Singapore Hawker Stop : Tiong Bahru Food Market and Hawker Centre
One thing I love about Singapore is that the government gives a BIG importance to food safety and sanitation. Wherever we go, be it a high-end restaurant or a hole-in-a-wall eatery, you'd see laminated colored letter signages on the wall of these food places. These are the sanitation grading that they have received and so far I've been seeing a lot of As and Bs and haven't came across a C yet.
For our first weekend, we decided to check out the Tiong Bahru Food Market and Hawker Centre. This is one of the more popular hawker centres near our area. We got there by bus 33 which is just a quick 15 minute ride away.
We then spotted this stall selling a popular local dessert called Chwee Kuey (S$1/4 pcs). In Paul's words, it's the long lost brother of the Pinoy Putong Puti. While normally, we like our puto (glutinous rice cake) sweet, this had some salty pickled veggies on top. Perhaps, the thought of mixing sweet and salty can turn some people off, we really liked it. It's not one that we would have for dessert though but rather it can me an appetizer to our meal. The rice cake was soft, fluffy and a bit sticky. It was a bit bland too. Thus, we really liked the salty pickled veggie on top as this one brought out the interesting flavor of the entire dish. In Hokkien, this is very similar to our kiam-tsai (salty vegetable). Now if you can imagine putting both our putong puti and kiam tsai together, it actually makes a lot of sense, doesn't it?
Moving on, we spotted Hong Heng Fried Sotong Prawn Mee and the aroma was quickly drawing us closer and closer to the stall. One thing we learned as we dine at hawker centres is that you don't need to have a long list of specialties to make it big. Take this stall for instance, they only sell one thing and if only you can see the line that forms in front of this stall every day! The prawn mee comes in 3 sizes: small (S$3), medium (S$4) and large (S$5). The serving is quite generous that what we got was the small plate (S$3) and it was already good for two!
One way to navigate your way around the hawker centres or even in mall food courts is to follow the line. Somehow there's always a queue (as they call it here) everywhere! For someone like me who hates lining up, I have to make sure that I buy my lunch ahead of time or to go after lunch hour is over. While service is really fast and efficient, I guess it's really just the impatient streak in me who hates waiting in line even for a few minutes. As Paul carried our plates to a table, I lined up in front of the Teochew Fishball Noodle Stall.
I got the Kway Teow Soup (S$3) which was once again, big enough to be shared by two. Look how pretty my soup looks! It's literally filled with yummy handmade fish balls! The soup broth was very clear and refreshing and surprisingly had zero MSG in it. For those who doesn't want to have anything oily, then this is the best choice for you. I enjoyed "digging" into our noodle soup to try the different fish balls and dumplings added into our soup.
Here, Paul got the Asado Pao while I had the Siomai for only $S1.70 for both! The siomai was not bad but nothing quite amazing about it too. I've had better siomais elsewhere. Paul had the same feeling towards the Asado Pao. Ho-hum.
Paul is truly, madly and deeply in love with the Ice Chendol (S$1.70). Yes, my dear friends, I share Paul's heart with a bowl of crushed ice topped with red beans, green pandan jelly, glass jelly, corn, coconut milk and palm sugar. It's Singapore's version of what we know as Halo-Halo. He first had this during our trip last 2010 and the image of this mouthwatering dessert never left his mind ever since. This can be served in a cup or a bowl, depending on your preference.
If the Ice Chendol is similar to the Pinoy Halo Halo, then the Bo Bo Cha Cha (S$1.50) is comparable to our Guinataan. This is a popular and colorful dessert filled with sweet yam, sweet potatoes, colorful jellies, sago and cooked with coconut milk. It's served with crushed ice too but I heard it can also be eaten hot. I loved it! Just thinking about it is making me crave for another bowl.
For our last dessert, we had the Mango Pudding. This was bought by our friend O, who joined us for dinner that evening. He was really so supportive of our Hawker Challenge that he made us try this interesting dessert as well. This one is great for kids! Mango pudding with fruit cocktail and crushed ice. Another yummy dessert and truly refreshing too.
If Manila has fast food joints and Jolly jeeps in the Central Business District (CBD), here we have hawker centres which is not only limited to CBDs but can be found in residential areas too. I'm so lucky that there's one that's just a few steps away from my office and this is where I would buy lunch almost everyday. I love the variety yet at times, this can be quite challenging as I couldn't make up my mind whether I'd like to get chicken rice or duck noodles, or perhaps go healthy with some salad or to keep it light with a piece of curry puff with a fruit juice. The choices are literally endless and by that I'm talking about stalls after stalls of yumminess.
This then gave Paul and I the idea to do our Saturday night project in which we call the Singapore Hawker Challenge. With a set budget of S$15 for the two of us, we would check out a different hawker centre per weekend.
The hawker centre is located at the 2nd level of the entire complex. I was impressed that this one had an escalator so no need to climb all your way up to good food. Normally, hawker centres are extremely busy during the weekdays where it's the go-to place for most office workers. The vibe during the weekend is more relaxed and some stalls are not open too.
For first time hawker visitors, the number of busy stalls and the quick pace can be quite intimidating. Personally, I like to do a quick round before making my decision. Of course, that is if you're not in a rush. Go around and check out the different dishes or cuisines being offered. Expect to see a good mix of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Indonesian and a bit of Western in almost all hawker centres.
I just have to say that I LOVEEEEEE the prawn mee. It was one of the best that I've had here in Singapore so far and I even would daydream about it days after our Tiong Bahru visit. The noodles had a perfect bite and the consistency of the sauce was just right. A bit creamy yet not too saucy. This dish was truly a winner and I highly recommend for you all to try this.
Lastly, we ended our meal with some dessert! Singapore actually has a number of local desserts which are really worth trying. Most of these comes with crushed ice as to help you beat the heat during the day. I bought our desserts from the Tian Tian Yuan Dessert House which also had a line but a shorter one this time (thank goodness!).
So, were we successful with our first challenge? Here's the breakdown:
Starting money: S$15
less: Prawn Mee (S$3)
less: Kuey Teow Soup (S$3)
less: Chwee Kuey (S$1)
less: Tiong Bahru Pau dimsum (S$1.70)
less: Ice Chendol (S$1.70)
less: Bo Bo Cha Cha (S$1.5)
Remaining balance: S$3.10 = SUCCESS!
We went home so full from our hawker challenge and feeling extremely triumphant that got to spend below our set budget.
Check out the Tiong Bahru Food Market and Hawker Centre at 30 Seng Poh Road, Tiong Bahru, Singapore. This is located right across Link Hotel.