Singapore is often synonymous with a safe, clean, urban metropolis that doesn’t offer much in the way of culture and attractions.
It’s a little red dot in-between sprawling Malaysia and massive Indonesia that travelers usually just pass through in transit while visiting other, more exotic locales.
With such a small land area, there isn’t much to see or do in Singapore. What’s a traveler to do while you’re stuck in transit? If you’re adventurous in the ways of the culinary, then we’ve got just the suggestion for you.
It’s Makan (Eat-ing) Time!
Singapore prides itself on being the region’s culinary center. While that is certainly an arguable claim, Singapore does set a high standard for its neighboring countries. Its culinary roots stem from the three different ethnic groups that call Singapore home: the Chinese, Malays and Indians.
As such, you’ll be able to find a wide variety of food here, usually tweaked (or as Singaporeans would say, perfected) beyond its original taste to suit the Singaporean palate.
For this excursion, I’ll take you to Chinatown, where you can find a host of hawker centers serving hearty meals. Recommended get-up? Shorts and sandals my friend — it gets hot here, and even more so in the bustling hawker centers.
Amoy Street Food CenterOur first stop is the Amoy Street Food Center, at the farther edge of the Chinatown area. It’s a two-storey complex hosting a good 40-60 stalls serving all kinds of food, drinks, and desserts.
We’ll start out with something healthy, the Fish Soup (or Fish Porridge). It’s a simple dish of sliced fish meat, vegetables and sometimes prawns in a flavorful soup. The key to the dish is in the soup, and how the meat is cooked — fresh, moist, and not overcooked. Served with rice, this makes an excellent lunch combination to mix and match with whatever else catches your eye.
Amoy Street Food Center has two stalls famed for their Fish Soup, both located on the second floor. My personal favorite is Piao Ji Fish Soup where the fish meat slices are larger and each meal is cooked individually, ensuring its quality.
The other famed stall, Han Kee Fish Porridge, serves a slightly smaller portion, with more thinly sliced fish meat. This stall is known as one of the icons of Amoy Street, and is proclaimed by many as “the best Fish Soup” in the whole of Singapore. Many rave about how the soup is tastier, the meat fresher and the overall package more cost-worthy (it is cheaper than Piao Ji).
Personally, I find them both just as tasty, but the larger portion of fish meat at Piao Ji ensures it gets my nod.
The Amoy Street Food Center is also host to several other stalls worthy of attention, one of which serves excellent traditional Chinese desserts and is located on the second storey as well.
This time around however, we’ll take a walk further out to try another dessert stall. After all, we don’t want to spend the whole afternoon just eating here, but exploring as well!
Onwards towards Desserts, at Temple StreetThe walk through to Temple Street will take you by a few of Singapore’s CBD landmarks. You’ll probably pass through the Red Dot Museum, a preserved heritage complex playing host to hip bars and restaurants, as well as showcasing various exhibitions in modern and contemporary art. True to its name, the whole building is painted red, so there’s no way you can miss it!
Further out, you’ll pass by the newly constructed Buddhist Tooth Relic Temple of Singapore. This recent development plays host to the Buddha Tooth Relic Stupa, which are available for viewing between three and six in the afternoon. The Temple also houses a Buddhist Culture Museum, a Gallery (Aranya) and a Theatre (Nagapuspa).
Finally, not far from there you’ll find Temple Street. Turn into it and head towards the end for a taste of traditional Chinese desserts!
Right before the main road, opposite the McDonalds, you will find Mei Heong Yuen Dessert, another local favorite. Beware, the place is always crowded and the desserts run out quickly, so come early!
The signature dish here is the Mango Sago and Pomelo — mango cubes and shaved ice served in chilled coconut milk and sago, topped with shavings and bits of pomelo. The sweet mangoes contrast nicely with the bitter pomelo, a cold refreshing dessert that’s perfect for Singapore’s hot climate!
Another personal favorite is the Tangyuan, a traditional dessert featuring glutinous rice balls filled with sesame paste, served with chopped peanuts and sugar.
Dim-Sum DinnerNo trip to Chinatown is complete without tasting the delectable dim-sums on offer, so we’ll explore Chinatown some more and make our way to Yum Cha Restaurant for dinner, at neighboring Trengganu Street.
Dim sum are usually served during breakfast or lunch, but here in Singapore they’ve decided to dispense with that tradition. You can enjoy dim sum for dinner, or even late-night supper!
Standard dim-sum choices are the shrimp dumplings (har gau), pork dumplings (siu mai), buns (char-siew pao) and rice-noodle rolls (cheong fun).
For the more adventurous, try the phoenix talons (fung zao). These are chicken feet — deep fried, boiled and marinated in black bean sauce, and steamed again right before serving. The skin and meat fall right off the bone, with a very light and fluffy texture.
Other than the har gau, my personal favorites are the goose liver xiao long bao, fried carrot cake and the garlic soft shell crabs. Finish the meal off with Seafood and Century Egg Congee for a hearty, fulfilling meal!