First published 12 Sep 2014
Revised and Updated: 30 Aug 2018
Revised and Updated: 16 Dec 2020 on the announcement of our Hawker Culture being inscribed on the UNESCO respresentative list of intangible cultural heritage
Today is a new day for Singapore’s hawker culture and for our hard working hawkers who have been faithfully serving us their hawker delights over the years! It’s official! Singapore’s hawker culture is now listed on Unesco’s representative list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity, which is a phrase that I can never remember correctly as it has more words than the number of ingredients on a plate of Char Kway Teow!
So, since we are at this very important milestone in our Nation’s history, you might be toying with the idea of going out to try all the best hawker food that Singapore has to offer! That was exactly the same idea I had back in 2006 when I first started this blog. If you are really thinking about it, then I hope this blog post will give you a headstart into your own hawker journey!
“Mai Tu Liao!” (Don’t procrastinate any more!) What’s stopping you from tasting Singapore’s best plate of Hokkien Mee or Chicken Rice?
To the rest of my fellow hawkerphiles and gastronomic pilgrims,
“Don’t forget to jio me, ok?”
The UNESCO Hawker Food Trail
With so much published on the internet, it’s too much work to look through hundreds of blog posts to plan a food trail. What you really want is a list of the stalls what are easily accessible and would give you a great introduction to our hawker culture. After blogging about Singapore food for the last 16 years and having published two guide books on Singapore food, viz The End of Char Kway Teow and Only The Best, I present to you a food trail covering the key hawker stalls which I would bring my visitors to eat when they visit our island food paradise.
Why these 10 dishes in particular? Unlike my last Top Ten Hawker Food article where I selected what I thought were the 10 most iconic dishes, these 10 dishes were voted by our local foodies as their all time most favourite hawker dishes. So if you want to discover the heart (more like stomach) of the Singaporean foodie, then these are the 10 dishes you must try!
I know you don’t have time to waste so let’s go! Chop Chop kalipop! (That’s local slang for stop blabbering and get going already!)
1 Chicken Rice
Singapore had one legendary chicken rice shop which made it the culinary icon that it is today — Swee Kee. If it were still around, I would have brought you there. But they closed in 1997 after 50 years of serving the world’s best chicken rice and no one has been able to take their place at the top. Truth be told, most of the major chicken rice chains in Singapore serve pretty decent chicken rice and you won’t go wrong with familiar brands like like Boon Tong Kee, Wee Nam Kee, Tong Fong Fatt and Five Stars. The stall that was voted most popular in our polls was Tian Tian Chicken Rice and that would be the stall I would bring my guests to. There is always a long queue at their stall at Maxwell Food Centre (But it’s central and convenient) so I always like to bring my guests to their air conditioned restaurant at either Bedok or Joo Chiat.
While you are at Maxwell Food Centre, you can check out the other famous stalls there!
For roasted chicken, you might like to try Henry’s Chicken Rice at Commonwealth Crescent.
The future of chicken rice in Singapore is secure. This is one dish that has been able to remain profitable and as a result, there have been many new players entering the scene.
Click here for my list of good Chicken Rice stalls!
2. Hokkien Mee
Hokkien Mee is very straightforward, I bring all my guests to Geylang Lor 29 Hokkien Mee. Over the years I have brought them to some of the other stalls in my Famous Five list, but the responses have been mixed. However, I have never gone wrong with Geylang Lor 29 Hokkien Mee. Of the Famous Five, they are the only ones who is still using a charcoal fire and the coffeeshop has been recently renovated so it is a comfortable place to eat. Best to head there early if you are going for dinner as they do sell out early. Just a short walk away is Beach Road Prawn Mee which is also worth checking out!
The more traditional Hokkien Mee is the dry style with thin beehoon. This style can be traced back to the original inventors of Hokkien Mee. There are three stalls which are disciples of original hawkers. Nam Sing, Ah Hock and Hainan Hokkien Mee!
