Where Anthony Bourdain ate in Singapore
From clumsily tackling sup tulang (and loving every minute of it) to waxing lyrical about chicken rice, Anthony Bourdain didn’t just celebrate a side of Singapore that had nothing to do with its shiny skyscrapers, he put the city’s hawker food on the map.
- June 2019
Anthony Bourdain was never shy about his love for Singapore hawker food. “Singapore is possibly the most food-centric place on Earth, with the most enthusiastic diners, the most varied and abundant, affordable dishes — available for cheap — on a per-square-mile basis. The hawker centers (basically, food courts where individually-owned mom and pop operations serve street food from tiny shops and booths) are wonderlands of Chinese, Indian, and Malay specialties. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel making food porn in Singapore.”
When it comes to local food, every Singaporean has passionate opinions about which is best. We can’t say these dishes are, but they sure hit the spot for Bourdain.
1) Chicken rice from Tian Tian Chicken Rice
After being jeered at for not having eaten chicken rice before, Bourdain’s crusade to find the best chicken rice brought him to one of Singapore’s most iconic hawker centers — Maxwell Food Centre. What he first described as a deceptively looking meal of boiled chicken and white rice was one that would captivate his vested interest in Bourdain Market a little further down the road. “If there’s one dish that’s a must-try, it’s chicken rice. You may not like it the best, but it’s the dish that just might lead you to understand Singapore better."
#01-10/11, Maxwell Food Centre
2) Black vinegar claypot pig trotters from Keng Eng Kee Seafood
While visiting the family home of Liew Choy who runs Keng Eng Kee, a 40-year-old zi-char restaurant, Bourdain was introduced to a modified version of the ubiquitous Black vinegar pig trotters. Describing it as “a beautiful and softly tangy cross between vinegar ginger trotters and braised trotters”, the chef’s praise eventually paved the way for the laborious dish’s entry into the restaurant’s staple menu.
#01-136, 124 Bukit Merah Lane 1
3) Char kway teow from Hill Street Char Kway Teow
Ugly Delicious. The “unlovely-looking brown heap” does not subscribe to a healthy lifestyle but the artery-clogging treat is a complex combination of sweet, savoury, spicy and rich that’s rounded off with a gluey kind of lacquered-ness that will stain your lips with delicious memories.
#01-41, 16 Bedok South Road
4) Claypot rice from Geylang Claypot Rice @ 365 Beach Road
Enrobed in at least 30 years of history, it’s no wonder the establishment despite its recent upheaval from Geylang to gentrified Beach Road has amassed fans across generations. The wait may be a tad excruciating but the toothsome amalgamation of chinese sausage, salted fish and rice lolling around in heavenly lard makes it all worthwhile. Bonus points for the crisped rice bottom.
361, 365 Beach Road
5) White pepper crab from JB Ah Meng
In his wish list for Bourdain Market, Tony shared no reservations about his love for white pepper crab. Well regarded as a night owl’s dining destination, JB Ah Meng does wonders with live crabs. They are steamed till loose-willed and then wok-fried with a poignant white pepper paste composed of Sarawak white pepper and oyster sauce.
534 Geylang Road
6) Crab bee hoon from Sin Huat Eating House
Bourdain described the crab bee hoon touting massive Sri Lankan crabs tossed in a spicy mystery sauce and noodles as “pure messy indulgence”. Just be warned: Sin Huat Eating House may be located in the thick of the red-light district, but prices here are not cheap.
659 Geylang Road
7) Laksa from Sungei Road Laksa
These SGD $2 bowls of Katong Laksa are living proof that eating well on a budget is possible in Singapore. In a culture where there is no shame in a big bowl of laksa first thing in the morning, Bourdain reveled in the “classic hurt-so-good experience”, armed with just a spoon, and a towel to mop the sweat from his face.
#01, 27 Jalan Berseh
8) Dry prawn noodles from 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles
Preservation of heritage food has been a subject of concern for a long time. Here at 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles, Li Ruifang maintains the third-generation business and is regarded as one of new generation heroines of the dying hawker trade. We recommend the dry prawn mee tossed in sambal for a serious umami fix.
#01-326 Tekka Food Centre
9) Lontong and mee siam from Sabar Menanti II
Sabar Menanti translates to “wait patiently” and it is here that one has to endure long queues to indulge in one of the city’s best loved nasi padang. Serving authentic Padang food, the establishment does a roaring trade till after-lunch when all the best stuff gets snatched up. Order their signature breakfast items such as mee siam and lontong (rice cake smothered in coconut gravy with braised vegetables and a hard-boiled egg) to fuel up for the day.
747 North Bridge Road
10) Sup tulang from Haji Kadir - M.Baharudeen
Top tip: Do not wear a white shirt. Also be prepared to get your chin, fingers, palms and potentially whatever exposed skin surfaces stained red as you crouch over, sucking on mutton bones stewed in a delicious sweet chili sauce. “The kicker is the unearthly chili infused bone marrow,” said Bourdain.
#B1-13/14 Golden Mile Food Centre