I lamented earlier that Singapore doesn’t seem to have much of a soul. Maybe that’s because they’ve been too busy working on their food. I managed to eat quite well during my stay (more than 3 meals/day) on a very limited budget thanks to some great options, both in the hawker centers and in stand-alone restaurants. I think that only one of the meals cost more than $10 and they were nearly all delicious. Here are some of my favorites:
Chin Chin Eating House
Hainanese chicken is apparently a staple around Singapore. Likely because the raw ingredients are cheap – it is basically steamed chicken and rice – but don’t let that simplicity scare you away. There actually was subtlety to the flavors and there are plenty of sauce options offered up with the meal to add some kick to things. One of the shops recommended to me – Chin Chin Eating House – was conveniently right around the corner from my hotel which made it easy to pick up a quick snack one morning as I headed out.
I ordered up a serving of chicken and settled in on the patio to watch the rest of the city wake up and join me for brunch. I was the only guest there when I started but by the time I finished things were picking up noticeably; folks were waiting for my table. I was just disappointed I only had time for one serving of the chicken.
It was quite tender and juicy, making for a delicious start to the day. Of course, spicing it up with some vinegar and peppers didn’t hurt, either. Oh, and I’ve heard that if you wrap the chicken skin around the cucumbers they serve it with then it is actually good for you. 😉
Geylang Claypot Rice
Claypot rice is exactly what it sounds like: steamed rice served in a hot clay pot to sear in the flavors of the meat as it is mixed table-side. Mine started as a bowl of white rice, chicken and pork and when the mixing was done the results were absolutely delicious. The shop isn’t particularly nice – think plastic chairs and wobbly tables in the middle of the red-light district – but you’re not really going for the atmosphere. It is all about the food here.
There were other options on the menu, too. I saw some folks with seafood in their rice and other folks with noodle dishes. I just ordered the generic "clay pot" and got a great meal so I don’t really know about those choices, but the other guests seemed to be enjoying themselves well enough.
Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle
This is one of the shops which came highly recommended but which I ultimately was unable to dine at. I knew that it was popular and that there would likely be a line. What I didn’t expect was for the line to be about an hour long at 2pm on a Sunday. Alas, it was, and that meant either missing my flight or missing the meal. I was tempted by the food, but rational thoughts eventually won out. The bak chor mee here is definitely on my list for my next visit to town; I’ll just have to schedule more time for standing in line.
Looking for a shop in Little India with more than just a famous name? This is where you want to be. The chef focuses on quality ingredients – sourcing his own whole sheep and grinding spice in-house – so the food quality is a notch above. Much of the dining scene in the area seems to be based on having been around the longest, not necessarily being the best, but don’t be fooled. It is priced higher than many other shops in the area – around SGD$9 for a meal – but that’s still quite reasonable and the higher price keeps the crowds down a bit.
Din Tai Fung
Looking for dumplings? This is your place. Yes, it is a chain, started in Taiwan and now with over 20 shops in Asia and North America, including four scattered about Singapore. And, yes, it is a bit more expensive than the hawker stalls and other street food options. But the dumplings were damn good.
In addition to the dumplings we also ordered steamed pork buns. The were just OK; a bit dry to me. We also ordered a fried rice dish. It was pretty good, a welcome change from the Hainanese chicken & rice options. That said, the pork served with it was cooked separate and served on the side rather than all cooked together so that limited the flavor a bit.
Stick with the dumplings and you’ll do quite well. I certainly did.
Tian Tian Stall – Maxwell Road Hawker Center
I tried this one out on a recommendation from TravelSort. They’ve had some good options in the past and I figured it was worth a go. For the experience alone, eating in the hawker centers is an absolute must while in Singapore. The hustle and bustle of everyone is quite enjoyable. That said, I might give this particular stall a miss next time.
They’ve received a lot of press over the years and much of it is used to decorate the walls and façade of the shop. It was good – decent flavor and plenty of options for such a small shop – but it wasn’t amazing. I definitely wouldn’t wait in line for it and I think that Chin Chin (above) offered better food. But Tian Tian is still pretty good.
There were a few other options I also was recommended, including haji kadir (sup tulang) from the Golden Mile Food Center and the original "peanut pancake" at the Tanglin Halt Hawker Center. Alas, it was a short trip and I didn’t get to try them all. Next time, I suppose.
Check out the locations of the restaurants on the interactive map above.
- Searching for the soul of Singapore
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Looking at a picture of glibbery steamed chicken skin is a terrible, terrible way to start the day. Only the thought of actually eating it can make it worse ;).
That chicken skin was phenomenal, Oliver. :p
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