We landed in Singapore very early in the morning and yet our hotel still allowed us to check in and get to our room. Though we felt like napping, we couldn’t and wouldn’t as we were meeting Ivan of food.recentrunes.com and he was going to take us to the Old Airport Road Hawker Centre. Connecting with a local is always a great idea when travelling – Ivan took us to places we’d never think of going and he’s fun and a wealth of information on all things food. For example, this hawker centre he bought us to is well away from the centre and we didn’t see a single other tourist or expat there. According to him, it’s also got the highest concentration of award winning stalls so yeah, a good place! If you’re wondering about what a hawker centre is, imagine a giant covered outdoor food court.
When we got there, we met up with another local food blogger, Catherine of Camemberu, who’d been holding down a large table for us. They sat us down (me and two colleagues) while they scoured the hawker centre (my French colleague thought I said “hooker centre” each time) for good eats. From a stall nearby, I bought big tumblers of refreshing and sweet sugar cane juice for everyone and we sat there waiting to see what would happen.
Oh boy, did things happen! Ivan returned with two plates of my favourite childhood dish – chai tow kway (or fried carrot cake – I have a cheat’s version here) – in both black and white versions. My favourite is still the white one as it’s what I grew up with but the sweetness of the black version (cooked with a dark caramelly soy sauce) was addictive. Off he went again.
Now Catherine returned with a big plate of char kway teow. Brilliant stuff with a good chilli kick – I wish it was just as good and just as cheap here in London.
Then back Ivan came again and this time with two plates of popiah. Flour based skins are rolled around a mixture of stewed jicama (yam bean) and various sauces and the rolls are extremely moreish. These were vegetarian ones but it’s not uncommon to find some Chinese sausage or crabmeat in them.
He returned one final time with three (THREE!) plates of Singaporean fried Hokkien mee. This one hails from the famous Nam Sing stall (given the highest rating of ‘Die, die must try!’ in Singapore’s fabulous Makansutra guide) – the noodles soak up the stock in which it’s cooked and what results is a dry Hokkien mee, very unlike the slightly soupier versions one tends to find. They were delicious and I was just sorry we couldn’t finish them all.
Though we were rubbing tummies by this point (jetlag always seems to shrink stomach volume), Ivan wasn’t done with us. He ran off again for a bit and then reappeared with a trayful of desserts!
Breaking them down, we had an ice kacang (pronounced ‘kachang’) which is a mountain of shaved ice on top of beans and corn and jelly and atap seeds and it’s doused with multicoloured syrups. Very cold and very sweet – I used to eat this a lot as a kid but just cannot deal with all the syrup now!
Or nee is a yam paste – and that’s about it. Ivan told us that it used to be cooked with lard but with health at the forefront of everyone’s mind nowadays, it’s now cooked with shallot oil.
How about a thick and gooey mung bean soup? It wasn’t very sweet and it went well with the crispy cut up Chinese fritters on top.
Finally, there was cendol (pronounced ‘chendol’). The soupy mixture is a mixture of shaved ice, coconut milk and brown gula melaka (a dark palm sugar) and hidden underneath it all is a treasure trove of green noodles. Though I’ve never been the biggest fan of Asian desserts, my mouth is watering thinking about this again.
Needless to say, we didn’t finish everything; I only wish we hadn’t been so jet lagged as then we’d have been able to eat more food! Thank you again, Ivan and Catherine!
There were so many food stands, each one offering different things. If, for example, you weren’t interested in the dishes above, perhaps a crocodile paw hotpot is more to your liking?
Old Airport Road Hawker Centre
Blk 51 Old Airport Road