2012 Singapore's Best Dishes: Local cuisine

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Want to know where to find the city’s best nasi lemak or the number one char kway teow? TOS and a team of experts have picked the city’s best dishes. Happy eating!


First published on 11 Jun 2012. Updated on 22 Jun 2012.

Best bak kut teh

Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut Teh, $7.50
For a local, Teochew-style bak kut teh, it’s hard to look past the bustling Old Tiong Bahru Bak Kut Teh, where the broth is more peppery and garlicky than the more herbal Malaysian variety. The pork is cooked to a near-perfect tenderness, and the slightly cloudy soup has the right mix of peppery kick and a light sweetness. #01-31 Tiong Bahru Market, 58 Seng Poh Rd (6224 4990). MRT: Tiong Bahru. Tue-Sun 6.30am-9pm.

Best char kway teow

No 18 Fried Kway Teow, $3-$5
The dark, glistening, sticky tangle of flat rice noodles at this hawker stall is fried vigorously in lard, black sauce and lashings of chilli sauce before generous servings of egg, cockles, lap cheong (Chinese dried sausage), fishcake and bean sprouts are added. While the noodles are on the short side, the bean sprouts are perfectly translucent and there’s just the right amount of dark soy sauce. #01-17 Zion Road Riverside Food Centre. Take a taxi. Wed-Mon 7-11pm.

Best chicken rice

Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice, $3
Despite competition from the likes of Tian Tian at Maxwell Food Centre and Wee Nam Kee on Thomson Road, this Bukit Merah stall wins it for the quality of its meat. There’s no fancy stuff – it just comes out on a red plastic plate with chilli and dark sauce, rice and a few sprigs of coriander – it’s all about the perfectly tender chicken, which has been compared to foie gras, especially the creamy livers. Tian Tian’s famous endorser Anthony Bourdain, alas, never visited this one. #01-15 Alexandra Village Food Centre, 120 Bukit Merah Ln 1. MRT: Queenstown. Mon-Sat 10am-8pm.

Best fish head bee hoon

Jin Hua Fish Head Bee Hoon, $3-$4
It’s worth the near-constant half-hour queues at Maxwell Food Centre to get to this stall, where the broth is milkier than in most fish head bee hoons, in Cantonese rather than Teochew style. The dish comes with springy vermicelli, kai lan (Chinese broccoli) and fried onions, and the balance of the dish is spot-on, with the fish tasting fresh and not too overpowering. Stall 77 Maxwell Road Food Centre . MRT: Chinatown. Fri-Wed 11am-8.30pm.

Best chilli crab

Hua Yu Wee Seafood, from $40/kg
This old colonial bungalow is the last-standing seafood restaurant along Upper East Coast Road, and has been going for more than 30 years. The second-generation family members that run the place still produce a brilliant chilli crab, with well-balanced flavours and just the right amount of spice to be scooped up with the obligatory deep-fried man tou. 462 Upper East Coast Rd (6442 9313). Take a taxi. Daily 5-11.30pm.

Best char siew

Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint, from $10
While Foong Kee and Fatty Cheong’s are contenders for the best char siew in town, we think the best one’s at Kay Lee Roast Meat Joint, a Hong Kong-style place with the meats on display for all to see. Though their speciality is the Guangdong Zhujiang-style roast duck ($46), many people come back for the tender char siew, cooked to a dark brown crisp on the outside (not red like many of the Singapore versions) and neither too sweet nor salty. Pricier than many char siews in town at $10 or more, but worth it. 125 Upper Paya Lebar Rd (6743 8778). MRT: Paya Lebar. Thu-Wed 10.30am-6pm.

Best rojak

Toa Payoh Rojak, $2-$5
You know a hawker stall is good when the demand is so high that they instal one of those electronic counters for people to queue. You won’t have to stand in line but you’ll have to wait for Singapore’s best rojak – charcoal-grilled you char kway (fried dough sticks) with a ground peanut topping the right amount of prawn paste, greens, bean sprouts and chilli, all made by a veteran uncle and his son. #01-108 Old Airport Road Food Centre. MRT: Mountbatten. Mon-Sat noon-8pm.

Best laksa

Marine Parade Laksa, $3-$4
While 328 Katong Laksa is possibly the most popular laksa spot in town – and numbers 49 and 51 East Coast Road claim to be the best – the original is still Marine Parade Laksa, even though the simple stall is now in Bedok rather than Marine Parade. It’s no longer run by Ng Juat Swee, better known as Janggut, who is said to have first sold his laksa around the Marine Parade area in the 1940s and passed away in 1986 – but the recipe has hardly changed, even as the restaurant has been through numerous relocations, most notably East Coast Road, where the ‘laksa wars’ started in the 1970s. They still make all the ingredients themselves – the result is a perfectly balanced laksa, with just enough coconut and an umami kick from the dried prawns. Blk 128 Bedok North St 2 #01-02 (9622 1045). MRT: Bedok. Daily 9am-5pm.

Best roti prata

Thasevi Food Famous Jalan Kayu Prata, $1
Possibly the most famous roti prata in Singapore, this little spot pioneered a new kind of roti – the small, round type. It’s crispy on the outside, flaky on the inside and not too oily – but they’re small. Then again, it’s open 24 hours, so you can always come back for more. 237/239 Jln Kayu (6481 1537). MRT: Sengkang. Daily 24 hours.

