Photos coming soon! When we re-launched The 3 Star Traveler we lost many of the original photos from posts. Lori is gradually working her way through past posts and uploading the photos once again. Check back soon!
I’ve put off writing this post for a while. Looking back I think it was because I knew once I finished it, I’d be sitting at my computer, one click away from buying a plane ticket back to Singapore. For a city that had us feeling disoriented and mildly disappointed upon arrival, the transformation we underwent in four days was amazing. Our time in Singapore quickly became a visit we wished would never end.
Yes, I did say mildly disappointed. I’m not sure what I expected of Singapore. Now that I think about it I’m pretty sure it was that I wanted the food hawkers handed to me without much work on my part to find them. That was nowhere near the case. As it turns out, though, our adventures in finding them are some of the best memories we have of our time there.
I’ve eaten at busy churrascarias on a Sunday afternoon in Brazil. I’ve shuffled sideways through the tourist filled streets of Prague and a few days before this trip I drug a suitcase through a crowded street market in Hong Kong. Yet, nothing prepared me for the experience that is the hawker in Singapore.
There were bright lights, pictures of foods both familiar and unidentifiable, writing I couldn’t pronounce even if I tried, vendors asking what we were looking for and long lines snaking through the seating area as diners waited to order their food. It was unlike any dining atmosphere I’ve encountered and it was incredible.
Yes, I often had to take a seat just to get my bearings and soak it all in, but I would go back and wait patiently in a line the length of the building at a hawker in Singapore in a heartbeat. However, when that time comes, there are a few things I learned from this first visit that I will be sure to take into consideration when planning next.
Get yourself a guide. Our first stop was a bookstore in a mall near Boat Quay. I’m sure there are lots of guides that can help you navigate the foods of Singapore, but I wanted this one – Makansutra Singapore 2009. This guide didn’t provide maps so we did have to reference those when looking for the hawker centers, but this guide rates the best dishes from the best hawkers and tells you in what area of town to find them. In addition, there are wonderful descriptions of hundreds of dishes which is helpful when wanting to know exactly what you are eating and for writing posts and articles like, well, this one.
Don’t expect it to be easy. I have to say I’m pretty proud of us for uncovering the locations of the some of the hawkers we sought out. My most vivid memory is the night we searched for the Soup Tulang at the Golden Mile Food Center located on Beach Road. It took a long metro ride, combined with getting lost at night, asking a kind woman for directions, then walking a few blocks until we could smell the food cooking. Be prepared to spend some time traveling to the best hawkers and don’t be afraid to ask for directions.
Plan to be overwhelmed. The lights and people alone may require you to sit and gather your thoughts before decided what to eat and where to order it. You may walk into a hawker knowing exactly what you want to eat, and then once you see the lights, menus and lines, completely forget what you went there for. Take your time and enjoy every bite.
Follow the No Reservations trail. Yes, we did, and do this quite often in our travels. If we hadn’t then we never would have known to look for the Maxwell Food Center on Maxwell Road to try the Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice or the Soup Tulang from Hajir Kadir from the Golden Mile Food Center. It doesn’t have to be a specific guide or show you follow, but the advice of others, even that from national television, can help you discover some delicious food.
But also make your own path. If we hadn’t set off to discover some foods on our own, or simply walked up to some vendors and ordered what looked good, we would have missed out on a lot. This would have included Mee Chiang Kueh (a sweet dough with fillings such as peanut or grated coconut), Roti John (a Panini-like sandwich with eggs and onion), Wonton Mee (egg noodles with pork and filled dumplings), and Chai Tow Kueh or Carrot Cake (white radishes in a rice flour batter with egg, garlic and other veggies).
Forget the numbers. I read a lot of numbers prior to our trip that were supposed to tell me the location of a vendor within a hawker. About the only place this helped was at the frequently visited Lau Pa Sat. Otherwise, I never even saw the numbers on the vendor’s booths. They are difficult to find. Use this method if you choose, but we found it much easier to follow the lines if it is a popular place you are looking for. Otherwise, know what the food looks like or the name and give a random vendor a shot.
Know the schedules. While the numbers didn’t help us, hours of operation did. This is where a book like the Makansutra guide comes in handy. Some hawkers like the Maxwell Food Center cater more to the lunch crowd while you can get some foods at other hawkers like the one in Chinatown until late at night. Vendors also have different closing days and they can be random such as Tuesdays twice a month. If you have your heart set on trying a food find out the location and schedule of the specific vendor so you don’t miss out during your visit.
The articles, television shows and travel blogs don’t lie. Singapore is a food paradise. We enjoyed some of the most outstanding food we’ve ever had the opportunity to try. And it’s not just the food, but the experience surrounding it. Long lines, dumplings being rolled, oil splashing out of hot woks, food slapped quickly on a plate cooked to perfection – there is simply nothing like Singapore.