10 cheap eats in Chinatown
The Chinatown otherwise known as the Kreta Ayer area may be a tourist hot spot, but it’s also where locals go when they want to fill their stomachs with some of Singapore's best (and most affordable) Cantonese fare. Chinatown Complex Food Centre alone is a treasury of good eats. We narrow down the best for you, and also point out what's good nearby.
Outram Park Roasted Meat
Known for turning out authentic Cantonese-style roast meats, this is one of the longest-running stalls in Chinatown Complex. The well-oiled roast duck is tender and flavorful, the marbled char siew is a chewy mouthful of juicy goodness and the perfectly roasted pork with a thick layer of crisp crackling tastes so good you'll want a second serving. Note they serve only rice here, not noodles.
#02-13/14 Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Block 335 Smith Street. Tuesday - Thursday 11 a.m. - 7 p.m.
Xiu Ji Ikan Bilis Yong Tau Fu
You have to wonder how a simple dish of tofu stuffed with fish paste has people queueing from the crack of dawn. The yong tau fu here is skillfully handmade, and the clear soup stock is divinely umami. Xiu Ji takes up two stall units, one of which is solely dedicated to making the yong tau fu. Whether you order soupy or dry noodles, you are given a spoonful of crispy fried ikan bilis to add an extra salty punch. One standard serving (seven items with noodles, nine items without) is only S$3. Expect to queue for 20-30 minutes during peak hours.
#02-87/88 Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Block 335 Smith Street. Tuesday - Thursday 5:45 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice Noodle
This stall has been at the food center for only two years but it’s already built up a reputation for serving some of the best soya sauce chicken in town. The marinade infuses the chicken (especially the skin) with a sweet, salty and gently herbal flavor. A plate of soya sauce chicken noodles costs S$2.50, or take the whole bird for just S$14.
#02-127 Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Block 335 Smith Street. Tuesday - Thursday 11 a.m. - 8 p.m.
Hong Kong Mongkok Tim Sum
This place serves only six kinds of dim sum -- siew mai, har gau, chee cheong fun (prawn and char siew varieties), char siew bao, and chicken feet -- but does them well. Its humble offerings may not have a five-star finish, but they're soaked through with a simple hearty goodness. To deal with the snaking queues, the owners have had to install a digital counter, so don't be surprised if you have to take a number and wait your turn.
#02-97 Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Block 335 Smith Street. Wednesday - Sunday 11 a.m. till sold out
Hai Sing Ah Balling
One look at all the laminated awards and press clippings plastered on the stall and you know this is a household name. Hai Sing sells nothing but dessert and specifically specializes in ah balling -- Teochew-style sweet dumplings made from glutinous rice flour. Choose from different fillings: crushed peanut, red bean, black sesame and even durian. The pandan-flavored sweet soup is perfectly balanced and complements the dumplings. From S$2.50 a bowl.
#02-59 Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Block 335 Smith Street. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday - Sunday noon to 9 p.m. Thursday noon-6 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Loh Mei Specialist
Loh Mei refers to stewed chicken wings, cuttlefish, pig offal (stomach and intestines) served in a fermented bean-curd gravy. From the description alone, it's clear this delicacy is an acquired taste. It does have its fans, and while some regulars claim the standard of this stall has dropped, this is one of the very few that still sells loh mei in Singapore.
#01-1106 People’s Park Food Centre, Block 32 New Market Road. Wednesdays - Mondays 11:30 a.m. - 8 p.m.
If you’re craving dumplings, you can't go wrong with a basket of juicy minced meat and chive parcels from Tian Jin Fong Kee. Started in in 1948 by an immigrant from Tianjin, the fried (guo tie or potstickers) or steamed (jiao zi) dumplings have been pulling in the crowds for over 50 years.
#01-1148 People’s Park Food Centre, Block 32 New Market Road. Daily 11 a.m. - midnight
Leung Sang Hong Kong Pastries
Sago Street has several Hong Kong style bakeries and Leung Sang is one of the better and cheaper ones -- all items are still priced under S$1. There are various bolo buns, crumbly shortcrust snacks with a sweet lotus seed paste, wife biscuits, egg tarts, and even the rarely seen ham sui kok -- fried glutinous rice dumplings filled with chicken and ham. Afternoon teatime is particularly busy with the office crowd popping by to grab a midday snack.
18 Sago Street. Daily 8 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.
Tong Ah Coffeeshop/Eating House
This triangular-shaped corner coffeeshop is famous for its slices of kaya toast and aromatic cups of coffee. Ask for your toast to be extra crispy and they will slice the bread doubly thin to achieve a super-crusty, crumble-in-your-mouth crispness. The bread is particularly excellent with a thick layer of homemade kaya slathered on, and wedges of cold salted butter melting in between. A platter of toast and two hot beverages comes to less than S$4.
36 Keong Saik Road. Thurdays - Tuesdays 6 a.m. - 10 p.m. Wednesdays 6 a.m. - 3 p.m.
Mei Heong Yuen
Locals flock here for traditional Chinese desserts. One of the must-try items here is the mango sago with pomelo (S$3.50) -- a chilled bowl of thick mango puree, mango cubes on shaved ice, topped with pomelo sacs, that slices through the sweetness with its slightly bitter citrus tang. Other stand- outs: the black sesame paste (S$2.50) and steamed radish/pumpkin cakes (S$2.20).
65-67 Temple Street. Monday - Friday 10:30 a.m. - 8 p.m. Saturday & Sunday 10:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.