A Taste of Singapore: Hawker Centers & Laksa

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There are no seasons in Singapore just sunlight, rain, and heavy rain. This city state is often called the 'little red dot’ by residents because marking it on a map often obscures the area of land depicted. Singapore’s population is a mixture of Chinese, Malay and Indian immigrants. Is your mouth watering at the thought of all those cuisines mixing together yet?

The region has a strong history of street food due to the bachelor population of early independence. The ratio of men to women was skewed, so the tradition of street food grew to accommodate a lack of home-cooked meals.

A Madhouse of Mixed Styles and Fare

The hawkers that used to line the streets have since moved their practice to indoor food courts, dubbed hawker centers. These centers are the perfect place to show off the credo of mixing that makes Singaporean cuisine so remarkable. There’s Malaysian fare mixed with Hokkien cooking methods, which constitutes as Nonya style cooking. Hakka cuisine refers to the blending of Indian and Chinese ingredients and guarantees a great meal at any establishment that specializes in it.

Inside a Singapore Hawker Centre. Foodable Web TV | Photo Credit: BBC News

Inside a Singapore Hawker Centre.

Foodable Web TV | Photo Credit: BBC News

A trip to a hawker centre is a must-see for anyone traveling to Singapore, and a visit to this country wouldn’t be complete without it. First-time visitors are greeted by the vast varieties of scents from all the cooking stalls that line the outer circumference of the centre. Steam from the baskets full of bao (soft, plump dumplings filled with meat) rises and mingles with the smoke from the griddles. The shouts of the hawkers can be confusing as you place your order, but persevere and you’ll be rewarded with one of the best meals of your life. 

Foodable WebTV Network | Photo Credit: Meutia Chaerani / Indradi Soemardjan

Foodable WebTV Network | Photo Credit: Meutia Chaerani / Indradi Soemardjan

Laksa Love

The next big dish you haven’t heard of that will probably be popping up on menus all over the western world is laksa, and it’s emblematic of Singaporean cuisine. The dish originated in Malaysia but was perfected in Singapore. It has yet to be treated with a Western makeover and shipped to other countries, like the bland dishes of pad thai or pho that populate take-out menus. Laksa is a savoury, spicy noodle soup that’s meant to be served piping hot for lunch or dinner. There are several variations, but all include a basic template of coconut milk, dried shrimp paste and curry. The dish is often served with a side of fiery hot sambal chili paste. There are clearer broths available, made sour by the omission of coconut milk and the addition of tamarind paste and liberal squirts of lime juice. One of the best things about laksa is the fact that it’s such a versatile dish. Each bowl of broth can be topped with a wide range of things from cockles to fried chunks of tofu to springy discs of fish cake. It’s a rich, comforting dish and it leaves one full for hours after slurping it down. 

Keep your eyes peeled for laksa as it makes its way onto the food scene stateside. With this guide as your crib notes, you’ll impress all your fellow diners.