Anthony Bourdain made the bold statement that Singapore has the greatest hawker food in the world. We decided on our 4 days in Singapore to make it our mission to try food from as many of the hawker locations as possible to test his theory.
Our first port of call was Lau Pa Sat or ‘old market’ in the Hokkien dialect. It dates back 150 years and was the first wet market in Singapore. Upon entering you are hit by the huge number of vendors and it became immediately apparent that we would need to have a strategic peruse around the place rather than diving in to order from the first vendor we reached. This was harder than we imagined and as I followed Maddie and listened to her ooohing and aaahing at every single eating option I knew it was going to be problematic deciding where to buy food. We decided that to maximise the tastes with different hawkers we would order one dish from an outlet, share it and then order a second from a different outlet and do the same.
Our first choice of Korean bbq chicken with chillis for S$5 did not disappoint. A sizzling platter that even came with a small bowl of broth (it could have been hand wash, but if it was it was the best tasting hand wash I have come across!) This was indeed a superb start and the thing that amazed us both was the size of the portion. We genuinely could have left satisfied at this point having shared one dish, but unfortunately we had committed to sampling as much as we could. So in the interests of research we got up and wandered across the food court to the opposite side and decided that a bit of Indian food was in order.
This is where things went to the next level in portion size. We love Indian cuisine and are very lucky to live in an area in England where you can get fantastic Indian meals, but they do come with a price tag that means they can be an expensive food choice. I was intrigued as to what we would get for a meagre S$5.50, a small tapas style taster plate I thought. Oh no, when we walked away with our “small meal for one” the tray was piled high with Tandoori chicken, Bombay potatoes, chickpeas, spicy butter chicken, pilau rice, poppadom and for good measure a sizeable naan! Every element to this meal was superb and I couldn’t fault it.
This was an impressive introduction to the hawker food of Singapore and as we left, unable to fit in anything sweet for dessert, we agreed we might revisit La Pa Sat to try the banana split we saw at one establishment which also looked rather delicious. As you can see below we kept true to our word and did manage to squeeze one in at a later date, it was worth all of the S$4.50 which we handed over in exchange.
The next venue on the hit list was Maxwell Food Centre the home of the famous Hawker stall Tian Tian, recommended by Anthony Bourdin and selling chicken rice to die for. We thought we should give it a go! chicken and rice may not sound that exciting and I must admit I was a bit sceptical, how much can you do with some boiled chicken and rice? I was wrong.
It was a beautiful meal with a huge slab of moist chicken that melted in the mouth. Throw on a bit of soy sauce and chilli sauce and the taste was complete. The fact that there was a queue for this particular stall that stretched halfway down the food court should have given us a clue that this place was a little bit special (you could walk up and order immediately at every other establishment). At S$3.50 I don’t think I can remember ever having such a good quality, value for money meal as this and there was a free bowl of broth thrown in, definitely not hand wash this time!
We were now in full swing and next on the agenda was Hokkien prawn noodles for S$5. Once more the portion was more than ample, as well as prawns there was octopus and squid hidden in ample quantity under a heap of noodles. I must admit I had to step up and take one for the team to help finish this one off as Maddie put her chop sticks down and submitted defeat halfway through, unable to eat another mouthful for fear of bursting!
All of this delicious food was washed down with a freshly squeezed lime juice (unbelievably refreshing) and a lycee juice (unbelievably sweet – and disconcerting with the fruit looking like pickled eyeballs or something even worse floating around in the cup!) These drinks were S$1.50 each.
The final location on our whistle stop tour was Makansutra Gluttons Bay, an apt name by any standard. Unlike the previous two food courts this one is located outside, giving it a feel of a mass picnic where everyone had gathered to share and sample the delights on offer. Having completed the now customary walk around with the mandatory comments of “ooh look at that”, “what’s he eating?”, “that looks nice” and my personal favourite “it all looks so nice how do we pick what to get!” we settled on one of Maddie’s favourite dishes, Satay. This combination of chicken and beef set us back S$7 which is expensive in Hawker terms compared to some of our earlier choices. It was well worth it, the meat melted off the skewers and the sauce was delicious.
The final dish was Char Kway Teow for S$4 and although not as eye catching visually as many of the other dishes we tried it was certainly a tasty one. A combination of mutton, chicken, vegetables and noodles all blended together to give a superb taste.
So what conclusion did we come to? Well who are we to argue with Anthony Bourdain, he seems to have a pretty damn good idea what he is talking about.
The quality, quantity and value for money cannot be faulted, not to mention the unique atmosphere the food courts create. If you are a foodie then Singapore is somewhere you have to go to at least once. We sampled such a small selection of the food on offer, but I would say that if I had been served any of it in a restaurant I would have been very pleased and would have expected to pay considerably more for all of it.
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