Singapore, Hawker Food Hunt – November 2017

November 16, 2017

Don’t ever say to me you miss Singapore. Because I may just book flights and accommodation so we can satisfy the void you feel about missing this lovely country. And so it happened one relaxing weekend, my husband barely uttered those words and we were booked to go two weekends later.

The catch was, it was going to be a sneaky weekend away on the cheap. No fancy hotels, no business class seats, no fancy restaurants and no shopping. Well, not much anyways (who can go to Singapore without at least a little bit of shopping???).

Another catch was not to take any time off work, so we left Friday afternoon on a 5:30pm flight (well, we had to leave work a bit earlier than normal), which arrived in Singapore around 10:30pm. This was not our usual as we like to leave on the morning at the crack of dawn so we have the whole day in Singapore. Being a Friday night, we thought the city would still be festive and plenty to eat was still going to be on offer.

Oh and also, we were only going to eat at hawker centres/food courts, for their $3 to under $10 dollar meals at the various food centres we don’t usually venture to enough. When we arrived, we were naturally tired from our week of work so venturing out was less than attractive. What was a great idea was picking a couple of good reds from duty free before departure to enjoy at our hotel’s alfresco. After checking in, that is what we did. Unpacked our lovely bottle of Henschke and found a comfortable spot at the alfresco area of our hotel, Holiday Inn Express in Clarke Quay.

This is a relatively new hotel, tucked away across the river from the entertainment precinct of Clarke Quay, there was no who ha, no Friday night revellers….which was nice.

A note about the weather. On this whim, I did not consider the weather in Singapore in November, not until I was about to pack, which was the day before. November to January is the wet season, with plenty of thunderstorms and rain. Usually the first part of the day, up to early evening, then a few hours of humidity and high temperatures, then more rain throughout the later evening through to the early hours of the morning. With all that rain, it is still very hot in this fair city, unless you are a local (as they have their air conditioners cranked right up). We did get a comment about having a beer when it is so cold from one of the staff. Packing will be challenge too with very cold air conditioning in cabs and any building you enter then the hot humidity smacks you square in the face as soon as you get out of the cab or building. Suffice to say, I packed closed in shoes, light pants and a cardigan to take with me everywhere I went.

This hotel has breakfast included. It has a variety of western and eastern offerings buffet style but since we were only here for a weekend to enjoy hawker delights, we ate minimally on the first morning and ventured out to seek hawker taste sensations.

First on the agenda was Bukit Timah. This is a large multi-storey suburban hawker centre with a wet market on the ground floor. Until we arrived, we did not realise we had been here before. There is a tailor we used to go to that was close by and after initial measurements, we did have a nice meal here a few years ago. The 25minute cab ride was picturesque and scenic. Bukit Timah has the tallest hill in Singapore, which is still covered in the beautiful natural foliage. We both agreed that it was worth seeing even though it was raining cats and dogs. Then we arrived and to our horror, it was closed for renovations! We asked the cab driver to take us somewhere close to eat. He dropped us off across from the Bukit Timah Shopping Centre at a complex filled with rows of eateries. This place can also be reached by the ever growing MRT system at Beauty World station.

If you have read our other posts, you’d know we kinda like (like a lot) Hainanese Chicken (we actually once went to Singapore, and did a chicken rice odyssey, which sometimes comprised of getting in a cab and asking the driver to take us to his favourite place, different every time), and this is another version, Kampung Chicken Rice. We have never come across this before so we gave it a bash. It was ok, according to what we have enjoyed previously but we did observe that they did a roaring takeaway trade. Cars were pulling up every few minutes to take away large bagfuls of the stuff, so according to the locals, it can’t be that bad. We had the chicken, its rice, oyster sauce kai lan which was delicious and prawn paste deep fried chicken wings.

When we were done, we ventured back to the hotel for rest and beers. We did not feel that we had satisfied our hawker taste experience so Tiong Bahru was next on the agenda.

We ventured to this art deco precinct mid afternoon to fulfil another hawker void. Neither of us had any expectations of this establishment. As it was mid afternoon, not all stalls were opened but we still managed to satisfy our taste buds with char siew, roasted meats and minced pork, fish balls mee pok soup at under SGD$20 including cab fare.

