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Tips for eating at Singapore hawker centres

Travel News from Stuff - 14-11-2022 stuff.co.nz

Singapore has world-class restaurants, but you can enjoy the city's multi-ethnic cuisines for a handful of dollars at hawker centres, which feature a mix of stalls around a central dining area.

Watch as woks flare and cooks work in steaming shoebox kitchens. See what's on the menu and what everyone else is eating, then mix and match: this is progressive dining without having to move on.

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Even better, enjoy the neighbourhood atmosphere. Crowd in beside schoolkids and construction workers, businesspeople and retirees. Some locals reserve a table with a packet of tissues when they go to order, but why?

Be open to sharing a table and you never know what conversational rabbit hole you'll tumble into over your laksa.

There's nothing wrong with touristy hawker centres such as Smith Street (aka Food Street) in Chinatown or riverside Clarke Quay, but for the full neighbourhood experience it pays to get on the MRT and head to Yishun or Bukit Batok or Pasir Ris. Hawker centres such as Cluny Road and Adam Road specialise in Malay food, while Chomp Chomp Food Centre is known for its barbecue dishes.

The cooking is budget but the quality decent; some hawker stalls are even Michelin-star rated. Where else in Asia can you enjoy the street food of ordinary folk without ever worrying about hygiene or freshness? Hawker centres tingle the tongue without upsetting the stomach.

Enjoy fried noodles entangled with beansprouts, sprinkled with ground peanut and topped with an egg; ask for shrimps or strips of meat to taste.

Try Singaporean with clams, sausage and egg in sweet black sauce. Appreciate the subtle merits of Hainanese chicken rice accompanied by a chicken-flavoured broth.

Try Peranakan food, which blends South-East Asian and Chinese influences in dishes such as sweet and salty pork belly, fish-head curries and desserts rich with custard and tropical fruits.

Tuck into roaring-hot South Indian coconut-milk curries, north Indian tandoor chicken, or Malay treats such as beef rendang, chilli crab, and fresh rojak salads slathered in crushed peanuts and sweet sauce.

Hawker centres are hot, but never mind. Some have moved to air-conditioned indoors but they just aren't the same: less atmospheric, more food court-ish.

You want to be sitting in Singapore's humid hug beneath a groaning ceiling fan, clutching a cold Tiger beer. You'll feel like a giant in the land of the Lilliputians, balanced on your stool at a small table, but you'll be happy a chopsticks clack and conversation bubbles.

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