Fron chilli crab and seafood laksa to Hainanese chicken rice, we taste our way around Singapore’s heritage hawker centres with two-time Asia’s best pastry chef winner, foodpreneur, and author Janice Wong.
Janice Wong fondly remembers the smells and flavours of the zi char eateries (food-stall-like places serving affordable home-style cuisine) she grew up around in Singapore’s Chinatown. Having trained at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris and worked alongside the likes of macaron maestro Pierre Hermé and molecular cuisine pioneer Grant Achatz, she returned to her hometown to launch 2am:dessertbar by Janice Wong in 2007. She started her eponymous art-meets-tech confectionary brand, Janice Wong Singapore, in 2014 and opened Pure Imagination, a bean-to-bar chocolate concept with a focus on sustainability and fair trade, as her latest venture.
From Malay and Indian recipes to Chinese and Eurasian dishes, Singapore cuisine bubbles with flavours from its melting pot of communities. Flavours which Janice – voted Asia’s Best Pastry Chef two years in a row, in 2013 and 2014 – integrates in her edible pieces of art. Here, she takes us on a tour of the city’s UNESCO-listed hawker centre culture with stops at her favourite eateries to dig into five must-try local dishes.
This article was written with the help of dining and travel experts based in Singapore. With Westpac Concierge, you can enjoy direct access to this team of experts based around the globe who are here for you, 24/7, to help you organise every aspect of your trip. They know their city inside and out and are available to share their insiders recommandations of things to do, places to stay and restaurants to vbook. Check your eligibility below.
Discover the five morish hawker centre dishes you’re gonna love
The most indulgent Hokkien dish consists of stir-fried crab simmered in chilli sauce, savoury yet sweetened with tomato paste and thickened with egg whites.
Keng Eng Kee Seafood
Currently run by the third generation of the Liew family, this zi char spot has gathered plenty of acclaim over the past 50 years and even starred on Netflix’s Street Food: Asia. Among its Anthony Bourdain approved signature dishes is the chilli crab praised for its meaty texture and flavourful, yet not overly spicy, sauce. It reminds me of my childhood; I grew up in the area.
📍 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1, #01-136, Singapore 150124
Long Beach Seafood
The birthplace of another Singaporean classic, the black pepper crab, this casual restaurant serves some of the freshest seafood in town. Its chilli crab is on the spicier end though – choose between live XL mud crab, for moist meat and sweet flavours. There are a few outlets around town, but the al fresco area and sea views of the UDMC branch can’t be beaten.
📍 #01-04 East Coast Seafood Centre, Singapore 449881
This Peranakan spicy noodle coconut milkbased soup is traditionally topped with hard-boiled eggs and shrimps. If the seafood laksa is the classic one, variations exist and include shredded chicken or fish.
Sungei Road Laksa
Join the locals queuing at this heritage hawker stall for $3 (SGD) laksa bowls. You’ll probably need to order more than one as each serving is rather small. Cooked over charcoal, a fading tradition here in Singapore, the broth is light in texture yet packed with flavours of coconut, galangal, dried shrimps, and chilli paste. You’ll have to eat it the Katong (Singapore’s Peranakan district)way, with a spoon only and no chopsticks.
📍 27 Jalan Berseh, 01-100, Singapore 200027
Arbora Hilltop Garden & Bistro
Perched atop Mount Faber Peak, this underrated garden-themed restaurant plates up Western and Asian bistro dishes. A few Singaporean classics are given a contemporary twist and you can order fried tofu rojak, potatoes stuffed with chilli crab, and lobster and seafood laksa – it’s a generous size and the sauce is packed with herbs.
📍 109 Mount Faber Road, Faber Peak, Singapore 099203
Hainanese chicken rice
Boiled chicken served over rice cooked in chicken stock flavoured with ginger and pandan. This Hainan originated recipe is considered Singapore’s national dish.
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Centre
Favoured by the likes of the late Anthony Bourdain and acclaimed chef Paul Pairet, this unassuming stall lives up to its hype and is one worth queueing for. The chicken is juicy and tender, the rice is fragrant and there’s no extra oiliness; the chilli sauce delivers that extra punch that I crave.
📍 Maxwell Food Centre, 1 Kadayanallur Street, #01-10/11, Singapore 069184
Nam Kee Chicken Rice Restaurant
Food centres and zi char restaurants are Singapore’s pride and joy. This family-run restaurant was founded in 1968 by a Hainan island native, so you can expect authentic flavours – the chilli sauce and seasoning are made entirely from scratch. Don’t be surprised if the chicken is served almost cold; that’s the traditional way.
📍 201 Upper Thomson Road, Singapore 574343
Meaning ‘eclectic mix’ in colloquial Malay, this mixed salad of fruit, vegetables, and dough fritters brings together the flavours of Singapore’s diverse cuisines. The sauce of fermented shrimp paste, chilli, lemon, and sugar is what really makes the dish standout
Toa Payoh Rojak
As one of the largest hawker centres in town, Old Airport Road Food Centre offers plenty of choice when it comes to local bites. It’s also extremely popular among locals and tourists alike so be ready to queue. Order from different stalls to try various local dishes including oyster omelettes, crayfish soup, and the rojak from Toa Payoh Rojak, which is garnished with toasted youtiao (fried dough) and topped with a generous measure of peanuts.
📍 Old Airport Road Food Centre, 51 Old Airport Road, #01-108, Singapore 390051
Hot & Cold Dessert
Kachang is a colourful dish with a playful mix of textures, from crunchy shaved ice to wobbly jelly, loved by kids and adults alike. This Berseh Food Centre stall serves a traditional, and not overly sweet, version of the local dessert featuring red beans, grass jelly, and attap chee (the translucent and sweet fruit from local Nipa palms).
📍 166 Jalan Besar, #02-58, Berseh Food Centre, Singapore 208877
Singapore’s transformation into one of the world’s pre-eminent 21stcentury metropolises means it offers an enviable mix of the old and the new that ensures it never gets boring. It’s laden with world-class attractions comprising engineering wonders as well as amazing nature and wildlife features.
Add to that the bustling hawker centres, internationally acclaimed restaurants, and a hungry generation of local chefs pushing the boundaries and giving the city a spot on the international culinary scene, and you’ll understand why people love travelling to the Lion City. The experts at Westpac Concierge have built unrivalled relationships with top restaurants, bars, attractions, galleries, music venues, and theatres to bring you access and benefits unavailable anywhere else so check your elibility today.