Singapore had always been a stopover for me and never the actual destination until my recent holiday there. Maybe I had put off a trip because of Singapore’s reputation for being at times boring but happily the Singapore I uncovered during a four day holiday there with Meat-and-Three Veg was anything but staid. Admittedly it is very clean and organised compared to most chaotic Asian cities. MTV had to laugh when he noticed every cab we caught proudly displayed its tyre pressure and every restaurant and hawker market stall has been allocated a hygiene rating from A to C.
It may be a nanny state but Singapore’s also a buzzing, international and exciting city. I got a lot of tips from blogs and Twitter on where the best street food in Singapore was and MTV and I also went on a food tour of the city hosted by local Tony Tan who lived in Australia for quite a few years. Tony’s tour takes in the Joo Chiat area of Singapore, goes for about six hours and included 30 different dishes. It’s a tour I would highly recommend not just for the food but for Tony’s fascinating take on Singapore’s history and politics. Here’s my recommendations for Singapore’s hawker markets and street food:
Hiananese Chicken Rice at Tien Tien
The main tip I was repeatedly given for Singapore was to head to Tien Tien in the Maxwell Food Centre. Tien Tien is famous for its Hiananese Chicken Rice. So famous that it has been endorsed by Anthony Bourdain and has the chef’s picture plastered all over the stall. This is one dish that lived up to the hype with the most tender chicken with a really delicate flavour. Even the bowl of broth accompanying the chicken was rich but light. It’s a must try in Singapore.
Pork belly and rice at Teochew Rice and Porridge
Using the tried and tested trick of picking the stall with the longest queue I discovered silky soft slow cooked pork belly ($2.30) at Teochew Rice and Porridge in the heart of Maxwell’s Food Centre. Perched on a tiny plastic stool in the stifling heat it was still a delicious meal and an absolute bargain as well.
Murtabak and Roti John at Mr Teh Tarik
On Tony Tan’s food tour our first stop was Mr Teh Tarik a small chain of restaurants in the Joo Chiat district. The store sells the ubiquitous teh tarik iced tea of course but also has some really interesting Malaysian dishes with a Muslim and Colonial influence. I loved the Murtabak, a fried and layered bread which included minced mutton, along with garlic, egg and onion. Mutton was also included in the Roti John, a much loved Malaysian dish made of French bread roll stuffed with the mutton and then doused with sweet chilli and mayonnaise. So good but so bad at the same time.
Nonya dumplings at Kim Choo Kueh Chang
The nonya dumplings at Kim Choo Kueh Chang are made right in the window to whet your appetite. Glutinous rice is mixed with braised pork or mushroom and wrapped in pandan leaves to create this hefty nonya treat. The dumplings are very filling and pretty much a meal in a leaf.
Chilli Crab from Kim’s Place Seafood
So this isn’t strictly street food but we did eat it on Tony Tan’s street food tour. Lots of Singapore restaurants claim to have the best chilli crab but Tan rates Kim’s Place Seafood in Jong Chiat. We got a 1.2kg crab to take away for SGD$70. The flesh was white and pearly and lashings of fresh chilli gave it a fiery kick.
Sweets from Guan Hoe Soon
Singaporeans have a great sweet tooth and the desserts are certainly pretty different to what I’m used to. On Tan’s food tour we tried a range of desserts from Guan Hoe Soon Peranakan Restaurant. The lurid coloured green sweets contained coconut, jam, custard and glutinous rice while the fire engine red dessert had a distinctly different taste to each layer. We finished off with bowls of chen dool, a coconut-cream based soup with hints of molasses and coffee.
- Tien Tien and Teochew Rice and Porridge are stalls at the Maxwell Food Centre, 1 Kadayanallur Street, Singapore
- Mr Teh Tarik #01-02, Tristar Complex, 970 Geylang Road, Joo Chiat, Singapore (Ph 67425522)
- Kim Choo Kueh Chang, 111 E Coast Rd, Singapore (Ph +65 6741 2125)
- Kim’s Place Seafood, 43 Joo Chiat Place, Singapore (Ph +65 6742 1119) Open 11am-3am.
- Guan Hoe Soon Peranakan Restaurant. 38/40 Joo Chiat Place, Singapore (Ph +65 6344 2761).
Gourmet Travel Tips
- We flew to Singapore from Australia with Qantas using frequent flyer points so the cost was about $400 in taxes only. There are some good deals to Singapore though so look around.
- We stayed at and the The W in Sentosa Bay, Naumi Liora in Chinatown and Hotel 1929 in Chinatown.
- Taxis are really cheap in Singapore and plentiful plus the underground trains are brilliant.
- Highlights were exploring the Chinatown area, visiting the spectacular Marina Sands, shopping in Haji Lane and going on Tony Tan’s food walking tour.