Troy Hightower

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Hawker Center Food - Singapore

Singapore Hawker Centers -- originally dingy, dim sheds crammed with street vendor carts have morphed into full food courts, and are a vital part of Singapore life and the source of some of Singapore’s best food. Lau Pa Sat is perhaps one of the most iconic Hawker Centers, set in a Victorian cast-iron and glass building, but is under renovation and unavailable during our stay.

During a visit to the incredible new Gardens by the Bay, we made time for lunch at its Hawker Center - Satay by the Bay. There we tucked into skewers of satay cooked over smoking charcoal - beef--a bit tough, pork belly--incredibly sumptuous, and very fresh chili prawn, all served with chopped red onion, cucumber and peanut sauce. We had our first introduction to poppiah...a fresh spring roll of Malay origin--thin flour crepes interestingly made by rolling a ball of dough on a hot grill to create a thin wrapper, which is then spread with chili-peanut sauce, filled with cooked jicama, carrot, green bean, tofu, shredded egg, and bean sprouts - a most tasty dish.  Chile crab is a classic hawker food that shouldn’t be missed - meaty crabs in a silky chili-tomato sauce with a good bit of heat. The crabs are equivalent to stone crabs, and take work to get at the meat, are but face-licking good. A cold draft Tiger, and what could be better.

Tang’s Market, in the basement of Singapore’s top department store is a newer hawker center, with outposts of some of Singapore's best food vendors. Here we dug into a wide variety of hawker foods:

Pang Susie--sweet potato buns filled with spiced pork that are unusual for the color and texture of the bun made from yam flesh

Another poppiah from Kway Guan Huat Joo Chiat, the vendor said to be “Poh Piah Maker to Singapore's President and Prime Minister" - this is one of our favorite Singapore food discoveries.

Amy Yip’s Big Bao—steamed buns stuffed with pork, chicken, egg and jicama and mushrooms - big doesn’t seem to be better when it comes to bao.

Penang shrimp and broad rice noodle char kway teow with chinese sausage, bean sprouts and herbs in a piquant black sauce was terrific.

Crispy skinned suckling pig from New Market Teochew was the most expensive of foods we ate, but tender, crispy and very porky.

Not just at hawker centers, spicy chicken wings are ubiquitous in Singapore - grilled or fried without batter, and then coated in a sweet, hot, spicy sauce redolent of ginger, garlic, chili, and soy - these babies beat Buffalo wings hands down.

Quo tie, the pan-fried crescent-shaped dumplings we know as pot stickers can be surprisingly good—especially if they are allowed to get brown and chewy on the bottom—with fragrant pork and shrimp filling and spicy salty soy/chile dipping sauce.

One of the most famous hawker foods is Hainanese Chicken Rice, but plain boiled chicken with white rice had little appeal to us, and we opted for more flavorful items. Perhaps next time.

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