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Singapore 2024 - All Things Food




"In Singapore, our national pastimes are queuing and eating"


Singapore is a very food-centric country. You'll usually find a selection of local dishes as well as flavors from across the world, including Chinese, Malay, Indian, and western.


Although there are many high end restaurants, the heart of Singapore's food culture is really the Hawker Centers. Hawker centers are basically large food courts with stalls around the perimeter serving everything from full meals to snacks and drinks. Dating as far back as the 1800s, hawker culture in Singapore originated from the early migrant population selling quick, affordable meals on street pavements, in town squares and parks – wherever they could set up their makeshift stalls. The hawkers in Singapore during that time usually did not have easy access to water. This made it difficult to keep their utensils clean and prevent contamination by flies and rats. Without a properly assigned disposal area, hawkers often left piles of refuse on the streets, posing a threat to public health and hygiene. Many who were selling cold drinks, cut fruits, and ice cream used water and ice that might be easily contaminated. Seeing the need to keep thing safe and hygienic, the government moved


There are hundreds of Hawker centers around the country and each can house 10 to 150+ stalls. Most serve only a handful of dishes for which they specialize in, while some may even only server one dish. The cost for each dish is pretty inexpensive, most averaging from $3SGD - $8SGD for full set meals. Keep in mind that the exchange rate for US dollars is favorable so it's much cheaper when considering the value of the dollar. The meals can be relatively small but some are meant to be shared.


A few things to know about dining in Singapore:

  1. Bring your own tissues - Hawker stalls usually don't provide napkins so bring your own tissues to wipe your hands. Some stalls may sell tissues if you forget.

  2. Chope-ing - This is the term used for reserving an empty table. Singaporeans use and inanimate object, usually a package of tissues (see above). Locals honor this type of reservation. Unintiated Tourists, not so much.

  3. Remember your table number - If there is a table number, remember it as you can give it to the stall and if is a dish that takes time to make, they can bring it to your table

  4. Bus your tables - Most Hawker Centers (and even food courts in malls) will require you to bus your tables after you are finished eating, or pay a fine. There are tray return stations. Some may even be designated for Halal or Non-Halal.

  5. Look for stalls with long queues - Singaporeans know they're food and are willing to queue up in long lines for it. If there is a long long, probably good reason for it

  6. Know the lingo for ordering coffee - If you are at a Kopitiam (Singaporean Coffee House), familiarize yourself with the lingo and what can be offered with Kopi (coffee). They can use condensed or evaporate milk. Hot or iced. A good guide can be found at https://kopi.guide/


For this trip, we decided to go the budget route and stick to Hawker Centers and low-key restaurants. We did the occasional splurge to get Chili Crab. This is the food we ate in no particular order.



The Magic of Kaya Toast





For there first stop in Singapore, I wanted to take my brother and his wife to a really old-school Kopitiam (coffee shop) that I've seen alot for food vlogger have went to, Heap Seng Leong.



Old School is an understatement. I'm sure it is a place where older locals go to spend time. The whole procedure of how to order was kind of confusing since there was no counter and we were not sure if it was "waiter service". After staring around, looking like tourists, one of the staff motions us to come to his area to order.



The menu selection was small, consisting of Kaya Toast, Peanut Butter Toast, Butter Sugar Toast and Steamed Buns. You can order any of the toast as a set meal, which includes 2 soft boiled eggs and 1 drink. Drink selection include hot or iced Kopi, Milo, or Ginger Tea. We ordered the Kaya Toast Set.


Kaya Toast is a Singaporean dish consisting of two slices of toast with kaya (coconut) jam and slabs of cold butter in the middle. This particular place, they toast the bread under a charcoal grill. Very old school. It is served with soft boiled eggs with dark soy sauce drizzled on it and a sprinkle of white pepper. You stir the soft eggs and dunk the toast into it. It is such a strange combination which really shouldn't work, but I was really hooked. The Kaya Jam has this nice distinct sweet taste. Kaya Jam is usually made with coconut cream, eggs sugar and pandan leaves. The cold butter enhances the jam, and when you dunk into the soft eggs, it gives a nice contrast to the sweetness. I had it twice on my last trip to Singapore, and twice on this trip (my brother and his wife liked it so much too).




The Kaya Toast hit the spot, and the iced coffee was nice and strong. After we were done eating, we were prodded by one of the people working there to bus our table and put the dishes and cups in the sink. Remember, you may have to bus your tables at some places.


There was a curry puff stall in the same shop. They usually offer potato, chicken or sardine (yuck) curry puffs. I just had a a Potato Curry Puff



The pastry wasn't really flakey compare to others that I had on the trip, but I lean towards this type of pastry. It was more of a soft texture, like a fried dumpling. The filling was was really tasty. Nice mix of spice without being that hot. It was satisfying and I could have used another but I had to pace myself.