Best hokkien/lor mee

Geylang Lor 29 Fried Hokkien Mee, $4-7
Though it’s moved from its original Geylang location, this stall still uses the old method of cooking from the 1950s, with a hot charcoal wok that fries every noodle. The result is the city’s best hokkien mee, packed with bean sprouts, egg, pork, prawns and squid rings, and given a sharp flavour by sambal chilli and lime. 396 East Coast Rd. Take a taxi. Tue-Sun 11.30am-9pm.

Best nasi lemak

Punggol Nasi Lemak Centre, from $4
Whispers are that the queues are too long and the nasi lemak overpriced at this institution – but for our money it’s the best version of the dish in the city. The imported Thai rice is top quality; the eggs are consistently just runny enough; and the chicken wings are fresh and juicy. With decent chilli sauce and ikan bilis (anchovies), it’s still a good bet. 965 Upper Serangoon Rd (6281 0020). MRT: Kovan. Fri-Wed 5.30pm-3.30am.

Best carrot cake (chai tow kway)

Heng Carrot Cake, $4
This stall at the tourist-y Newton Food Centre has been going since the centre was opened in 1971 – and if you’re snobbish about the food centre, you might miss out on their brilliant home-made version of chai tow kway (they also do a good oyster omelette). The delicate white carrot cake is crispy on the outside, and wobbly-soft on the inside, and comes with medium-sized prawns and not-too-salty chye poh radish. The black version is just as good, fried to a near-perfect sweetness. Stall 28 Newton Food Centre, 500 Clemenceau Ave North. MRT: Newton. Daily 6pm-2am (closed every other Tuesday).

Best beef rendang

Wok & Barrel, $9.90
It may seem off to take this staple dish away from more conventionally authentic places such as Peranakan restaurant Dulukala, but we love the way that former hawker stall chef Shen Tan has given classic dishes a hip yet unpretentious makeover. Her flaky-good beef rendang – made from generous chunks of Wagyu beef shin – is a winner, especially as part of the $9.90 lunch deal with nasi lemak rice, omelette, Asian coleslaw, sambal tumis and sambal belachan. It’s also available to have on a must-try, chewy-crust pizza ($13.90). 13 Duxton Hill (6220 0595). MRT: Tanjong Pagar. Mon-Fri 11.30am-10pm; Sat 9am-10pm; Sun 9am-4pm.

Best satay

Rosraihanna Soto and Satay, $0.50
This Golden Mile stall does a mean Malay-style satay. Unlike most stalls, the peanuts used in the sauce are hand-roasted and then chopped, and the chicken is tender, juicy and just on the right side of sweet, with lemongrass notes adding finish to a tasty bite. #B1-19 Golden Mile Food Centre, 505 Beach Rd. MRT: Lavender. Mon-Sat noon-10pm.

Best tau sar piah

Loong Fatt Eating House & Confectionery, $0.70
Loong Fatt Tau Sar Piah is the place to find these sweet and salty savoury treats – literally ‘bean paste biscuits’. The old shop on Balestier Road has been serving up these Teochew gems fresh from the oven since 1948, and they’re still good – a buttery, crumbly pastry shell, and smooth, not-too-sweet bean paste fillings. The salty one has an almost eggy taste, while the sweet one is like lotus root. Both are seriously good. 639 Balestier Rd (6253 4584). MRT: Little India. Mon-Sat 8am-4.30pm.

Best pau

Tanjong Rhu Pau, $1
Tanjong Rhu Pau still lords it when it comes to the humble pau, or baozi in Chinese, even if it’s a little more expensive than most versions in the city. They do char siew and lotus/bean paste versions, but the best one is still the classic version, filled with juicy pork and egg for an addictively comforting bite. A dollar normally gets you a bigger pau, but the queues of people at this stall clearly don’t care. Blk 7, Jalan Batu #01-113 (6348 3817). Take a taxi. Mon-Sat 12.30-8pm. 396 East Coast Rd. Take a taxi. Tue-Sun 11.30am-9pm.

Best popiah

Kway Guan Huat, $2
Kway Guan Huat in Joo Chiat has been hand-making its popiah skins just about every day since 1938, and these tasty pieces of Fujian comfort food – kind of a spring roll-meets-wrap – are still oh-so-good. The warm, chewy bite is filled with lettuce, bean sprouts, sweet and chilli sauces, and a magical filling that includes turnip and crab meat. 95 Joo Chiat Rd (6344 2875). MRT: Paya Lebar. Tue-Sun 10am-8pm.

Best kaya toast

Chin Mee Chin Confectionery, $0.90
It’s been around for ages, and Chin Mee Chin still does the best kaya toast in town. Coming in bun form, the not-too-sweet bread is cooked by hand over a charcoal fire and topped with generous lashings of butter and eggy, coconut-y kaya. Most locals have it with tea and two perfectly done half-boiled eggs. 204 East Coast Rd (6345 0419). Take a taxi. Tue- Sun 8.30am-4pm.

Best local dessert

Mango with pomelo and sago at Mei Heong Yuen Dessert, $4
This Chinatown dessert specialist serves up one of the most refreshing sweets in town, with shaved ice and streaks of tangy pomelo on top of a thick mango purée, with sago balls adding a nice chewy texture. 63-67 Temple St (6221 1156). MRT: Chinatown. Sun-Fri 10.30am-9pm; Sat 10.30am-9.30pm.

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By Time Out Singapore editors
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