Singapore's Street Eats
Singapore's Street Eats

November 15, 2006

The street food (known as hawker food) of Singapore is bar none, one of the top three in the world. You can get it everywhere (40,000 licensed food stalls!) and in variations that will astound you. Consider the ethnic mix of Chinese, Indian and Malay and you have an idea of the depth and breadth of spicy food available.

"Dishes must be tasted by at least three of these Makanmatas before it can be recommended. I think you're in good hands using these guides."

Common hawker foods include the ubiquitous Malaysian satayand nasi lemak (coconut rice topped with chicken and fried fish), the Indian roti prata (curry in a pancake), and the Chinese kway teow (fried flat rice noodles) or Hainanese chicken rice. You must also try the multicoloured desserts such as chendol (coconut-type dessert filled with green screwpine-flavoured bits).

Most of this magnificent food is available for as little as $3 in the city's 100 food centres such as the Chomp Chomp Food Centre, the seafood-loving Newton Circus Food Centre and the Lau Pa Sat Food Centre

'Die Die Must Try!'

I can't talk about the street food in Singapore without mentioning a terrific resource: Makansutra ("Makan" means "eat" in the Bahasa language while "sutra" is guide or lesson in Sanskrit).

K.F Seetoh decided he would create a guide to the fabulous hawker food of the country and his first Makansutra book had 700 listings. It was so popular, that his original enterprise has just produced its sixth edition, spawning separate Malaysian and Indonesian guides, a television show and most importantly, guided "food safaris" of hawker food (Off The Beaten Track, Uniquely Singapore or the Midnight Tour).

Go to the website and you’ll even find a do-it-yourself safari listing recommendations for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

I found one recent posting - Tuck Kee (Ipoh) Sah Ho Fun (Hong Lim Market and Food Centre, Block 531A Upper Cross Street ) – which described the stall as a "household name in crayfish hor fun" (thick, flat rice noodles) with half hour queue times: "Their thickened sauce is tasty yet light and has a smooth savoury seafood flavour."

On the top 10 list for Singapore is the Matter Road Seafood Barbecue: "Fresh crabs in spicy chili sauce which the owner takes two days off a week just to make."

Just how good are these guides? Consider that Makanguru Seetoh has about 35 "Makanmatas" (food police) working for him at any time "from all races and walks of life" according to the website. Dishes must be tasted by at least three of these Makanmatas before it can be recommended. I think you're in good hands using these guides. A rating of three chopsticks is tops and comes with the slogan: "Die, Die Must Try!"

Makansutra has wrapped up four seasons on the Asian Food Channel.

Fave Foods

I asked my friend Mark, who spent a chunk of his formative years in the city state, to provide some of his thoughts about the hawker food. He points out that since Singapore is surrounded by Malaysia, it’s only natural it has representations of foods from all over Malaysia and its own version of that food type.

"For example, Char Kway Teow in Malaysia is more savoury while the version in Singapore is sweeter. Hokkien Mee in Malaysia is almost totally different from Singapore's version."

His favourite street dishes, with his descriptions, are:

  • Kuay Chap – Pigs internal organs boiled in Soy Sauce. Disgusting I know but delicious. Usually served with large flat noodles.
  • Char Kway Teow (Singapore version) – Flat rice noodle stir-fried in sweet soy sauce with garlic, lard, shrimp, cockles, bean spout and fish cakes.
  • Banana fritters – Battered bananas deep-fried in oil to give a crunchy exterior but still maintaining the sweet, moist and fragrant interior of the banana.
  • Ice Kacang (Singapore version) – A mountain of finely shaved ice drizzled with various sweet syrups and evaporated milk in a bowl of red beans, jelly, tapioca and sweet corn.