Chili crab may be Singapore's most famous dish, but the country's 200-plus hawker stalls and countless restaurants offer a treasure trove of lesser-known Singapore specialties. During my recent trip to the Lion City, I went on a Next Gen Hawker Tour with Wok 'n' Stroll to see what the city's young chefs are dishing out.
We met our guide, Simon, at 5 p.m. at the Amoy Street Food Centre in the Central Business District. With dozens of stalls to choose from in the two-story space, we were glad Simon knew the best spot to slurp noodles.
Our first stop was A Noodle Story, founded by Ben Tham and Gwern Khoo. Both were chefs in high-end restaurants until they decided to become "hawkerpreneurs" and start their own stall, which has received Michelin's Bib Gourmand designation for specialties such as Hong Kong egg noodles in a Japanese-style ramen with sous vide pork. Customers started to trickle in right as the stall opened at 5:30 p.m.; locals know A Noodle Story serves only 200 bowls per day.
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After our hawker center experience, we walked down one of Singapore's charming streets to another Bib Gourmand spot, the Coconut Club. This popular haunt is owned by Lee Eng Su, who specializes in nasi lemak, a rice dish made from coconut milk and a pandan leaf, with chicken, egg, sardines, peanuts and chili served on the side. He perfected the national dish of Malaysia by using coconut sourced from Malaysia for the rice, anchovies fried fresh, farm-raised chicken and a sunny side up egg.
Simon told us the proper way to eat this dish is to enjoy each ingredient separately or mix the chili in with the fragrant rice. For dessert, we had chendol: shaved ice topped with red beans, coconut milk, rice jelly and palm sugar.
Our stomachs already full, we waddled over to our last stop: Chinatown Complex. Here we tried our most adventurous dish, at Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck & Kway Chap.
The small stall has been around since 1983, with the owner Melvin, formerly a mechanic, taking over after his father passed away. He wakes up every day at 5 a.m. to start the duck and kway chap: flat noodle rolls with broth served with a side of pig liver, glutinous rice balls and radish. Melvin's rendition of this traditional Singaporean dish earned him a visit from Anthony Bourdain.
After our bowl of duck and kway chap, we were practically bursting, but before we parted ways with Simon, he shared the names of a few of his favorite restaurants and hawkers, and we happily followed his recommendations over the next few days.
The tour costs about $95 and lasts about three hours. Visit www.woknstroll.com.sg.