It is an undisputed fact that there’s nothing more uniquely Singaporean than hawker culture. From travelling to the must ulu of locations to have a plate of Bak Chor Mee featured in the Michelin Guide to standing in line for hours on end just to have your morning cup of Kopi C, there’s no doubt that hawkers are an integral (and essential!) part of Singapore’s identity.
So, naturally, we jumped at the chance to attend this year’s Hawker Spotlight media tour (held in conjunction with Singapore Food Festival, which we reported on here), especially after we heard about this year’s offerings. It includes a stall that still uses a traditional charcoal stove to brew coffee and toast, as well as one that sells breakfast staples (think Bee Hoon and Luncheon Meat) for just S$2. Say what?
Yup, you heard us right. Hosted jointly by the Singapore Tourism Board and City Gas, we were brought on a tour of Amoy Street Food Centre to get a in-depth look at who the hawkers are beyond their stalls, and also to try out their signature dishes.
The first stop: Ah Seng (Hai Nam) Coffee
Located on the second floor of Amoy Street Food Centre, Ah Seng (Hai Nam) Coffee has been serving breakfast to hungry morning commuters since 1997. The stall opens at 5.30am daily, with Ah Seng and his family brewing up fragrant cups of Kopi C to go with plates and plates of kaya toast and hard-boiled eggs.
Don’t let their seemingly humble fare fool you: the smell of crisped bread and butter is enough to get our mouths watering. Served on two paper plates (with the French toast doused in a generous helping of kaya by the side, which was surprisingly thoughtful) we dug in, starting off with the kaya toast.
The texture of the kaya toast is just as all great kaya toasts should be: dense, and crunchy by the edges. It also has a kind of smokiness to it that I believe can be attributed to the fact that it’s cooked over a charcoal stove, which sets it apart from your usual kaya toast offerings such as from Toast Box and Ya Kun. The star of the dish, though, has to be the thick, creamy kaya spread. There’s just the right amount of pandan in it, which makes it a perfect complement to the bread.
But what truly impressed us was the french toast. Egg lovers will adore the crispy layer of egg coating the toast, with the bite-sized pieces making it easy for sharing (not that you’d want to) and dipping into that delectable kaya sauce.
Ah Seng (Hai Nam Coffee) is located at #02-95 of Amoy Street Food Centre. It is open from 5.30am-3pm from Monday to Sunday.
The second stop: Ah Ter Teochew Fishball Noodles
Helmed by third generation hawker, Gilbert Lim, it is clear to see that Ah Ter Teochew Fishball Noodles believes strongly in producing top-quality grub for their customers. Their fishballs are handmade up to this day, as is their other key ingredients such as chilli and soup.
According to Gilbert, their soup is painstakingly brewed for several hours with pork ribs, while their chilli is actually cooked for six whole hours, made from quality dried shrimps, onions, and prawn paste. If that isn’t dedication, we don’t know what is.
The first thing we noticed was the generous servings of fishballs, fishcakes, and meat slices.
The second thing we noticed? The chili soaked noodles doused in prawn paste and onions. Both smelled heavenly, though we’ll admit to feeling a little apprehensive about the noodles at first glance, especially after the cook cheerfully declared that his chilli wasn’t for the faint of heart.
We decided to play it safe and go for the soup, first. The broth was thick a little on their saltier side, which I liked. The fishballs, on the other hand, had a nice, springy texture, as did the fishcakes.
Then came the noodles. Admittedly, the chilli is definitely not for those who can’t take the spice, but it also gave the noodles a perfect kick of flavour: salty, with just a hint of sweetness and crunch from the pork lard and chilli bits.
Ah Ter Teochew Fishball Noodles is located at #01-14 of Amoy Street Food Centre. It is open from 7am-9pm from Mondays to Thursdays, and 7am-3pm from Fridays to Saturdays.
The third stop: Hai Ji
As a part of the pioneering batch of hawkers that moved into Amoy Street Food Centre in the 1980s, Hai Ji was managed by Mr Kor Ah Ji, who used to operate as a street hawker along the Singapore River. Now managed by his two daughters, the stall provides breakfast staples of economic Bee Hoon and Nasi Lemak at beyond affordable prices.
What drew our eye first had to be the wide variety of dishes available to choose from: think tantalising golden-brown eggs, crispy pieces of luncheon meat fried to perfection, and golden battered pieces of fried chicken.
We opted for luncheon meat, which was, indeed, cooked just right— not too wet (or moist!) and crunchy at the edges. The Bee Hoon was a little dry, but that could be because we didn’t douse it thoroughly in the chili, which we’re told is very spicy. The appeal of this dish for us definitely likes in its affordability and variety: at just S$2, it’s a steal.
Hai Ji is located at #01-61 of Amoy Street Food Centre. It is open from 6am-3pm from Mondays to Fridays.
The fourth stop: Quan Ji
Run by a third generation hawker as well, Mr Tony Liew took over operations of Quan Ji in 2004. Known as one of the most cheerful hawkers of Amoy Street Food Centre, he serves up piping hot bowls of Fish Head Bee Hoons and Har Cheong Kai Chicken with a grin on his face.
With more than 20 varieties of dishes available, Quan Ji also opens during both lunch and dinner hours, making it the only Tze Char stall to do so in Amoy Street Food Centre, so definitely mark this as a stall to visit for after work dinners with friends and family!
We’re told that Quan Ji has quite a number of signature dishes to choose from, but that the Crispy Egg Noodles is like nothing we’ve ever tasted before. Considering how it’s not something we’ve even heard about within the hawker circuit (as compared to classic hawker fare like chicken rice and prawn noodles, for instance), suffice to say that we were very much intrigued.
There’s no doubt that the dish was a visual feast the second it was served. From the glistening, fluffy egg blanketing the noodles to the large, juicy prawns, we had no idea where to start.
After much deliberation, we went for the egg first, which, as it turned out had the perfect amount of crisp and salt to it. We nearly swooned when we paired it with the prawns and noodles, with the flavours all coming together to make a deceptively simplistic comfort dish that we could see ourselves going back to again and again.
Quan Ji is located at #01-56/57 of Amoy Street Food Centre. It is open from 11am-1.30pm, and 4.30pm to 10pm from Wednesdays to Thursdays.
The fifth stop: Syed Mohammed Drinks
Named after the late Mr Syed Mohammed, Syed Mohammed Drinks is now run by Mr Furkhan Ali, his son. They have over 25 beverages for you to choose from, but they are especially known for two drinks: their Teh Halia, and Teh Tarik.
Trust us, their employees are more than capable of producing a frothy, milky cup, as evidenced by their jaw-dropping pulling technique from one cup to the other.
With our bellies satisfied, we washed down our feast with Syed Mohammed’s signature Teh Halia. The sweetness of the tea is tempered with the slight spiciness of ginger, making it a perfectly balanced (and cooling!) drink for those intolerably hot days.
Syed Mohammed Drinks is located at #01-66/67 of Amoy Street Food Centre. It is open from 6am-7.30pm from Mondays to Saturdays.
Mouths watering already? Before you rush on down to try out these dishes for yourself, be sure to drop by the City Gas Gallery to grab a Hawker Spotlight Booklet. You’ll get to enjoy discounted hawker meals at Amoy Street Food Centre from now until stocks last. The booklets are also available at Singapore Visitor’s Centres located at Ion Orchard, Orchardgateway, and Tourism Court, so you can head there too!
City Gas Gallery is located at 8 Cross Street, Level 2.