3. Char Kway Teow
My personal favourite Char Kway Teow is Hillstreet Char Kway Teow, but this is a little far from town, so I would usually end up bringing them to Outram Park Char Kway Teow instead. This stall is listed as a Bib Gourmand eatery in the Michelin Guide and they are a slightly different style from Hillstreet but still has that long heritage like Hillstreet. Located at Hong Lim Food Centre, they are more central and there’s plenty of other stalls that you can also check out at the same time! My latest find is another “Hillstreet” Char Kway Teow which is located at Smith Street Food Centre. This is manned by an old man with over 50 years of experience frying kway teow! However, his opening times are a little sporadic, so Outram Park is still a safer bet!
In 2010 I published my book “The End of Char Kway Teow” which highlighted the fact that our famous Char Kway Teow hawkers are all quite old and there doesn’t seem to be many new ones stepping up to the plate. In the last 10 years, there still hasn’t been any new hawkers who have been successful in starting a Char Kway Teow stall! Thankfully, there has been some succession taking place with a few of the established stalls. But the future of Char Kway Teow still looks a little bleak unless we see more interest from the younger generation of Singaporeans.
4. Carrot Cake
For Carrot Cake I would head to Zion Road Food Centre for Lau Goh Teochew Chye Thow Kway. This stall has a rich heritage and Peter Goh’s dad is widely regarded as the pioneer of the white version of the dish. Zion Road Food Centre is quite central and also has other famous food stalls, notably Zion Road Char Kway Teow which is also one of the famous five Char Kway Teows. Peter is hearing impaired, so there is a special way to order the carrot cake which you can read about in my post.
Another heritage Carrot Cake worth checking out is Chey Sua at Toa Payoh Blk 127 Food centre. They have been around since the 60′s and only serves white carrot cake that is fried to a crisp with a very yummy chilli sauce which is spread on top! While at the food centre, you can also check out Tian Tian Lai Hokkien Mee and Teochew Handmade Pau!
Lau Goh Teochew Chye Tow Koey
Zion Riverside Food Centre, Stall 26, Singapore 247780
11am to 3.30pm, 6pm to 11pm, Tue closed
96745483 (SMS only)
(Note: Zion Road Food Centre is temporarily closed till Feb 2021)
Chey Sua Carrot Cake
Blk 127 Toa Payoh Lor 1, #02-30, Singapore 310127
6am to 1 pm
Carrot cake is quite understated. There aren’t many superstar stalls but the dish remains a staple for breakfast in many neighbourhood hawker centres!
For Laksa I like to bring my guests to Sungei Road Laksa because it’s quite central, the laksa has a long history and they are still cooking it over charcoal. It’s also really darn tasty without being too jelak (rich). While in that area, you can also check out an old school char kway teow as well as some of the stalls at Jalan Berseh Food Centre. (more about this food centre later)
My personal favourite is Janggut Laksa which I usually go to the Upper Paya Lebar branch to eat but it is a little out of the way for most people.
Sungei Road Laksa
Blk 27 Jalan Berseh, #01-100 Top 33 coffeeshop, Singapore 200027
9am – 6pm, (Closed: First and 3rd Wed each month)
Laksa is running the risk of losing its individuality in that there are many food manufacturers making the basic paste for the dish such that it has become so common in many commercial eateries at the shopping centre. To find an artisan bowl of laksa with character in a hawker centre is much more difficult.
Click here for my other Laksa picks.
6. Bak Chor Mee
Without a doubt, the most popular Bak Chor Mee in Singapore is Tai Hua Bak Chor Mee at Crawford Lane. It also happens to be the first stall in the world to be awarded a Michelin Star! But I have to warn you that the queues can be really long. For the soup version, you might like to head to 58 Mince Meat Noodles at Upper Changi Road!
Bak Chor Mee and its close relative, Mee Pok Tar continue to do well in Singapore with young hawkers like the couple at Da Sheng entering the trade. Tai Hua’s Michelin Star status has certainly helped raised its profile to some extent.
