The dizzying array of hawker grub has disrupted many a diet. Yet, despite some fabulous food that keeps us going back for more, sometimes mediocre meals also manage to make their way into our CBD lunches. An utter waste of calories and grease.
Here, we roundup a couple of standout, must-try dishes from two of Chinatown’s finest hawker centres, namely, Chinatown Complex Food Centre and Hong Lim Complex; complete with mini reviews and opening times of course.
1. Chinatown complex food centre
A culturally-vibrant ethnic enclave, Chinatown offers sights of a gracefully-ageing population with tables of folks immersed in their chess games, exquisite temples and fresh produce at the wet markets.
Despite its tired facade, and the fact that it fell through the cracks and missed its mention on Crazy Rich Asians, this complex is a blast from the past. Built around a ground-level car park, the centre of the building is hollowed out, and a pair of escalators will take you through to the food centre on the second storey and over 200 stalls of food. This was once Singapore’s best-kept secret until the Michelin Guide gave it away. These days, the star-studded food complex is thronging with tourists and locals alike.
Address: 335 Smith Street, Singapore 050335
Nearest MRT: Chinatown (Exit A)
Find yourself wandering around this tourist hotspot and up for some munchies? Ann is your man. Ann Chin is also the legacy of a former coolie, Mr Lim, who hails from a master of handmade Popiah Skin, hometown in Fujian. Today, with a total of 10 outlets across Singapore, the one in Chinatown is frequented by old-timers who love a good kueh pie tee (4 for $3), an old-school yam roll ($1.60) and of course, popiah. Get more than a serving of Kueh Pie Tee because they are extremely addictive. Ann Chin generously doles out fillings, although not as much turnip stuffings as I would have preferred, and sauces are slightly on the sweeter side. Hit them up for a good dose of nostalgia.
Opening hours: Daily, 7am – 5.30pm, closed on Thu
Scrape the 4.5-hour flight to Taiwan because you can now treat yourself to a hearty Taiwanese meal at Give Me MORE! with its comprehensive menu. Must-tries are definitely the signature braised beef tendon and shank noodles (duh) and lurou fan (braised pork rice). Definitely go for the deeply-flavoured beef noodles ($7.50), a hearty broth served with wobbly chunks of tendons. Rice bowls ($5) come with a boiled egg that is a steal. The best part of this stall? Adding diversity to hyperlocal hawker centres.
Opening hours: Daily, 9am – 3pm, closed on Mon
Depending on what you order, Jin Ji will serve you either old-school Teochew Kway Chup ( 粿汁 ) in ubiquitous hawker ware or a hearty Kway Chup set in a bento ($8). The bento comes with yam rice rolls slightly salted with dried shrimps, salted vegetables and braised duck and pork innards, all aesthetically plated and served with LAVA eggs. Mod-sin or Japanese-Singaporean fusion—you decide. Here, fats is scraped off the skin for a crisper bite and also, for health reasons. People with an overt sense of smell may find fault with the well-braised intestines, but otherwise, help yourself to an extra serving of that tangy, garlicky chilli sauce. For novelty’s sake, get the bento set because, the rice.
Opening hours: Daily, 10am – 6pm, closed on Fri
As much as we abhor queues, this one may well be an exception. For a mere $2.50, you get a plate of plump soya sauce chicken. Oh, and bragging rights to having tried the “cheapest Michelin meal”. Save for some disgruntled customers and inflated expectations after its explosive fame, Hawker Chan continues to satisfy char siew cravings. By char siew, we really are referring to honey-glazed, grilled pork with proper charred corners; and not stringy pieces of meat, dyed-red trying to pass off as char siew. Kudos for that.
Opening hours: Daily, 10:30am – 3pm, closed on Wed
$2 Laksa, erhamagad. The last time you found cooked food for $2 was when policemen were still driving BMWs. Lucky for us, Woo Ji’s owners haven’t gotten the memo about inflation, and if they have, then bless their hearts. All items on their short menu are $2—Laksa, Prawn Noodles and Fried Wontons. It is old-school, delectable and creamy, topped with copious servings of prawn slices, fishcakes and tau pok. Point is, short menus are good, generous servings are good, because we really don’t need the paradox of choice, especially during peak hour. We have to say though, get there well before closing for a chance to try their laksa.
Opening hours: Wed – Sun, 6am – 10am
Another veritable Michelin-starred joint. Dumpling fanatics should rejoice! This family-owned stall came about when the affable Mr. Li moved to Singapore after his wife was offered a job here in 1997. Missing honest-to-goodness Chinese food, he decided to set up shop in Singapore. For 60 cents a (massive) pop—they come in a steamer of 10, each a hearty serving of minced pork, wrapped in delicate dumpling skin. The dumplings here seem softer than usual, likely due to a higher fatty ratio. Another good snack is the Guo Tie, a chockfull of meat that is slightly crisp at the bottom. Definitely dip it in vinegar.
If however you’re up for a (mild) kick, go for the Szechuan spicy wantons ($4.50 for 10) doused in chilli oil and served with a good spray of vinegar. For a meal more substantial, there is the beef noodles ($4), Zhajiangmian ($3.50). Our one gripe: they haven’t yet jumped on the mega-XLB bandwagon.
Opening hours: Daily, 11:30am – 3pm; 5pm – 8:30pm, closed Tue
2. Hong Lim Market and Food Centre
Despite its gory past as a massacre site during the Japanese Occupation, Hong Lim Market Food Centre has long broken away from darker days. Today, it is also a Michelin-starred studded two-storey affair and during peak hours, wait times can stretch up to longer than your break times.
In fact, we reached the building at 12pm, peak hour, only to be greeted by long queues, which continued unabated as we left around 2pm.
Curiously, almost like a practice here, shops with the most buzz capitalise on their success by spanning operations across more than one stall front.
