A visit to a hawker centre in Singapore is must-do on your itinerary. Drop by these popular ones for a taste of the local street food.
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 people of Straits-born Chinese), 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. Round it off with the popular Peranakan-style canapé, crispy kueh pie tee (deep-fried pastry cups filled with shredded turnip).
Find National Kitchen by Violet Oon at #02-01 National Gallery Singapore, and Violet Oon Singapore at 881 Bukit Timah Road.
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 signature dish ‘Carebinero Prawns with Tomato Variation’ — the tomatoes come in marinated, sorbet, confit and even 'cloud' form. 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 soy caramel, or succulent Maine lobster paired with rice and squid.
Find Corner House at 1 Cluny Road, Singapore Botanic Gardens.
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 The Wok & Barrel (Asian fusion eats paired with craft beers and wines) and Ujong, a casual diner at Raffles Hotel noted for its clever reinvention of local dishes. Today, Tan is 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.
Justin Quek’s culinary journey started humbly — his family used to run a fruit stall on Queen Street. But after a stint as an air steward, Quek discovered a love for cooking, and headed to the Singapore Hotel and Tourism Education Centre (SHATEC) to refine his art. Fast forward a few years later, he began training in some of France’s top kitchens, such as Roland Mazère's Le Centenaire in Périgord and Hôtel de Crillon in Paris.
Today, Quek is widely recognised as a stalwart of French-Asian fusion fare in Singapore, bringing his Asian heritage to the forefront even as he experiments with different cooking techniques the world over. He is constantly inspired by the marrying of Asian ingredients with European influences, and uses this convergence of East and West to spice up the innovative fusion menu — the foie gras xiao long bao (soup dumplings filled with specially fattened duck or goose liver) is a favourite — at his rooftop restaurant, Sky on 57.
Find Sky on 57 at Marina Bay Sands.
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 (small chillies), kaya (coconut jam) 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 Mod-Chinese menu with artistic influences. Her creations include vivid duo-toned dim sum (Cantonese-style bite-sized food), xiao long bao (mini soup dumplings) with unconventional truffle cheese chicken fillings, and ratatouille siew mai (pork dumplings).
Find 2am:dessertbar at 21A Lorong Liput, and Janice Wong Singapore at #01-06 National Museum Singapore.
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 chilli crab linguine and tom yum clams. 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 laksa pesto linguine, or a classic Italian panna cotta dipped in salted gula melaka (palm sugar). You can also opt for a selection of Low’s personal favourite dishes with Wild Rocket’s omakase (dishes selected by the chef) menu.
Find Wild Rocket at 10A Upper Wilkie Road.
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 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.
Find Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken & Rice Noodle at #02-125 Chinatown Food Complex.
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.
Find Fishball Story at Timbre+ and NUS University Town.
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.
Find A Noodle Story at #01-39 Amoy Street Food Centre.
Veteran chef Damian D’Silva is best known for opening Immigrants Gastrobar in 2012 to preserve Singapore’s immigrant-based culinary heritage. Back then, the brick-and-mortar restaurant on Joo Chiat Road served Chinese, Eurasian, Indian, Malay and Peranakan dishes tapas-style alongside a selection of thirst-quenching tipples. Continuing his tradition of paying tribute to the island's wide variety of cultural influences, you can now find D’Silva at his food truck at modern hawker joint Timbre+, D’s Joint. Here, he serves up a fusion of traditional Singapore tastes and Western cuisine in anchovy pasta, wagyu steaks, fish and chips and — this is a must-try — his signature nasi lemak (Malay fragrant rice dish).
Find D’s Joint at 73A Ayer Rajah Crescent.
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. Their rempahs (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.
Find Candlenut at 331 New Bridge Road.