Singapore’s iconic hawker centres serve up a variety of authentic fare along with hearty experiences.
Singapore is known as a foodie city, where people are enthusiastic about all things gastronomic, whether street eats or fine dining. Here are some of the passionate ‘hawkerpreneurs’ and world-class chefs who create and curate Singapore’s culinary landscape.
If you love Peranakan cuisine (traditional food made and savoured by Straits-born people of Chinese and Malay/Indonesian heritage), you’ve probably heard of Violet Oon and her legendary culinary prowess. Previously a food critic and cookbook writer, the homegrown chef is driven by a passion for sharing good food, and has carved a niche for herself by reimagining and elevating the ways in which we make and eat Peranakan food.
The cooking doyenne presents her specialty cuisine with an artisanal touch at National Kitchen by Violet Oon, located at the National Gallery Singapore. Savour Peranakan recipes with a twist, or tuck into authentic local eats: try the reinvented dry laksa (spicy coconut milk-based noodle soup) minus its signature broth, or go for the classic buah kelak ayam, an aromatic spicy chicken stew infused with fresh root spices and black nuts indigenous to Southeast Asia. Round it off with the popular Peranakan-style canapé, crispy kueh pie tee (deep-fried pastry cups filled with shredded turnip).
National Gallery. 1 St Andrew’s Road #02–01, Singapore 178957. +65 9834 9935.
Take a stroll around Singapore Botanic Gardens and you just might find yourself at Corner House, a restaurant named after E.J.H. Corner, former assistant director of the Gardens. Just as he had pushed boundaries in his field of botany, Corner House’s current chef and co-owner Jason Tan is breaking new ground in the culinary realm, earning the restaurant a Michelin star in 2016.
Tan's innovation comes in his pioneering concept of Gastro-Botanica, a contemporary cuisine that applies classical French cooking techniques to natural ingredients. Botanical elements such as tubers, vegetables and fruits form an essential part of the menu, rather than acting as mere sides or garnish—one dish is even called "Interpretation of My Favourite Vegetables".
Appreciate the chef's creative culinary play with his signature dish of carabinero prawns—accompanying the shellfish are seasonal tomatoes, vintage sherry and Kristal de Chine caviar. Those less keen on a veggie overload can sink their teeth into other selections, too. Cut up some Japanese A4 Toriyama beef topped with luscious soya caramel, or succulent Maine lobster paired with rice and squid.
Corner House. 1 Cluny Road, Singapore 259569. +65 6469 1000.
In 2009, Shen Tan swopped out her business suit—she was formerly a director at Forbes—for a hawker’s apron at Maxwell Food Centre. It was the right choice. She quickly earned her stripes with the award-winning Madam Tan’s Nasi Lemak and kick-started an illustrious culinary career. The self-taught chef has since added a shot of innovation to Singapore’s gastronomic landscape with Mod-Sin endeavours such as Revolution Coffee (modern Singaporean eats served alongside specialty coffee). Tan is also the Culinary Director at Gastrogig, a bespoke hospitality and creative food project curation company, where she continues to cook up all sorts of Mod-Sin inventions.
Find Gastrogig here.
Revolution Coffee. 21 Media Circle #01-03A, Singapore 138562. +65 6777 2110.
Singapore’s favourite confectionery maestro, Janice Wong, has been pushing the limits of dessert-making since she first exploded on the scene in 2007 with 2am:dessertbar, best known for its exquisite and supremely photogenic sweet treats.
Wong honed her chops under prestigious tutelage, counting Spanish chocolatier Oriol Balaguer and prodigious French pastry chef Pierre Hermé among her mentors. Named Asia’s Best Pastry Chef by Restaurant Magazine and Pastry Chef of the Year at the World Gourmet Summit Awards, the dessert queen has since made waves on an international stage, with her dessert bars popping up in Tokyo and Hong Kong as well.
The talented chef is known for her signature confluence of food and art. For instance, her passion for culinary art manifests in her various candied creations. At the Singapore: Inside Out showcase, her 1,000 Crosses exhibition allowed visitors to taste the chocolate lollipops hanging from the ceiling, in flavours such as chilli padi (bird’s eye chilli), kaya (a traditional jam made from coconut and eggs) and barbecued pork. Wong is also ever-evolving—her freshly launched flagship restaurant, Janice Wong Singapore at the National Museum of Singapore, is proof. There, she ventures out of dessert territory, serving up a savoury modern Chinese menu with artistic influences. Her creations include vivid duo-toned dim sum (bite-sized portions of food served in steamer baskets or small plates), xiao long bao (mini soup dumplings) with unconventional truffle cheese chicken fillings, and ratatouille siew mai (pork dumplings).
National Museum Singapore. 93 Stamford Road #01-06, Singapore 178897. +65 9712 5338.
