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Singapore's top 5 new hawker food spots
Call them hawker centers, call them food courts: Singapore's culinary circuses put the awe in gourmet
Singapore’s hawker centers were once wet, dirty and dim shelters crammed with all forms of street food.
As the country took on a more modern face, its food spots followed suit, with many of the island’s hawker centers upgrading or moving indoors in the 1990s to air-conditioned food courts.
While foodies bemoaned the loss of authenticity, diners with delicate constitutions and wary of reusable cutlery cheered.
Years on, hawker centers -- or food courts -- are a vital part of life and the undisputed source of Singapore’s best food.
As the Little Red Dot adds celebrity chef eateries to its dining scene, these five swish, new food courts -- or hawker centers -- are making sure people remember that Singapore’s street food is here to stay.
Singapore Food Trail
In the 1960s hawkers were simply cooks with wooden pushcarts who perched at the roadside or in front of shophouses.
They set up tables beside their carts, used a Milo tin for a till and served soft drinks in bottles; and kacang puteh (local snack of mixed nuts) was packed right on the spot, in a paper cone assembled by the kacang puteh man.
All these can still be found, at the Singapore Food Trail -- a 12-stall, five-kiosk, three-cart, 800-seat, 1960s-themed hawker conglomeration.
Harking back to pre- and early independence days are stalls from all over: satay bee hoon from Old Airport Road, nasi lemak from Selera’s at Adam Road, Hainanese chicken rice from Ah Huat at Bugis Street and the revered High Street Tai Wah pork noodles.
The setting is no less kitsch than its counterparts on this list (we’re looking at you, Food Republic Beer Garden) and true to their theme toilets are not on the premises -- you have to head next door to the Singapore Flyer.
Fortunately there are three washbasins, so you can keep those hands clean and stomach bug free.
USP: Bring back the 1960s, arguably Singapore’s most exciting era.
Level 1, Singapore Flyer, 30 Raffles Avenue. Sunday-Thursday 10:30 a.m.-10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 10:30 a.m.-11:30 p.m.
Food Republic - Beer Garden
The junior member of the Breadtalk-owned franchise is a beer garden in St. James Power Station’s car park.
What it lacks in size (a shoebox compared to the other four locations), it makes up with fanfare.
Within this cozy area is a decent attempt at re-enacting the charm of yesteryear: bird cages strung in between lamp posts, antique bicycles, old-fashioned pushcarts with tarpaulin tops, kiosks and truck stalls.
Of the 19 operators, the beef tripe satay from former Lau Pa Sat stall Satay Power and ngoh hiang (five-spice meat roll) from Zhong Zhong Fine Spices are definite crowd-pleasers.
But the biggest draw has to be the Street Bar -- it has a full selection of local and international beer, spirits, wines and even the Singapore Sling.
Sway -- or not -- to the live performances by artists from the St. James troupe. You can’t deny this gives the Singapore Food Trail a run for its money.
USP: Call it nostalgia eatertainment, the spot makes a good attempt to revive the old days of food streets, giving it a lift with the live entertainment element.
St. James Power Startion, 3 Sentosa Gateway. Open daily 6 p.m. till late.
Food Republic – VivoCity
Another Food Republic brainchild, VivoCity takes us back to the first half of the 20th century with its décor: aged wooden beams and roof shingles shelter suspended bicycles and bird cages.
Nestled within the 900-seat atrium is the structure of a Hakka house, and a Chinese sedan chair, wooden carriage and horse trough. Even the baby chairs are old-style.
Don’t expect the food to date back to those times: perhaps only the Lau Di Fang Scissors-cut Curry Rice (originally at Jalan Besar in the 1920s) and the Lau Dai Hua Minced Pork Noodles (Hill Street Food Centre from 1932 to 1986) can claim to have experienced the era this food court was modeled on.
Other stalls to look out for: Sergeant Chicken Rice, started up by one of the original Mandarin Hotel Chatterbox chefs, Kiang Joon Toh; and Thye Hong Fried Hokkien Mee Fried Noodle, formerly found at Newton Circus.
USP: The retro décor and the dim sum carts propelled around the food court … fantastic news for lazy foodies
Level 3 VivoCity, 1 Harborfront Walk. Open Monday-Thursday and Sunday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.; Friday, Saturday and eve of public holidays 10 a.m.-11 p.m.
The third, and last, of the Food Republic branches to be included in this line-up adheres to an opera house theme -- a structure that, in this case, is a contemporary refuge for specialty local dishes.
The famous Scotts Beef Noodles found a home in this modern art-museum-like space, as did local tze char mavens Fatty Weng Restaurant and Ah Wok Restaurant, fan-loved Yong Heng Fried Hokkien Prawn Noodles and highly regarded Hong Kong dim sum house Luk Yu Teahouse and Restaurant.
Local artist Chen You Bing’s two mythical animal sculptures displayed in the middle of the atrium might take some getting used to, so will the 700 clear, black and purple acrylic chairs, the ornate chandeliers and life-sized driftwood horse by British sculptor Heather Jansch.
But the 25 stalls hold their own; where else on Orchard Road hosts a congregation of street food spots so established they’ve decided to go against the flow and branch out into food stalls, in such modern setting nonetheless?
USP: Orchard Road is hardly a food mecca, so this is about as close as it gets.
Basement 4, Ion Orchard, 2 Orchard Turn. Monday-Thursday 8 a.m.-10 p.m., Friday, Saturday and eve of public holidays 8 a.m.-11 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m.-10 p.m.
As food courts go, this one’s really hit the big time.
It’s not just its location in Marina Bay Sands (the classier of the two casinos) or the court's massive girth; it’s also that this 24-hour "taste-city ("Rasa-pura") food court has got an ice-skating rink, theaters and celebrity chef restaurants as its neighbors.
You are who you’re next to, right? But has street food really gone high class? Not quite.
Sure, modern Indian fine dining restaurant Song of India’s only food stall is located here, but a stall by any other name is still a stall.
As Song of India moves a step down to catering to the masses, stalls of local food institutions like Lau Di Fang, Ng Ah Sio Bak Kut Teh and Sin Kee Famous Chicken Rice have stepped up.
All 24 stalls have met on this middle ground, except probably where pricing is concerned -- a plate of nasi padang could set you back a whopping S$13.30.
Cringe all you want; it’s still way cheaper than going to the neighbors.
USP: Call it the food court of the high-rollers, when all the fancy celeb chef creations have been consumed, hunker down to some real food, Singapore style.
Canal Level, Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, 2 Bayfront Ave. Open 24 hours.