Address: 31A Upper Cross Street, Singapore 051531
Nearest MRT: Chinatown (Exit G)
Tucked away in a corner, Ah Heng doesn’t do anything by halves. Not the generous chicken chunks, the fiery, aromatic curry soup or the juicy tau kua. Uncle Heng’s strict adherence to quality has led to many newspaper features and consistently long queues; and this concoction is the best rainy day indulgence. For ($4.50), expect a carb overload of noodles, potatoes topped with copious ingredients, but feel free to zhng it up with a chicken drumstick (additional $2). For that burn on your tongue, add their fabulous chilli.
Opening hours: Daily, 10am – 9pm
Not to be confused with Ah Heng Noodles, Ah Heng Duck Rice is a veritable Kway Chup store with a standout neon signage. As someone who vehemently avoids intestine and its accompanying rubbery texture and sour smell, I was pleasantly surprised that Ah Heng over-delivered. Intestines were braised to perfection, and were fatty, slightly salty and smelt purely of spices from the lor. A well-done kway chup has many oft-overlooked components to it, and whilst appears deceptively simple, is anything but. Definitely order a very enjoyable side of preserved veg ($1) for a tangy kick, if you have rice. 10/10 will rec.
Opening hours: Daily, 6.30am – 4pm, closed on Mon
Raring for more comfort food? Try Cantonese Delights, Hong Lim’s version of Monster curry, but hyperlocal for our Singaporean tastebuds. This stall is tucked at the end of Hong Lim Complex where the crowd is thinner; and requires a bit of hunting. For braving the queue that usually stretches around the corner, you will be rewarded with Q noodles drenched in souped-up coconut curry and topped with chicken cutlet fried to a crisp ($4.50). If you’re not squirmish, another must-order is the chicken feet noodles ($3.50), portions are filling and it is a bang for your buck. An indulgence for rainy days and post break-up. Yes, we said it.
Opening hours: Daily, 10am – 3pm, closed on Fri
Their two signature dishes are the mee siam and the laksa ($5), and their claim to fame is the Bib Gourmand. It seems a bit bizarre to have so many of our local food stores tied up with the “Michelin” brand, but if Michelin is anything to go by, this “Famous Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa”, is worth the calories. Firstly, broths here seem lighter, unlike thicker, coconut-based curries, so you won’t get gelat as much. Secondly, the slight briny, acidic kick of the mee siam that you’ll taste, is from a concoction of fruit juice; further flavoured with dried scallops, oysters and cockles. Lastly, equal attention paid to the rest of the ingredients…think, tender shredded chicken. We slurped up every last bit of it. Top up ($4) for crayfish because you deserve it after the long wait.
Opening hours: Daily, 10:30am – 4:30pm, closed on Sun
It is not uncommon to see a long queue to this stall, snaking across 3 aisles, but what do you expect from another Michelin-starred establishment? (Enough already, we know). This one has operated since 1939 and with three stalls spanning across Singapore, each manned by a different brother, Hill Street never disappoints. To get the most out of your meal, coat the springy noodles with the saucey goodness, along with the minced meat and chili. ($6) will get you the smallest bowl, with slivers of pork, pork liver, a dumpling, a piece of flat fried fish and meatballs. To answer your question, Tai Wah is not overrated, although their noodles err a bit on the vinegary side, so be sure to put in a request for less, if that’s not your thang.
Opening hours: Daily, 10:30am – 7:30pm
Most stalls in Hong Lim trace their heritage back to half a century ago, and this Old Stall is not an exception. Since 1943, the Old Stall has cooked up fed the stomachs and hearts of many a Singaporeans. This stall sees a long queue but a fast-moving one.
Because I love my noods spicy, I always get the dry option, wherever I go. But whilst at the Old Stall, definitely get the prawn noodles soup. Its a rich stock, (NO MSG), boiled for hours with pig tails, prawn shells and pork ribs. Morsels of pork ribs tender, fall-of-the-bone and be sure to request for their special homemade chili sauce. In all, a comforting simple but tasty bowl of noodles.
Opening hours: Daily, 9am – 2pm, closed on Thu
Another Bib Gourmand, Outram Park Fried Kway Teow delivers. With a storied 80 years of heritage, heart and soul is poured into each bowl of food. For one, the owners start food prep at 2am. They’re getting on in age, and there are no successors to the business yet.
A good CKT is the ultimate Instagram-bait dish. It is greasy, smoked-kissed, slightly wet and a plate of carb overload, but who’s counting calories in a hawker centre? A good plate of fried kway teow is a substantial one with wok hei, subtly sweet and a chockfull of plump cockles, fishcake, lap cheong and you po (pork lard)—basically a sensory experience. You have a choice of spicy or non-spicy noodles, but chili is always a great complement. Add an extra egg for ($0.50).
Note that at the time of writing, the stall will undergo a reno
Opening hours: Tue – Thu 6am – 4pm; Mon – Sat 6am – 3.30pm
($10 for hor fun)—how about no? But what about $10 for an “elevated” seafood hor fun dish replete with crayfish? We know a good deal when we (eat) one. Tuck Kee Ipoh Sah Ho Fun has kept its rolodex of regulars because the stall owners believe in feeding their customers only fresh crayfish and fresh prawns for its dumpling. Of course, the down side is that when crayfish were in short supply, customers couldn’t get their fix. This is really a souped-up version of our horfun, the zup tasted foreign—less glutinous, a little thinner, sweetened up by the seafood and spiced up with pepper. The real gem: a surprise find of creamy roe if you’re lucky.
Opening hours: Daily, 11am – 2:45pm, closed on Sun
Coming up: Part II of the CBD GUIDE series covering Market Street Interim Hawker Centre and Maxwell Hawker Centre