I’m a big fan of Anthony Bourdain, whether it’s his television shows or his books, the guy has a dry wit and a sense of humor that I can really appreciate. A couple of years ago, he premiered a show called The Layover on the Travel Channel and just so his first episode was about his quick layover in Singapore. Singapore immediately shot to the top of my “must visit” list, if not for the food, then at least for the great party atmosphere. Although I’ve previously been to Singapore once as a teenager(with my parents no less) frankly, I don’t recall anything particular exciting or riveting about the island nation. However, that episode really struck a cord with me and I made the trek out to Singapore in fall of 2012.
Among Bourdain’s first stop was breakfast at Tiong Bahru hawker centre located in the Tiong Bahru Estate neighborhood(big surprise there), a neighborhood known for it’s hipster vibe and coffee houses. While cool, the focus of this post is on the variety of food offered at Tiong Bahru Hawker centre. The beauty of a hawker center is that they are substantially cleaner than any street establishments while still maintaining the deliciousness and authenticity of street food. Apparently the Singaporean government cracked down on all the street vendors, forced them all indoors and established sanitary and food prep laws that all the vendors abide by. That means, you can eat all you want without having to reach for the diarrhea medication.
Being that it was my first day in Singapore, I trudged out early in the morning to try and beat the oppressive humidity and heat. I got off at the Tiong Bahru MRT station which will drop you off in a middle of a food court/mall that also has some pretty darn good food. If you start walking east and you end up at a Shell gas station(like we did) then you’ve gone too far. The best way is to ask the attendant where Tiong Bahru is and they will get you turned to the right direction.
All food establishments are located on the second floor. Food ranged from a lot of traditional Singaporean, Malaysian, Chinese and Indian fare, which means that it was 100% delicious. For me, I wanted a traditional morning meal called nasi lemak which has it’s root in traditional Malaysian cuisine. As seen above, it’s a mix of coconut rice, fried chicken, peanuts, dried anchovies and sambal. Sounds heavy right? It was. I had to take a nap afterwards.
Next to the nasi lemak is a container of lychee tofu pudding. While I’m quite familiar with tofu pudding, it wasn’t till my last trip to Taiwan did I find out that such exotic flavors are actually quite common across Asia. All I can say is that the light sweetness of the sugar water combined with the awesomeness of lychee made it a great cool-down snack in Singapore.
Carrot cake(though it has no carrots) otherwise known as fried radish cake, and also known as chai tow keway. Is a pretty common dish across Malaysia, Singapore and Hong Kong. It contains cubes of radishes that are processed and then cut into cubes, then fried up in sauce. And it’s absolutely… stunning.
Char Kway Teow, otherwise known as 河粉 in Chinese. Is a fried rice noodle dish that is popular all across Singapore and Malaysia. If beef noodle soup is to Taiwan, then char kway teow is to Singapore. It’s a slightly salty, fragrant noodle dish that is mixed with prawns, peanuts and perhaps an assortment of vegetables such as bean sprouts. Just don’t make the same mistake that I did which was request the carrot cake be made extra spicy. There’s spicy, and then there’ Asian spicy. Don’t make the same mistake I did and end up ruining the rest of my afternoon.
How to Get There
We took the MRT and got off at the Tiong Bharu station on the green line. There is a bit of a walk to get to the market since it’s hidden away in a bunch of residential complexes. If you do get lost, just ask a local since everyone here speaks English.
Sure there are bigger and more well known hawker centers such as Maxwell in Chinatown, but I like Tiong Bahru because it’s smaller and more intimate. Truth be told, it gets to a point that all hawker centers sell the same type of food, therefore, you can get your fix at Tiong Bharu if you don’t feel like rubbing elbows with everyone out there. In addition, my Singaporean friends have told me that Tiong Bahru is less of a tourist hawker center. But that might change with the fact that Anthony Bourdain took viewers here.
Address 30 Seng Poh Road #02-74, Singapore 168898