Click here for my other Bak Chor Mee picks
7. Wanton Mee
Wanton mee is a tricky one. It is a dish that is more of a comfort food for locals than one which I would bring visitors to eat since it is usually linked to Hong Kong cuisine. We do however have our own twist to the dish with the addition of chilli sauce and tomato ketchup. Eng’s at Tanjong Katong is my personal favourite as it is a standalone restaurant and I like the wantons there. Nam Seng is probably more convenient for most visitors. The stall has a long history and the spritely old granny there is already pushing 90! (Unfortunately, they had to close this year due to Covid 19) While you are there, you should stop by for a cup of kopi and kaya toast at Ya Kun Kaya Toast. This is a famous brand with many branches across the island but this is their original stall which is still run by the family and they still toast their bread over charcoal. You can also check out Tan Hock Seng which is a traditional pastry shop to try some cantonese pastries.
Click here for my other Wanton Mee picks
8. Prawn Mee
If I really wanted to impress someone, I would bring them to Wah Kee prawn mee for the jumbo prawn noodles. BUT, it can be a little intimidating as the queues are usually very long and the place is a little out of the tourist trail. A good alternative would be Blanco Court Prawn Mee which has a rich and long history and the prawn mee is more typical of the Singaporean style prawn mee. You can also get to order the Ngor Hiang there which is quite good. It is located along beach road in the Kampung glam area which is quite a tourist attraction.
While in the area, you can check out some of the Nasi Padang stalls like Rumah Makan Minang and Warung Nasi Pariaman. Do check out the Murtabak at Zam Zam and Victory which are some of the oldest eateries in Singapore having been around in the same for over a century! You can also check out a hole-in-the wall Teh Tarik place nearby.
Prawn mee continues to do well and its future looks to be secure. The credit for this can be given to Beach Road Prawn Mee who managed to convinced the public that it is worth paying $8 to $12 for a bowl of jumbo prawn mee. As a result, many other stalls have also given customers the option of bigger and better quality prawns which makes this particular dish more economically viable for the younger generation of hawkers.
9. Oyster Omelette
There are many versions of oyster omelette found across asia, but we feel ours is the best! To have a taste of old school oyster omelette, head to Lim’s Fried Oyster at Jalan Berseh Food Centre. While you are there, order some BBQ chicken wings and satay from the stall nearby! During lunchtime, there is a stall at the same food centre selling really delicious Fuzhou oyster cakes.
Click here for other places for Oyster Omelette
10. Roti Prata
My personal favourite place for Prata is Mr and Mrs Mohgan’s prata which is only opened in the mornings. There are many prata stalls around, but not many are run by an old couple. Most are 24 hour restaurants that operate around the clock. Another stall nearer town that is more accessible is Master Prata. They have another stall at Alexandra which is air-conditioned. The oldest stall in Singapore is Zam Zam which is over a hundred years old and located near the Sultan Mosque in Kampung Glam. They are more famous for their murtabak which is the same dough filled with eggs and mutton/chicken.
While you are enjoying the prata, you might wish to also check out Fatty’s wanton mee in the same coffeeshop! They are also very old school and have been around for a while!
Roti prata runs the risk of becoming generic with the emergence of 24 hour eateries which use factory made dough. To find that hawker that still makes their own dough and curry is not so easy but they are still around if you look for them.
Click here for my list of prata places.
I hope you enjoyed our Unesco Heritage Food Trail! Even though our Hawker Culture is officially recognized, there are still serious challenges that lie ahead if we want to preserve it! It really is up to all of us to be ambassadors for our hawker culture and to continue to support our hawkers for their dedication to their craft!
To learn more about Singapore’s Hawker Food Heritage, you can still pick up my book, “The End of Char Kway Teow” from the local bookstores. (Out of print already). My 2nd book Only The Best lists all the best hawker food stalls which I have visited since I started blogging. Both books are still available at Epigram Book Store.
If you enjoyed this article and want an even more in depth look at Singapore food, please check out Top Ten Iconic Singapore Foods!