Exploring Singapore Chinatown's food options
Updated: Oct 24
Flavourful, fresh and fantastic food can be found in the world-famous Singapore’s hawker markets. I wanted to experience the food that local Singapore people indulged in, and the best way to experience this was to head into Chinatown and visit the hawkers' street food. Some stalls have stuck to the food of their original countries, but a lot of the food is a mouth-watering fusion of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Southeast Asian dishes.
Hawkers' markets contain a variety of food venders all under one roof, and there are many of these buildings around town. Row after row of choices make it hard to know which dish to pick. The best advice, look for the stall with the longest queue of local residents. It will be worth the wait. The round tables symbolize good luck, where family and friends can gather together.
Locals place some small item such as a tissue box on the table, then go and purchase their food. This is chope. It reserves their table, and if you see something like this on the table, even if no one is seated there, you cannot sit down. Everyone is also expected to take their tray to the tray station after eating.
The locals all recommended char kway teow, but as I am allergic to pork, sadly, I had to give this a miss. However, if you are in Singapore, try out this dish of flat belt rice noodles with Chinese sausage, egg and chives. It is traditionally cooked in pork lard and has a smoky flavour (so I am told).
Look for chickens hanging in the hawkers stands and you will be sure to find my favourite Singapore food – chicken rice.
Sounding simple, it is hard to describe how amazing this blend of flavours combine to create this delicious dish. Poached chicken served on slightly oily rice, a soup made from the chicken stock, garlic, ginger, green onions, coriander, soy sauce and bok choy all blend perfectly. Try the chicken rice at the Maxwell food centre, it is perfection.
Strangely named, the Singapore carrot cake does not contain carrot. This fried chai tow kway is made of rice, white Chinese radish (often referred to as white carrot), eggs, garlic and radish. It is a perfect snack, served with toppings such as cheese or soya sauce. They can be formed like straws, or cubes.
Imagine a pastry filled with spices, herbs, curry, potato, egg, meat or fish which is then fried until golden brown. The curry puff melts in your mouth and your tastebuds will sing out their praise of thanks.
Another favourite quick snack is the Apam Balik. This peanut pancake is shaped like the moon before cooking and folded with sweet fillings inside.
For lovers of pork, there are many options to buy precooked slices of this product.
Restaurants offer a choice of indoor and outdoor seating. These small venues all offer menus where you can choose your order. Many are air conditioned inside, and the cost of food will be dearer in these places.
Eat where the locals go, and the prices will reflect this simpler choice. The staff speak English and are happy to translate the menu for you. Or just ask what the most popular dish is, and hope that it tastes good. Chances are, it will, but adventure is always a bonus when travelling.
If you are not willing to take chances, look for a restaurant where you can order from a picture menu.
You can also purchase take away food from a store.
Durian, mainly grown in Malaysia, is a fruit that can be purchased from market stalls, to eat elsewhere. The sweet and creamy fruit inside has a Sulphur smell like rotten eggs. Many hotels in Asia ban guests from bringing the fruit onto the premises, due to the awful smell.
Sugar Cane is a popular drink. At some stalls you can watch the cane stalks being fed into a crushing machine and the sweet nectar freshly delivered to you.
Coffee and tea shops in Chinatown will all promote their products as the best. There are many Starbucks shops in Singapore, but if you are after authentic, try a teahouse or local coffeehouse.
I found the longest queue in Chinatown for coffee was at the Nanyang old coffee shop. On their second level there is a room that acts as a museum. The bonus is that it is air conditioned, perfect to escape the heat and humidity. This shop is also on a cash only basis.
Asking for a white coffee in Singapore usually means they will add evaporated milk or condensed milk. Singaporeans like their coffee sweet, and often add sugar as well as the milk.
For lovers of great tasting food, Singapore and its Chinatown is a foodie paradise. The mouth-watering smells, the delightful blend of colours, the well-balanced blend of spices and the wonderful feeling of knowing you have eaten a satisfying meal will bring the visitor back to Singapore time and time again.
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