When it comes to our favourite foods, everyone’s got an opinion. Especially when it comes to favourite hawker centres and stalls. Whether you’re a fan of hokkien mee, satay or BBQ chicken wings, there’s definitely going to be a place you religiously visit (and hopefully support through these tough times).
Here, Straits Times food writers and critics, Tan Hsueh Yun and Wong Ah Yoke share some of their favourite stalls serving various types of hawker dishes.
There is a queue for this stall’s fried rice noodles ($3.50 or $4) even an hour after the lunch peak. A visitor from abroad might wonder what the fuss is about, why people would queue for a plate of ink-coloured noodles, smooshed unceremoniously to one side of the plate. I hope they get it after one bite: tender, stretchy noodles seared in a hot wok so the dark soya sauces caramelise on them, garlic in every bite, thin slices of Chinese sausage, many perfectly cooked cockles buried in the rubble. Small, crisp cubes of lard go off like little flavour bombs in the mouth.
Bedok South Market & Food Centre, 11am to 4pm (closed Mondays)
The easy thing would be to order a prata kosong or with egg. But those are pre-made and stacked on top of one another, then fried again just before serving. Order the coin prata ($4) instead, as they are made to order.
Six coils sit on the plate. Each one is weapons grade crunchy and ever so light. I like fish curry with my coin prata and this stall serves a good one with personality. Alas, I cannot overlook the lacklustre curry that comes with my absolute favourite prata in the world – at Mr & Mrs Mohgan’s Super Crispy Prata in Crane Road.
Prata is often described as the “Asian version of croissant”. Please. Prata is completely different. And much better.
#01-51, 24 Sin Ming Road, 7am to 6pm daily
My devotion to this unassuming stall in an Ang Mo Kio coffee shop knows no bounds. When life is a hot mess, I seek out the hot, messy plates it turns out.
Little details count. I see specks of carrot in the steamed radish cake, an indication it is not made in a factory. Further proof comes from the tower of round metal trays at the stall, each filled with more radish cake. Cubes of them get the hot wok treatment and as with char kway teow, success is measured by how well the dark soya sauce (I always ask for “extra hei” or extra black) caramelises on the kueh. Preserved radish adds crunch and umami. I finish my plate ($3.50) and all is well with the world again.
Block 532 Ang Mo Kio Ave 10, 7am to 7pm (closed Wednesdays)
If you are looking for a power breakfast, hangover cure or supper, this is the place to go to because the stall almost never closes. Its nasi lemak ($3.50) is powerful indeed. The rice could be of better quality but at this price, it would be churlish to quibble.
Know that it is fluffy enough and lightly scented, not with coconut milk but with extra virgin coconut oil. The sambal looks lethal but is not. Sweetness and a hint of spice are what come through. Crunch comes from cucumber slices, a scoop of peanuts and anchovies, and a fried chicken wing wearing a thick, deep-fried armour. The egg is crispy and lacy at the edges.
How do they make it work at $3.50 a plate?
#01-106 Boon Lay Place Food Village, 221B Boon Lay Place, 6.30am to 4am (Tuesdays to Sundays), noon to 4am (Mondays)
An industrial park is the last place to expect to find decent food, and yet this quiet coffee shop has a stall that serves what I think is the best wonton mee in the land.
A $4 plate offers myriad pleasures but the main one is the pile of springy noodles tossed in a light but flavourful mix of condiments, including a very umami light soya sauce. There is also a bushel of just-blanched kailan, crisp yet tender; a generous serving of char siew burnished a deep brown instead of the screaming red of factory-made barbecued pork; and four plump wontons bursting with filling.
“Do you want lard?” the young cook asks.
Why, yes, I do.
118 Depot Lane, 6am to 8pm (Monday to Friday), 6am to 1.30pm (Saturday and Sunday)
When it comes to Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, there are two camps – those who think it’s the best in Singapore and those who think it’s overrated. I am among the fans.
To me, it gets everything right. The chicken is tender, not soft, and smothered with a mix of light soya sauce and sesame oil. The rice is fragrant and cooked just right. And the chilli sauce is a good mix of spice and umami and does not burn the palate.
Getting all three elements together in a dish may seem simple, but you’ll be amazed at how few stalls can get everything right. Most fail with the rice and I’ve eaten chicken rice with chilli so hot you can’t taste rice or chicken.
#01-10/11, Maxwell Food Centre, 10 am to 8pm, closed on Mondays
I must be one of the few people who do not think much of the Michelin-starred Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle. It’s not bad, but not worth the price or the long wait. Besides, there’s so much vinegar in the noodles it overpowers everything else.
The bak chor mee I like is actually just as expensive. But for $10, you get much better ingredients at Seng Kee Mushroom Minced Meat Noodles. On top of minced pork, lean meat, liver and stewed mushroom, there are also pieces of well-simmered fried fish maw in an unbeatable broth flecked with egg drop.
There’s usually a queue, too, but this is worth my time.
#01-36, 49A Serangoon Garden Way, Serangoon Garden Market, 7.30am to 3pm, closed on Mondays
Do not be fooled if you do not see a queue forming at Come Daily Fried Hokkien Prawn Mee in Toa Payoh. The stall uses a buzzer system, so after you order and pay, you take a buzzer and go to your table to wait… and wait.
But it’s worth it. This is still one of the best in Singapore, with the noodles fried with egg, then braised in a umami-soaked stock and topped with pork and squid slices as well as whole prawns that are cooked just right.
Squeeze in some lime juice to brighten up the flavours and stir in a bit of chilli sauce for kick. And this is uniquely Singaporean because you don’t find this style of fried Hokkien mee anywhere else.
#02-27, Block 127, Lorong 1 Toa Payoh, 8am to 2.30pm, closed on Mondays
The unique thing about Katong laksa is that it is eaten with just a spoon – sans chopsticks – to make sure you slurp down the thick rice noodles together with the gravy. And the noodles are cut into short strands to fit into a standard Chinese spoon.
The combination of noodles, spicy gravy, boiled prawns and strips of fishcake makes every mouthful a delight.
I prefer Janggut to the other popular Katong laksa stalls because it is not as rich with coconut milk – and I can finish up the gravy without feeling sick afterwards.
The gravy is not very fiery either, though chilli fiends can help themselves to tubs of chilli paste.
Four locations, including at Roxy Square and Queensway Shopping Centre, 10am to 9pm daily at Queensway Shopping Centre
This nondescript stall in a coffee shop next to the Golden Mile Food Centre draws a long queue every day for its nasi briyani.
There is a choice of chicken, mutton or fish, but the mutton is the clear bestseller.
The basmati rice is fluffy and fragrant with spices and herbs such as coriander and mint, and the mutton is simmered in spices till just tender enough to bite through before being added to the rice for the final stage of cooking.
Stirred together, it makes a satisfying dish, and I like that the mutton is soft but still has a bit of bite to it.
Block 17 Beach Road, Stall No. 6, 7am to 3.30pm. Closed on alternate Tuesdays
Text: Tan Hsueh Yun and Wong Ah Yoke/The Straits Times