There are innumerable lists, polls and guides to Singapore’s best hawker stalls. Even then, you’ll find that nothing quite ignites a conversation among Singaporeans like the subject of where their favourite hawker foods can be found. The truth is, the dishes that ought not to be missed and the stalls where the very best versions of them can be found are personal choices based upon individual taste preferences, family traditions, collective memories and cultural idiosyncrasies. Your best strategy is to eat widely and adventurously.
A single hawker meal at just one location will never give you a full understanding of the depth and complexity of the Singaporean hawker experience. In fact, locals make the trek to far-flung locations and get in line just to indulge in one beloved dish. Accept that there is no one-stop hawker centre where you’ll score a clutch of best-of hits. Grab the opportunity to sample a little something at morning, noon and night, and you’ll quickly discover what you like best. Don’t skip the iconic hawkers that make it to every tourist’s list. They’re often on Singaporeans’ lists, too. But that doesn’t make the rest any less exceptional or authentic.
Dish: Bak kut teh
Where to try: Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut Teh
A peppery consommé made using pork ribs and bones (you’ll find a darker, more herbal version in neighbouring Malaysia), bak kut teh was traditionally the breakfast of choice among dock labourers in Singapore’s early days as a major shipping port. While the stall that tends to be most talked about is Ng Ah Sio on Rangoon Road, you’ll find renowned chef Tetsuya Wakuda at Old Tiong Bahru most mornings when he’s in Singapore enjoying the clean flavours of the Teochew-style pork rib soup with hearty soy-braised pigs’ trotters and homemade dough sticks (you tiao). Order the slightly pricier long gu bak kut teh, which will contain the more flavourful, meatier bits of pork rib closer to the back bone. Wash it down with a pot of Chinese tea, as the locals do.
58 Seng Poh Road, #01-31. Open 6.30am–9pm. Closed Monday.
Find more local favourites in Feast magazine, April 2015, Issue 41.