The next morning we got another round of Kaya Toast at Nanyan Old Coffee. This Kopitiam is a more modern coffee shop, and they have a wider menu selection, even serving entrees such as Nasi Lemak. They have a wider range of Kopi drinks.




We all agreed that the kaya toast here is good, but the one at Heap Seng Leong was better. Old school wins again.




Chinatown Complex Hawker Center




Chinatown Complex is one of the larger Hawker Centers in China Town. There are three main levels, one for all the Food stalls, then a clothing market underneath, then at the bottom floor is a wet market for the fresh seafood and vegetable/fruits. Most likely the food stall source their ingredients from this wet market.



Here is the stall directory for the food stalls. The numbers will help your track down a food stall if you hunting for a particular one. Color-coding the section also helps find your beaings.




The tables are numbered so the stall can bring the food over to you when ready (some dishes may take 45 - 1 hour, in the case of the Claypot Rice dishes). So even if it isn't busy, it's a good idea to shope (claim) a table and take note of the table number



Pictured: Shope-ing my table. A tissue package is honored as a claim by the locals.


One of the main stall I was looking for was a Claypot Rice stall that has been feature in a few vlogs (Mikey Chen). It wasn't too busy when I was there. Usually the dish takes 45 minutes to prepare. During busy times, it can take 60-90 minutes. Just give them your table number and get food from other vendors to tide you over. They usually have a bunch of claypots coocking at the same time but I imagine it can be chaos. Ordering is kind of confusing since not much info on the menu. I just asked for the Chinese Sausage Claypot and she asked for how many people. It came to $8 SGD. Pretty reasonable.




Forty-five minutes later, I got my Claypot rice. They brought over some dark soy sauce and vegetables (micro-greens?). The dish was pretty good. Drizzle the dark soy on the rice and mix things up. The rice was nice and crispy on the bottom. The chinese sausagehad a great flavor. I wish I got the mixed version which includes other protien such as fish and i think chicken. I was planning to go over there again another night and get the mixed Claypot but never made it back


Lian He Ben Ji Claypot Rice

335 Smith St, #02-198/199, Singapore 050335

Sun, Tues, Wed, Fri, and Sat: 3pm - 9pm

Closed Mondays and Thursdays


While I was waiting for the Claypot Rice, I went searching for some appetizers to tide me over. I found a good satay stall, for which I failed to get the stall name etc. While I was waiting in line, a Singaporean local (Auntie) game up to the two guys (non-locals) that were ahead of me and told them this is the best satay stall in the center. The cool thing with Singapore is that the locals are willing to give opinions and advice on the food.


One thing with Satay is that you can't just order 1 or 2 skewers. There's usually a minimum order and for this stall it was 10 skewers. I went with the 5 chicken and 5 mutton skewers. Gave them my table number and waited.



The skewers cam with peanut sauce and some veggies, which is standard. The chicken was surprisingly moist and had a good char on them. The mutton was equally nice. Both were marinated well.


Fast forward to another day, I was searching for breakfast and found this stall that had pork-filled rice dumplings



It was wrapped in leaves (not sure if ir's banana), steamed, and cut up when served. Came with some type of soy-based or oyster sauce. A little sweet. The dumpling was nice and had some nice pork in the center. It was pretty filling so I didn't need to look for anything else for breakfast.


One thing you'll notice is that none of the food stall in Hawker Centers will sell drinks. There are stalls dedicated to beveraged, even beer.



Got my usual sugar cane juice that was fresh squeezed from the canes. I also tried the dragon fruit smootie which was pretty refreshing.



Tekka Center Hawker Center

Next up is the Tekka Center in the Little India area. It is another fairly large Hawker Center with close to 150 stalls. As expected, the stalls are mostly Indian dishes but there are the usual Chinese and Malay stall strewn about.



I settled on some Mutton Biryani. I think it was either $7 or $8 SGD. The change from the $10 bill was exactly enough to cover the Mango Lassi at the beverage stall next door.



The biryani was serve from a big drum. The rice was nicely season and the meat was moist, and they spooned alot of the gravy on the rice. I tried to eat with my hands but ending up being a tourist and used the utensils.


Next up, sweets.



This peanut pancake was pretty good. I got the one with peanut butter. The pancake was pretty fluffy and not overly sweet.


