This May I decided to take a long-overdue holiday and made a trip to Singapore, where I was born and raised. It’d been nearly two years since my last visit and I wanted to spend some time with my family there.
And of course, I was missing the local hawker cuisine dearly.
Oh, the food. Yes, there are a handful of Singaporean and Malaysian restaurants here in Melbourne, but somehow the taste is not quite the same. And it’s a lot more expensive — an average of $10+ for a main here, compared to $3 at a Singaporean hawker centre (albeit a smaller Asian-sized serving).
So after landing in Singapore, I made sure to visit a nearby hawker centre to get my fill. And the day after. And the day after that, until my holiday was over and it was time for me to board my flight home to Melbourne.
For those who’ve never been to Singapore, the local hawker centres are a gastronomic paradise. Rows upon rows of food stalls under one roof, each offering a different local ethnic specialty at a very economical price – it rarely gets better than that. These hawker centres came about in the 1970s when the government decided to relocate the street vendors into purpose-built open-air centres where hygiene standards could be enforced. Indeed, today each hawker stall is assigned a ‘hygiene rating’ resulting from their annual food safety inspection.
Now an integral part of Singaporean food culture, just about everyone has an opinion of which hawker centre is ‘better’, whether it’s the widest range of food available, to which hawker centre has the best Chicken Rice. In fact, it is not uncommon for die-hard foodies to drive to the other side of the island just to visit their favourite food haunt.
I think no visit to Singapore is complete without a trip to the nearest hawker centre. Eating the way the locals do is always an experience in itself. There’s no air-conditioning, so you’re sweating away if you order spicy food. Then there’s the noise of a hundred conversations going on around you. And the arduous hunt for seating, especially in the popular hawker centres. But at the same time, all this creates a unique atmosphere, one that isn’t quite the same in the air-conditioned food courts.
For me, there’s nothing better than being spoilt for choice and being able to eat like a king for under $10.