based chicken curry, ladled over ingredients typically found in Chinese dishes (think fish sauce and bean sprouts) and served with a side of Malay Archipelago-style sambal chilli paste.
Get your fix at Ah Heng Curry Chicken Bee Hoon Mee. The hawker fills each aromatic bowl with fine bee hoon (rice noodles), medium-thick, starchy yellow noodles, fish balls and fish cake. But it’s the curry-soaked tau pok (tofu puffs) that really hit the spot.
#02-58/59 Hong Lim Food Centre, 531A Upper Cross Street, Singapore 051531
NEXT: “Michael Jackson” →
No one knows when Singaporean hawkers began to use the American King of Pop’s name to refer to this soymilk and cincau, grass jelly, drink, but it probably came about after the 1991 release of the chart-topping song “Black or White.” That is the politically correct explanation – others see it as a reference to MJ’s changing skin colour.
NEXT: Kopi →
Singapore’s coffee is nothing like what you typically order at cafes. For starters, it’s probably no more than $1.50, as compared to your $5.10 cappucino. Our kopi is brash, generous in caffeine and sugar and has a specific ordering lingo: kopi-O has sugar but no milk, kopi kosong is the reverse and kopi-C is made with evaporated milk, for example.
NEXT: Chinese Rojak →
By Celine Asril and Pinky Chng, last updated September 2017
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