Wanted something cold so got Chendol


Chendol is a little like Filipino Halo Halo. Shaved ice with condensed milk, red beans and different jelly type sweets. It was very refreshing and desparately needed in this heat :D



Maxwell Hawker Center



Maxwell Hawker Center is probably one of the most famous of the Hawker Centers in Singapore, next to Newton Hawker Center (where the Hawker scene in Crazy Rich Asians was filmed). Maxwell was most likely made world famous by Anthony Bourdains and his segment on Tian Tian Chicken Rice stall. It is in the Mchelin Guide and usually has long lines. https://guide.michelin.com/us/en/singapore-region/singapore/restaurant/tian-tian-hainanese-chicken-rice. I went to Tian Tian on my first trip back in 2020. I thought it was good but not earth-shattering. I didn't spend much time in Maxwell as I wanted to, due to schedules changing (usually heat related).


One thing to note, is that there is another Chicken Rice stall a few stalls from Tian Tian, called Ah Tai that has ties to Tian Tian. The current Chef at Ah Tai used to work at Tian Tian, so he brought his skills to his own stall.



On the day that I went, Tian Tian was closed, but Ah Tai was open. Notice the long line at this stall. I got the medium plate, which was $6 SGD. They are somewhat slower than Tian Tian as they are not as well-oiled with several workers. They only had 3 people working the stall.


I must say, my first reaction to this chicken rice was much more prominent than when I had when I had Tian Tian's. The chicken seemed a lot more moist and stood out more than most chicken rice I've had in Singapore. if you want a hidden gem with less of a wait, try Ah Tai. I was meaning to go back to Maxwell and have Tian Tian's to see if it still stands, but was not able to return.


During my trip, I tried to sample as many chicken rice as I can. Here are some others I've tried

Pictured: Chicken Rice at (L) Marina Bay Sands Food Court, (C) Hawker Chan at Gardens by the Bay, an (R) from a random airport food stall


Chili Crab


Chili Crab is another National Singaporean dish. Mud crabs are usually used and cooked in a sweet and savory chili based sauce. Egg is usually mixed into the sauce to give it a unique consistency. TI’m his is one of the dishes we had to try while in Singapore and it is a bit of a splurge since it is charged by market price depending on the crab.


I had a list of restaurants to potentially go to for this dish. My last trip, I wenrt to Jumbo Seafood, which is a chain, which some locals and even tourist say it is overrated and expensive. Some Hawker Centers also sell them (and can be cheaper). Due to some schedule changes, we went to a different restaurant in China Town that we intended, called Chinatown Seafood Restaurant. Pretty unique name. Not


We got the the Chili Crab, Salted Egg Prawn, veggies and mantou, which is fried buns.



Truth be told, we weren't that impressed with the chili crab. The sauce was a bit bland. Not much spice and not really sweet. I remember the Chili Crab at Jumbo was much better. It may be because it is sort of a touristy restaurant in China Town. The Salted Egg Prawns were really good.


Chinatown Seafood Restaurant

51 Pagoda St, Singapore 059212



While in Chinatown, you MUST get one of these ice cream sandwiches. They are basically block of ice cream cut up and put into colored sweet bread. It was quite refreshing and only $1.50 SGD. You can also select a cerispy waffle sandwich.


The Auntie there was kinda crabby.



Randon Food and Shots around Singapore


Near the tail end of the trip, I was craving sushi. I found this conveyor belt sushi restaurant by the Yotel Hotel on Orchard Road. there are two close by but this was bigger.



If you've been to Kura Revolving Sushi, it is the same concept. There is a conveyor belt with sushi you can grab and eat. The sushi is of varying costs and charged by the plate, and the cost varies by color of plate. There is an ordering tablet where you can order certain types of sushi and small bites such as tempura or ramen, to be made right away. There is a second level of conveyor belt which those special ordered item comes to you. It comes pretty fast, even faster than Kura. If youy order soft drinks, they give you a plastic cup and the drinks are self serve.


The quality of the fish is of much higher quality than Kura and there is a more varied type of sushi. Pickled ginger is availabe at your station. I did some damage with the number of plate, but the exchange rate made it more palpatabke :D


Also found a Kopitiam on Orchard Road that had good curry puff and chicken curry



The curry puffs were pretty good. Much flakier than the ones at the Kopitiam. The chicken curry was a morning urge at 7am. It was really good for a Kopitiam and hit the spot. The lady at this Kopitiam was crabby both days I was there, but their food is good.


All in all, was a yummy trip. There are some things I left out due to length, like the Lau Pa Sat visit and the trek for Satay Street that was not to be. A lot of people say that Singapore is expensive, which for the most part can be true, but you can alway plan things to not be as expensive, and sticking with the Hawker Center give you lot of variety due to all the different culture, with the very reasonable costs.



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Guest
Feb 06

Thanks for posting this - I'm going to Singapore soon, and doing research on places to eat.

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Guest
Feb 04
Rated 5 out of 5 stars.

Great reviews, Denver. One of these days I will make it to Singapore for a food fest.

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