One thing that few have not loved while living or visiting Singapore are the Hawkers. If you have not visited or know what a Hawker is, it is simply put a Food Court. Since Singapore is true multicultural, Hawkers have foodstalls from all corners Asia. Now Hawkers have been added to the UNESCO Heritage list, which is a welcomed addition to the list. Visiting a Hawker is an experience, not only for the food, but also for the mix of people, the energy and all the smells and noice.
What is a Hawker
I am not a historian or an expert in the area, so let me just cut / paste from Wikipedia, for the brief description.
A hawker centre or cooked food centre are a variety of food courts originating from Singapore. Housing many stalls that sell a variety of local and other Asian cuisines, they are typically found throughout the city-state, located near public housing estates or transport hubs (such as bus interchanges or train stations).Wikipedia
Hawker centres were set up by the Singapore government as a more sanitary option to street-side outdoor alfresco hawker dining places. Instead of mobile food carts, permanent stalls in open air buildings are provided for the hawkers with either commonly shared or stall dedicated tables and chairs provided for patrons. This phenomenon is also helped by hawker licensing laws, and totally eliminated street hawkers in Singapore.
For us, who moved back to Sweden in 2015, Hawkers is one of the things we miss most about Singapore. …… hmmm, but when I think about it, we miss Singapore for so many other things as well.
To put the importance of hawkers into perspective: If we move back to Singapore, the proximity to a hawker will be a pre–requisite when we decide on location for housing.
Fantastic food for a few dollars
I am not exaggeration if I say I ate at a Hawker 5 out of 7 days a week while living in Singapore. Most lunches and occasionally dinner. The amount of visits I made to Tori Q (Japanese Yakitori) in Takashimaya for lunch is uncountable. The classic Hawkers are often located in housing blocks or at strategic places like close to public transport junctions. Nowadays Hawkers are also in shoppingmalls and in the more touristic areas. One of the bigger ones in Singapore is located in the dead center of the financial district (CBD) and named Lau Pa Sat, this one is famous for its weekend and evening outdoor satay stalls.
Another famous one is the slightly more touristic one at Newton Circus. It is slightly more touristic and suited for expats. We often ended up on Newton Circus since we lived quite close.
The best ones are probably a local one in a housing complex you never herd of. There are hawkers everywhere and most are great. Since it is Singapore, all are inspected by authorities so they comply with health and environment regulations.
For most meals you pay something like S$2-6 which is equivalent of 12-40SEK or 1.5-4.50USD.
Which one is the best one then? The one with a stall that has a Michelin Star maybe?
I am not the one to judge here and everyone has their own favourite.
Some hawkers stand out, like the one where you can have a S$2 Peking Duck from a stall that earned a Guide Michelin Star in 2016. Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle in Chinatown Food Complex is the place. We never tried it though, since none in the family is especially fond of Peking Duck.
The big ones are easy to find, but the small hyperlocal ones are definitely as good in most cases.
Kopi Tiam or Hawker, what is the difference?
To some extent it is pure semantics since they originate from different backgrounds, Kopi Tiam has a Malay / Hokkien background and Hawkers are a pure Singaporean phenomenon. Besides that, the difference is that Kopi Tiams is a kind of coffeshop that also serve some dishes, mainly malay food, while Hawkers is a full fledged food court with many stalls from many different asian countries.
The smell of Kaya toast in the morning
For most the Kopi Tiams are famous for its local coffee and its Kaya Toasts. The kaya smell hangs like a thick fog every morning in Singapore and the smell is very prominent and unique. It is a very very Singaporean smell.
Kaya is a sweet coconut jam.
The Kopi Tiam coffee
As a start, Kopi means coffee, so now when that is out of the way, how is the coffee?
As a coffee nerd I was a bit hesitant to the Kopi Tiam coffee in the beginning. It is a very raw way of brewing or should I maybe say filtering. Let’s start with the beans. It is in no way any high quality bean or quality roasted beans (still with tradition and proudness amongst the roasters). It is a very buttery and sweat roast, that mainly is done locally in Singapore.
The thing with the brewing is that you boil the coffee and then filter it through a fabric filter, almost like filtering it through a sock.
Most locals drink the kopi with condensed milk and a lot of sugar. I found that “drink” to be completely awful. I usually drank Kopi O Kosong which was half coffee and halv boiled water. It is the strongest version of Kopi, but it suited my need for strong coffee. I usually ordered one Kopi O Kosong as a morning coffee when going to the office.
Below video shows both kaya and kopi, it also gives a glimps of how a hawker looks and feels (even though not as crowded as it usually is).