After our meal, we were so intrigued by this neighbourhood, we took a walk around the block. Across the road was the Tiong Bahru Club Singapura which looked very interesting. If our bellies weren’t so full, we would have gladly plonked ourselves at a table for a few tasty beverages and sample their menu. We walked further along this interesting building with its wide verandah which houses various specialty shops, businesses, then someone’s home, then a bar, eatery and it goes on. This is definitely an interesting part of time we will venture back to and really spend some time here checking it out.

When we were ready for dinner, we ventured out to Makansutra Gluttons Bay.   This is an open air hawker place on the Esplanade. Smack bang between Marina Bay Sands and the Fullerton boardwalk near the Grand Prix grandstand overlooking Marina Bay. It was an alley filled with tables on one side and food stalls on the other side. There were plenty of families and friends enjoying a meal on a lovely evening in picturesque surroundings.

There were plenty of offerings and it was bustling. We ordered a mi goreng which was comprised of red noodles (not really sure why the noodles where red) which were a bit too salty and carrot cake (a specialty). After dinner, we walked along the esplanade, which had a number of other eateries on the waterfront to the Boat Quay area, back to our hotel. It was a good, if not sweaty 3kms away. That was our exercise for the weekend to walk off our food and drinks so far while enjoying a spectacular view of the museum precinct, the bright lights of the financial district, the impressive Fullerton Hotel and Boat Quay on the other side of the river (it is not officially a river anymore as the mouth is dammed so the water can serve as the drinking water for the small nation).

The next morning, we were bright, chirpy and eager again to explore our hawker intentions. By pass the hotel breakfast (we were checking out at 2:00pm) and off we went to Maxwell Food Centre for our first meal of the day.

We are not really sure if it was due to Sunday but not all stalls were open. It seems like that sleeping in isn’t an unusual thing with quite a lot of stalls opening at 11:00am. Like home though, there was a crowd that was mixed with a few early birds and the lycra wearing contingent we are used to seeing at our local coffee shops and cafes. With limited choice, we went for the old staples of chicken rice and laksa. I could seriously do a laksa odyssey too as this dish is also famed in Singapore. In Perth, there are good and great versions of laksa but they are never quite the same as the way they taste in Singapore.

Not quite satisfied with our first haul, we jumped in a cab and headed to Lau Pa Sat for a plate of char siew and roast pork. They don’t fail with these two delicacies in this country either.

After a quick rest at the hotel, we went to East Coast Lagoon Food Centre for a plate of rojak with barbecued cuttlefish and charcoal flame grilled satays & chickens wings.

Then it was time for the airport for our 6:40pm flight. The beauty about flying this late is that you can go to the airport for some lazy browsing, last minute shopping and of course some more eating. Since we had a few hours to kill, we had a relaxing 45minute massage before we ventured up to Food Street upstairs for some more local delights. This time, chicken curry and shrimp dumpling soup. And finally, a quick duty free jaunt before heading to the boarding gates for our flight home.

Overall, a quick eating trip to Singapore was more than satisfactory. Eating is a national past time in this country and judging from the capacities at most eateries, food is in abundance too. From cheap and cheerful to middle of the road to talented Michelin decorated establishments and everything in between.

We squeezed in so much in just a full day and a half. Imagine what you can achieve with a couple if not just one more day! It also shows that you don’t have to spend a fortune in a city that is renowned for expensive restaurants and drinks. There are many, many hawker centres we have been to before that we could not fit in this weekend. From Newton Circus, People’s Park, the ones in nearly every shopping centre on Orchard Road, to the magnitude of hawkers under HDB apartments, you can easily eat awesome food and have a couple of cold Tigers in a hawker centre, walking out without spending SGD$25 for both of you. Don’t even get me started on Chinatown or other suburban centres.

On a sad note, we arrived home after midnight and a few hours sleep later back to the reality of Monday to Friday work life. Was it worth it? We would do it again in a heartbeat! Till next time Singapore! Even with your rain, thunderstorms (my husband in particular loves the tropical rain at this time of year) and humid hot temperatures with no breeze, you still managed to show us a great time.

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