One of the things that Singapore is known for is its hawker centers. They are open aired food courts that house several different food vendors whose inexpensive merchandise are cooked in a very efficient manner.
During my short trip to Singapore last week, I had a chance to catch up with Erwin, my Filipino friend who has moved to Singapore since 2001. We met when we were both starting out at work fresh from the university, and it is always great meeting him every time I’m in Singapore. We never fail to reminisce and laugh about days from our youth – when we could still stay up til early through Saturday mornings coming from drinks, billiards or karaoke (or both) with a bunch of people from work on Friday nights. I can’t imagine having the stamina now to stay up too late – and my tolerance for alcohol has since dwindled to almost zero. Erwin is one of the few people who, almost two decades after, though a lot has changed in most ways he is still the same – if that makes sense. Though I’m proud with ourselves talking about more intelligent topics this time (a far cry from our topics back in our early 20’s like office gossip).
He asked me where I wanted to go for dinner last Tuesday night, and in a heartbeat I said let’s go to any hawker center. My last visit to Singapore’s hawker centers was with my brother and sister in 2012, and I was so excited going into one again.
From Fusionopolis we drove off to Tiong Bahru Market and Hawker Center. He said it is where the locals usually go to, and I found that it’s been around since 1950s. We were lucky because when we got there we still had a few hours before closing. I said I was going to be adventurous in my food options that night (so as long as it’s not red meat) and was up for having a taste of local dishes for the first time. Erwin didn’t fail to surprise me with his food choices:
Chwee Kueh or water rice cakes is made of different kinds of flour, molded, and topped with a radish preserve. I found that it’s one of the Singaporeans’ favorite breakfast dish.
Hokkien Mee which we got from Hong Heng Fried Sotong Prawn Mee is a savory noodle mixed with chili, prawn, squid and fish. There were different food stalls selling this and Erwin chose the one with the queue because that in itself is an indicator it must be good, right? He found that it received a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2016 and 2017. I’m no food expert, but what I can say is: he chose this one well.
I had to research what this one was actually called, and found it’s chee cheong fun, a rice cake rolled to imitate the look of pig’s intestine (because the literal meaning of chee cheong fun is “pig intestine noodle”). This popular snack is topped with sweet shrimp paste and sweet dark sauce.
We were originally looking for salted egg prawn but it was not available anymore. Erwin got the cereal prawn which was also good. It was deep fried and was not too salty.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is my most favorite dish so far: the Char Kway Teow. Ok, so reading on about this later on I found it’s a Malaysian dish. The stir fried noodle has a smoky taste as it is mixed with chives, fish cakes, and I don’t know what sauce was used but I loved its hint of spice and saltiness.
What I like about Tiong Bahru market is the wide space and cleanliness. It is a clean as you go hawker center and they have videos played showing how to manage waste properly. They also use different plates for halal and non-halal food.