The Covid-19 pandemic has made its impact felt on many sectors of Singapore‘s economy, including its hawker businesses. Thankfully, the government has stepped in by offering a series of rental wavers and distributing Community Development Council (CDC) vouchers in the last two years to support heartland businesses.
What’s most important now is for us to do our part by patronising these hawker gems. While you can’t go wrong with a fragrant serving of chicken rice or comforting plate of char kway teow from your local joint, there are times when you want to switch things up and treat yourself to something a bit more special. Instead of heading to a fancy restaurant, why not make your way to one of these hawker stalls doling out gourmet offerings at a fraction of the price? You’ll leave with a full, satiated belly and a relatively intact wallet.
1. King of Fried Rice
While fried rice is certainly a hawker centre staple in Singapore, King of Fried Rice elevates its offerings with a variety of premium ingredients that put it on par with high-end Chinese restaurants. The egg fried rice with pork chop is one of their most popular offerings, featuring short-grained rice fried with fluffy bits of egg and crowned with a perfectly cooked golden-brown pork chop. If you’re a fan of Thai flavours, opt for the tom yam prawn fried rice or try something a little out of the ordinary like the crab meat X.O. fried rice. And the best part? The fried rice here has a heady dose of wok hei (the smoky flavours that are the result of skilled wok-frying techniques).
Despite being situated at the sleepy Commonwealth Crescent Market, far away from the bustle of the CBD, burger joint Hammee’s still draws in the crowds. The waiting time can run up to an hour and a half during peak periods, but their gourmet-level offerings that rival the likes of Shake Shack and Black Tap are well worth the wait. You can opt for the signature juicy and succulent beef cheeseburger (crafted with a handmade patty of top-quality fresh beef) accompanied by well-seasoned fries; or go for the equally delicious fried chicken or fish burger.
31 Commonwealth Cres, #02-93 Market & Food Centre. Nearest MRT: Commonwealth
3. The Headless Baker
For colourful teacakes that are almost too pretty to eat, make a beeline for The Headless Baker at Ghim Moh Road Market & Food Centre. The humble hawker bakery sells various artisanal sweet treats at affordable prices, so you can get your sugar fix without shelling out $15 for a slice of cake at an upscale café. The line-up of tiny teacakes changes daily, with popular flavours including Lemon Pistachio, Earl Grey Lavender, Chocolate Bundt, Dalgona Coffee and Pandan Gula Melaka. You can also opt to pre-order one of their larger cakes and loaves. We’re particularly fond of the moist Old-Fashioned Banana Loaf; as well as the Sunshine Lemon Loaf, which comes drizzled with lemon icing and topped with edible rose petals and crushed pistachio.
20 Ghim Moh Road, #01-64 Ghim Moh Road Marker & Food Centre. Nearest MRT: Buona Vista
4. The Burning Oak
The Bedok Marketplace, an upmarket hawker concept, is where you’ll find The Burning Oak. The stall serves delicious premium Japanese fare such as donburis and ramen, making it an ideal spot for a midweek gourmet treat that won’t break the bank. The signature dish here is the foie gras and Wagyu beef donburi, which comes with a thick slab of foie gras, beef slices, an onsen egg and Japanese pickles atop a bed of fluffy rice. There’s also the truffle Wagyu donburi (minced and sliced Wagyu beef that’s been seasoned with truffle) for fans of the fragrant fungi.
348 Bedok Road, #02-16 Bedok Shopping Complex. Nearest MRT: Tanah Merah
5. Smokin’ Joe
It may be a bit of a trek to get yourself to Yishun Park Hawker Centre, but we promise that it’s worth the schlep to try Smokin’ Joe’s scrumptious charcoal-grilled offerings. The barbecue joint – helmed by chef Joseph Yeo who used to work in Prive – specialises in meats that have been grilled to perfection in a Josper grill oven – a piece of equipment you’d normally find at a specialty barbecue or steak joint rather than in a hawker stall. The oven helps with locking in the natural juices of the meat, keeping it moist, and also adds an earthy charcoal flavour. We recommend going straight for the popular Wagyu beef burger, which goes for $9. If you’re willing to shell out $35 (still a fraction of the cost you’d pay for a similar dish at a high-end restaurant), you can order the Australian Wagyu Ribeye Marbling 4/5: 250g of beef accompanied by fries, salad and a house sauce.
51 Yishun Avenue 11, #01-37 Yishun Park Hawker Centre. Nearest MRT: Yishun
6. King of Pao Fan
Pao fan (poached rice), a staple at many luxurious Chinese restaurants, consists of both cooked and crispy puffed rice served with a tasty broth and choice of protein. For your next budget pao fan fix, consider heading to King of Pao Fan, whose ownership group includes ex-Raffles Hotel chef Lee Hock Pin. The no-frills joint has stalls across the island and offers a range of pao fan dishes starting at $4.90 for clam pao fan. Our personal recommendation is the lobster pao fan ($18), which features a succulent cooked-to-order half lobster sitting atop a bowl of rice combined with a thick, umami-laden broth. Other options include seafood pao fan and fish pao fan, and all dishes come topped with fried egg floss, spring onions, chili and crispy puffed rice.
7. Mad Roaster
Consider this Amoy Street Food Centre stall for your next caffeine fix. Helmed by lawyer Madeline Chan, Mad Roaster was founded as a social enterprise, as Chan wanted to find a way to help refugees in Thailand generate income. Each cup of coffee at Mad Roaster comes with a colourful logo coloured and decorated by a refugee that Chan has partnered with, and a portion of the stall’s sales also goes to the refugees. Besides specialty coffee that’s just as good as what you can get at a hipster café, you’ll also find pillowy chocolate babka and cinnamon brioche bread. Go for the signature Honey Butter Latte paired with a slice of chocolate babka, which is topped with a slathering of custard and generous sprinkle of salted chocolate crumble.