One of the highly listed must do things in Singapore is to eat at a Hawker Centre. These are similar to food courts though without any air conditioning. The set up might be a bit different depending on which one you plan to go to. But first, you’ve got to get a table.
Hawker Centres tend to be crowded no matter the time of day , so usually people hover and pounce on a table as soon as it looks like its current occupants are leaving. This is something I’ve been getting accustomed to in Korea, where if I even look like I’m starting to pack up I’ll find someone has beelined straight to me to wait impatiently for me to leave. It wasn’t nearly as awkward feeling in Singapore. When we went to Chomp Chomp we just walked to a table after it’s guests left and took it, rather than hover menacingly over it. And when we went to a different center in the morning for breakfast we just found a space where there were enough empty seats and asked the current users if we could take the other half of their table.
In each case, while everyone else in my group sat their things down at the table, I did a quick walk through to see what they offered and then grabbed a seat and let my friends surprise me. This was fun.
I sat at our new table and waited for someone to clean it off. The three of them headed off with our table number to put in our orders with the number so our food could be delivered to us .
The food included bbq chicken wings with tiny tiny limes (or actually calamansi). They’re not spicy and quite good, but a bit messy. The calamansi were small and cut already so that we could easily squeeze the juice over the wings.
Hokkien Mee noodles which came with half a calamansi lime, some spicy pepper paste, and a combination of stir fried egg and rice noodles and some seafood. I greatly enjoyed all the bites I ate that hadn’t come into contact with the red pepper paste.
The above pictured oyster omelette was a favorite of our birthday friend. It has oysters, egg, green onions and maybe a couple other seafood creatures hiding in there and came with spicy chili sauce. However, this one mixed with the heat of Chomp Chomp (no air flow) turned out to be not as good as usual, so it was probably, as a whole for our table, the least favorite item we’d ordered.
Chomp Chomp Hawker Centre is arguably most famous for its satay. It was a couple different types of meat with a nice peanut sauce for dipping. Inside the weaved banana leaves was some rice.
Carrot cake means something different in Singapore. Instead of a fluffy dessert it’s more like a fried meal made out of a different root vegetable: radish. The radish is cut up and fried along with garlic and eggs and in the version we got, soy sauce and some seafood (prawn). It’s delicious and was probably the only thing we ordered that the four of us actually finished.
This beast that looks like it belongs in a bar holds no alcohol. Instead it’s a tower of iced sugar cane juice. It was wonderfully refreshing especially since there was almost no air movement in Chow Chow and being surrounded by all the shops cooking up a storm I was a bit too hot to eat as much as I had hoped. You can also get smaller ones. There were four of us and we barely made a dent in it. However I blame exhaustion and heat on it. Actually by the time we finished eating we all felt a little awful that we ran across the street to the 711 to get some vitamin C drinks.
Chomp Chomp is open from 4pm until 12:30am. There are also sinks to wash your hands with soap available and bathrooms on site. You pay at the individual stalls and when you leave you leave your things at your table. Someone will come by and clean it up.
The next morning after almost no sleep my friends suggested we have breakfast at another hawker centre. One that in my dazed state I didn’t get the name of and the only picture I have of the front is of a building with no discerning characteristics. (good job past me, I appreciate the effort) But it was open in the morning, unlike Chomp Chomp and offered a variety of things to enjoy. The set up was different, they had ceiling fans moving air around making it much less stagnant and we were able to share a table with a couple. We didn’t have to worry about having a table number because instead we just stood and picked up our orders at the stands we bought things from. (or that my friends did. I sat and watched our table and seats again instead.) However, this may have been due to it being a only regular busy morning rather than a hectic busy evening. There was a number at our table.
One of my friends ordered us Kway Chap, which consists of large flat rice noodles in a stew. The one we had was rather kind to me as a lot of the traditional additions beyond noodles, soup and veggies were placed on the side. Whether this was my friends doing or the restaurants go to I’m unsure. But usually Kway Chap includes boiled egg, pork belly, pork skin and some of it’s less popular (depending on where you’re from) innards.
There were also some other things mixed in with our side and some chili sauce. I tried some but the noodles were enough for me, especially with everything else that we ended up having with our breakfast. (And the Tau Sar Piah pastry— a flaky delicious pastry with sweet bean paste in the center— I was given almost as soon as I got up.)
To drink I had an iced Milo, which is a chocolate/malt-ish drink that’s popular in more countries then it isn’t. (aka most places outside of Europe and North America) It’s similar to Ovaltine or Nesquik and can be enjoyed hot or cold.
A surprise snack we ended up with was this crispy prawn fritter. It’s essentially a savory pastry with a whole prawn sticking out. Somehow this fell upon me to eat, so I did my best and ate everything…but the eyes. I just couldn’t bring myself to even if they were tiny little dots. You would’ve thought it wouldn’t have been a problem since I eat anchovies whole all the time in Korea (and at Crave) but it was. I think because it was technically breakfast. My adventure level with food tends to be rather low around breakfast time.
And the final snack we got was carrot fingers. They were a very popular choice and delicious, like the carrot cake these are made out of radish. They’re deep fried and soft on the inside and we happily demolished a bag of them. (Think of them as a cousin to a french fry)
For dinner, while we weren’t technically in a hawker centre, I did get something that you can find at a hawker centre. They had a bunch of “no photo signs” around their stand so I figured I’d just take a picture of the food instead. My friends were adamant I try chicken rice. (And of course my oolong with milk foam from Koi) When I saw it I was like oh, it’s chicken with a side of rice and soup. Okay, I get why it’s called chicken rice. But then you eat it and no, it’s not that simple, it’s a bit more literal. The rice tastes like chicken. You’ve been given everything, the chicken, the chicken stock, and rice that some how tastes infused with the same yet subtly different flavor of chicken. It was delicious and filling and I didn’t actually get sick of chicken much to my own surprise. It also comes with cucumber which my chicken slices were resting atop of and sometimes chili sauce which I’m glad I managed to avoid.
I’m sure you can go to a hawker centre on your own. However it might be a bit difficult to secure a table, unless you’re willing to leave something at the table. The one we went to breakfast had smaller tables for one or two people, but Chomp Chomp mostly consisted of large tables for groups. The one we went to also had a nice space for washing your hands and use the bathroom. So, again, first grab a table, know your table number and then order your food. I highly suggest the carrot cake and carrot fingers. They were my favorite.