“Have you eaten?”
It’s a common greeting in Singapore, where good cooking is treated almost like a strategic national reserve. The city-state’s gastrodiplomacy campaign has led to its “hawker” centers—markets packed with food stalls—being featured on the Unesco Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Here, some of the country’s top chefs share their picks of the best dishes to be found at hawker stalls and other casual joints.
Liu Ching Hai
Executive chef at Summer Palace, a one-Michelin-star Cantonese fine dining restaurant at Conrad Orchard
Liu likes the “comforting and wholesome” fish soup at King Grouper Fish Soup’s outlet at Changi Village. The freshness of the fish really shines through, he says.
Where: Changi Village Hawker Centre
Try Pu Tien Ya Zhu Mei Xiang Xiao Chi for lor mee: Springy, flat noodles are cooked in a thick gravy and topped with lala (a type of clam), roasted pork and prawns.
Where: Geylang Bahru Market & Food Centre
The tender duck infused with rich flavors and herbs at Ah Xiao Teochew Braised Duck keeps Liu coming back. Sides including braised eggs, pigskin and tau pok (tofu puffs) are worth trying.
Where: Bendemeer Market & Food Centre
Woo Wai Leong
Lawyer-turned-chef-owner at Restaurant Ibid and winner of MasterChef Asia in 2015
The Springleaf Prata Place chain gets Woo’s vote as Singapore’s quintessential post-night-out stop. The “extremely crispy” Indian flatbread is flavoured with ghee (clarified butter) and served with a side of curry. Or get the pratas delivered.
Where: Multiple locations, including 1 Thong Soon Ave.
Woo praises the har cheong gai (fried prawn paste chicken) at Feng Ji Chicken Rice. It also serves, as the name suggests, chicken rice, one of Singapore’s national dishes. Caution: You could get into a debate with a local over your preferred choice between steamed and roasted chicken.
Where: 225 River Valley Rd.
Here’s another food fight: Does Singapore or neighbouring Malaysia have better nasi lemak? Sample the dish at Dickson Nasi Lemak. The rice is cooked in coconut milk and served with chicken, beef or cuttlefish. Sides include anchovies, egg, peanuts and a piquant chili paste. Then walk off the meal among the colorful shophouses of Joo Chiat.
Where: 320 Joo Chiat Rd.
World Gourmet Summit’s Rising Chef of the Year in 2019 and chef de cuisine at Artyzen Singapore hotel
Asokan recommends Chai Chee Pork Porridge if you’re in search of something light and soothing. The traditional, savory rice dish is cooked with meatballs and topped with dough fritters. For extra texture and flavor, add an egg.
Where: Bedok 85 Market, also known as Fengshan Food Centre
Sliced fish soup is an office-crowd lunch staple. The one at Xiao Yu Cun Fish Soup is Asokan’s go-to. The fish comes boiled or fried. Ask for rice or noodles if you need carbs.
Where: Market Street Hawker Centre
The assam laksa from Penang Seafood Restaurant is a noodle dish with shredded fish, onions, pineapple, mint, tamarind and shrimp paste. It’s tangy, spicy, sweet and umami (savory) in one bowl.
Where: 32 Aljunied Rd.
Chef-owner of Odette, a three-Michelin-star modern French restaurant
Tanjong Rhu Pau, which Royer says is a “cultural landmark,” makes its steamed buns the traditional way, by hand. Savory options include char siew pau (barbecue pork or chicken buns). If you prefer them sweet, go for the red bean or lotus paste.
Where: 389 Guillemard Rd. and 611 Balestier Rd.
Experience zi char—a popular, communal form of casual dining where dishes are fired out of high-heat woks. Tian Tian Seafood is Royer’s pick for fish and more in a bustling, vibrant spot.
Where: 239 Outram Rd.
Bismillah Biryani serves up dum biryani, a basmati rice dish cooked with herbs, spices, vegetables and meat. The Dunlop Street outlet is a seven-time Michelin Bib Gourmand winner.
Where: Multiple locations, including 50 Dunlop St.
Head chef at Lolla and named Asia’s Best Female Chef 2023 by Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants
Savory carrot cake at Heng Carrot Cake & Oyster Omelette is a “no-brainer,” says Siy. A favorite in Singapore, it isn’t remotely like the dessert known in the US and the UK. White radish cubes are fried with eggs, garlic and spring onions. The black version has dark soy sauce and is a touch sweeter than the white. Where: Newton Food Centre
Da Shi Jia Big Prawn Mee’s broth is simmered for hours with prawn heads and pork ribs, making it “super tasty and comforting,” Siy says. There’s a variety of noodles to choose from as well.
Where: 89 Killiney Rd.
Fish balls, another ubiquitous food in Singapore, are especially popular with kids. Fish meat is mashed with flour and seasoning, then shaped into balls. Give them a go at Ah Hua Teochew Fishball Noodle. For added oomph, add the homemade chili paste.
Where: 415 Pandan Gardens
Han Li Guang
Chef-owner of one-Michelin-star Labyrinth, which serves modern Singapore cuisine
Moonlight hor fun is named after the raw egg yolk dropped in the middle of this signature dish at Keng Eng Kee Seafood. The wok-fried flat noodles are served with sliced fish, squid, vegetables and preserved Chinese sausage. The restaurant delivers, too.
Where: 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1
Tai Wah Pork Noodle does a mean vinegary noodle with pork balls, minced pork, sole fish and dumplings.
Where: Multiple locations, including Hong Lim Market and Food Centre
There’s a reason Swee Guan Hokkien Mee usually has a line to get in. Charcoal-fried yellow and white noodles are steeped in a rich seafood-based broth. Eat it with a dollop of chili and a touch of lime.
Where: Near Lorong 29 Geylang and Geylang Rd.