Singapore is the hub of Asian fusion food and Singaporeans love their food! Eating out is an activity on its own and done a lot, usually in big groups and with family and extended family. Local food is cheap and very tasty in what is called “hawker centers” where a huge number of food stalls are seen with a wide variety of food from all over Asia. This cultural extravaganza is often new and unique to visitors from other countries, as it was to me when I had just moved to Singapore.
So on a lovely Saturday morning, me and 17 of my colleagues set out to explore 4 different hawker centers in Singapore and to taste their mostly award-winning culinary offerings. We started the trip with an empty stomach and tons of enthusiasm!
We hired a coach for the bunch of us and the entire trip, food and coach cost us just above USD 250.
The first stop was the hawker center at Tiong Bahru. It was on the first level of the above building and was relatively less crowded since we reached before noon.
The first thing we tried was Chwee Kueh – steamed rice cakes topped with fried radish, garlic, chilli, some unknown stuff that makes it awesome and tons of oil! I had never tried Chwee Kueh before but those who had, said that the stall, Jian Bo Shui Kueh, was award-winning for a reason. And I believe them.
Next on the list from our first halt was Pig Organ Soup. I have seen these stalls in almost all hawker centers in Singapore but since I don’t eat pork and am not really that daring, I gave this one a miss. Those who tried it did like it though. The soup usually contains a mix of pig intestines, stomach, blood cubes, pork slices, strips of salted vegetables and some Chinese lettuce.
Rice congee was next. It was delightfully peppery and I quite liked it. The garnishing you see there is not beancurd, like I thought, but fried pig intestine. I ate around it but there were tons of takers for it anyway.
We also sampled pork and chicken char siew or pau. Amazing rice dough dumplings filled with yummy pork or chicken filling. Something I would go back for, definitely!
We finished the first stop at Tiong Bahru with a local dessert – Cheng Teng. A lot of Asian desserts are made with crushed ice and this was one of them.
Below the flavoured, sweetened ice mountain, there is a bit of red bean cooked just right, which I loved. Its a refreshing finish to an otherwise daring meal.
The second stop was at Thesevi Food at Jalan Kayu, again an award-winning roti prata place towards the north of the island.
The variety of prata available here is quite amazing but since we had two more places left to go, we stuck with the original version, tissue prata and banana prata which was the favourite item on the whole trip for a bunch of us.
Pratas come with a complementary gravy of onions and masala but there are a few curries you can purchase which I would totally recommend, like chicken curry and mutton masala, to begin with.
We also got this fudge cake from Jane’s cake store nearby.
It was delightfully Asianized, meaning, made light, not so sweet and spongy, yet retaining the chocolate richness. Reactions were mixed but some of us loved it!
Third stop – Serangoon Gardens Hawker Center.
Since we were all more than half full and still had half the number of planned places to go, the best thing to do seemed to get huge mugs of sugarcane juice.
This stall sells just that and the cleanliness amazed me.
The stall was spotless and the sugarcane juice machine looked squeky clean.
It was run by an elderly couple who juiced up 17 glasses in less than 10 mins.
We also got braised duck (no rice, because we had to give our stomach some love in addition to the wonderful torture!) which was super tender, super yummy and just rightly seasoned.
The stall seems to be a popular one.
Satay was next and this is something I could have given a miss. They were too sweet and too peanutty to my liking. However, the super huge kutupat (rice cake served with satays) deserves a thumbs up.
Carrot cake is another local specialty in Singapore and the stall in this hakwer center takes the cake for making it look relatively healthier and milder than its counterparts in other stalls I have eaten at.
I personally prefer the darker version of carrot cake but after all the food we’d had by then, the lighter version seemed like a better choice. Though we were too full to relish it completely, the plates were wiped out before we left!
The last and final stop – Old Airport Road Hakwer Center. We had to get the Char Kway Teow.
This is one of the most popular Singaporean dishes and though we were really really full beyond imagination at this time, we all tried this. This is one of the very few dishes still prepared in a super hot wok in pork lard. I did manage to get some made in oil and with no pork in Penang, but that’s a whole different story that can come later in another post.
Rojak was next. This definitely is an acquired taste and something I wouldn’t really want to eat if I had so much choice as I would in a hakwer center. Its usually a mix of different fruits and vegetables to give it sweet, sour and spicy flavours. The sauce had peanuts in it and somehow reminded me of the chaat sauce we have in India. But only a little bit. That’s all I had of it anyway. Definitely the least popular among the crowd, either because of the taste or due to the “fullness factor”.
Before our stomachs could cry out loud, we quickly got ice kachangs, another crushed ice dessert that comes flavoured, sweetened and topped with some corn.
I found the combination weird as did some others but it was definitely a welcome finish to all that chilli, oil, pork lard and what not in our stomachs by then.
We dragged ourselves back to the bus and vowed to skip dinner, which most of us did, apparently.
It was a lovely, gluttonous day and thanks to everyone who joined us. Read more at Joann’s place. She has more pictures from the Prata place which I clearly don’t because I was too “busy” then.