2am:dessertbar. 21A Lorong Liput, Singapore 277733. +65 6291 9727.
Chef Willin Low is a true trailblazer when it comes to Mod-Sin cuisine—after all, the lawyer-turned-restauranteur did coin the phrase. The seeds of Mod-Sin were first planted for Low during his time studying in the UK, when he missed food from home and would mix and match ingredients to recreate his favourite dishes.
His culinary style now riffs off traditional Singapore tastes to create reimagined dishes for the modern Singaporean, such as spanner crab and Vietnamese coriander ravioli in laksa. Low takes apart local dishes and reassembles them with new form and fresh presentation—at Low’s restaurant Wild Rocket, you can order up a beautifully plated barramundi carpaccio with orange shallot dressing and dashi (Japanese broth) jelly. You can also opt for a selection of Low’s personal favourite dishes with Wild Rocket’s omakase (dishes selected by the chef) menu.
Hangout Hotel. 10A Upper Wilkie Road, Singapore 228119. +65 6339 9448.
Chan Hon Meng
Hawker fare is a staple in the average Singaporean’s diet, and locals might argue that hawker food makes up some of the best grub across the globe—especially when it’s Michelin-starred to boot. Take for instance Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Food Complex, the world's first hawker stall to be awarded a Michelin star, and perhaps the most affordable dining option from the MICHELIN guide.
The humble stall is helmed by chef-owner Chan Hon Meng, who started his hawker stall because he wanted a change from the more common Hainanese-style chicken rice, where the chicken is typically poached and chilled. Instead, Chan first cooks the chicken in the Cantonese style of siu mei, where meats are typically roasted in a wood-burning rotisserie oven. He has since perfected his craft for over 30 years—it's no wonder that his dishes have always been a favourite with locals, boasting hour-long queues during peak hours even before the stall received the coveted Michelin nod.
Chinatown Complex Market and Food Centre. 78 Smith Street #02-126, Singapore 058972.
Contrary to the perception that hawker stalls are run mostly by the older generation, Douglas Ng is one of many Gen Y hawkers setting up shop at Singapore’s ubiquitous hawker centres. Ng rewrites the hawker game with his fishball noodle stall, Fishball Story, where he tailors recipes handed down through the family (from his Hakka grandmother) to modern tastes while staying true to the high standards of authenticity that hawker fare demands. Forget fishballs of the overly spongy and more-flour-than-fish variety—those at Fishball Story are handmade by the chef himself every morning, giving them a firm, dense texture. Ng brings his classic dishes to young Singaporeans at hip locales such as Timbre+ and University Town at the National University of Singapore.
Timbre+. 73A Ayer Rajah Crescent #01-14, Singapore 139957.
Flavours @ UTown. 2 College Avenue West #02-01, Singapore 138607.
Gwern Khoo and Ben Tham
Take a page from locals and join the queues at Amoy Street Food Centre’s A Noodle Story, where Gwern Khoo and Ben Tham are revamping hawker fare with their combination of Singapore-style wanton mee (Cantonese noodle dish) and Japanese ramen. This pair of first-time hawkers, or ‘hawkerpreneurs’, have set their sights on entering the market with innovative renditions of Asian favourites, such as elegantly plated Hong Kong noodles paired with the chefs’ special lemongrass and garlic sauce. The two up-and-comers are constantly reinventing their menu with new culinary experiments, and have since made the Michelin Bib Gourmand list in 2016.
Amoy Street Food Centre. 7 Maxwell Road #01-39, Singapore 069111.
A champion of Eurasian food in Singapore, Quentin Pereira opened his eponymous restaurant Quentin’s more than ten years ago. Today, he’s still one of the few serving traditional Eurasian dishes like curry debal (a fiery curry served with either chicken or oxtail) and feng (a mild curry made with diced pork, liver and heart). When he’s not in the kitchen, he’s busy educating those curious about Eurasian food and culture about the cuisine by holding cooking demonstrations at Shermay’s and the Eurasian Community house.
Eurasian Community House. 139 Ceylon Road Level 1, Singapore 429744. +65 6348 0327.
Malcolm Lee, head chef and owner of Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant Candlenut, found his calling at a young age in his mother’s kitchen, watching her cook up Nonya food and learning along the way. He has since brought the flavours and techniques of Peranakan cooking to new heights with his modern Peranakan cuisine at Candlenut. Though Malcolm dabbles in fresh flavours and imaginative menu picks—think gula melaka king prawns—Candlenut still promises a dining experience reminiscent of hearty, home-cooked meals at grandma’s house. His rempah (spice pastes essential to Peranakan dishes) are made from scratch, and one particularly eye-catching selection on the menu is "Mum’s Curry", a red chicken curry dish gleaned from his mother’s recipes.
Como Dempsey. Block 17A Dempsey Road, Singapore 249676. +65 1800 304 2288.