Dotted across Singapore, hawker centres are a must visit to experience the country’s rich food culture. Through a local’s guide to Market Street Interim Hawker Centre, discover useful tips and some must order dishes such as Nasi Lemak, Lor Mee and Masala Chai Teh.
Looking to try out some of Singapore’s best food and drinks? Want to experience a locals’ daily life? Then, visit Market Street Interim Hawker Centre during any lunch time! Stepping foot into this bustling food court, you will immediately notice a large variety of local delicacies being served up. Be warned, the lunch time crowd tend to come in during 12-2pm.
Food courts, also known as hawker centres, is what I like to think of as the kitchen of Singapore. It is where many Singaporeans growing up would’ve been to for breakfast or lunch with family. And undoubtedly, forms inspiration to many of Singapore’s top chefs.
Hawker centres can be found in every corner of streets in the city and is still an irreplaceable existence in many locals’ lives.
Singapore is a multi-racial country formed from mainly Chinese, Malay and Indian ethnic groups, offers a strong food diversity. There is hardly anything that can be considered as original Singapore-born dish, although dishes such as Hainanese Chicken Rice has become one of the more well-known Singapore dishes worldwide recently.
Given this rich cultural diversity, Singaporeans have a large choice of food from different cultural origins on their dining table every day. For example, having chicken rice which originates from Hainan province in China as a main with Malay-born dessert Bubur Cha Cha is a common dining scene in this multi-cultural melting pot.
In this short article are three of my top picks to order at a hawker centre. These are some of the simplest dishes, yet it should not be ignored at one of the most authentic food courts, Market Street Interim Hawker Centre.
Hawker Centre Culture
Before getting into the full review, I would like to mention one solid (but unspoken) local food court rule. Being a public space, seating is almost always on a first-come-first-serve basis. Diners would need to save a sitting spot, and then go to a food stall to order. As queuing time can be quite long, you would want to put your personal belongings on the table to let others know it is taken.
Therefore, what the Singaporeans do is to put a personal card, or simply a pack of pocket tissues on the table or seats. Cards can be anything from a gym membership to supermarket points card. But don’t leave your credit card!
Normally, I would put my old high school student card on the table. Doing as the locals do, will complete your experience of lunch at a Singaporean food court.
Nasi Lemak is one of the most familiar foods among Singaporeans. Originally from Malaysia, this bento-style dish has a mix of Malay traditional bites in one large filling plate. It usually comes with a choice of deep-fried fish or chicken wings, small sides of fried Ikan Bilis (Malay anchovies), peanuts, eggs, cucumber slices and sambal (spicy chilli paste) with a portion of rice in the middle.
I enjoy this little mix of many things on one plate, from crunchy juicy chicken wings to the lightly fried eggs. As I am a fan of spicy food, I always ask for an extra portion of sambal chilli paste (usually free of charge) which goes well with every side including the fragrant rice.
The fragrant rice used in Nasi Lemak is cooked with coconut milk and pandan leaves. At ‘Interim Market Street Nasi Lemak’ store, you can also choose to have ‘pandan Nasi Lemak’, where the rice comes in a mint green colour.
The rice is cooked with natural, chemical-free pandan extract, giving the rice not just the eye-catching unique colour, but also a soft aromatic leafy scent. I personally feel it gives the rice a softer and more fluffy texture as well.
Lor Mee (卤面) is a Chinese- inspired Malaysian dish that any local would be familiar with. Although it is not as popular as other iconic local dishes, it is worth giving it a go for its unique tasting.
Lor Mee is directly translated as ‘braised noodle’, and as you can imagine from its name, this noodle dish has a heavy and strong flavour. The recipe varies from country to country and even in many speciality eateries within Singapore, but it usually has a base soup made from mainly soy sauce and Chinese black vinegar with eggs and starch flour to give it a slurpy jelly-like texture.
Try the dish at Wei Nan Wang Hock Kian Lor Mee (味難忘福建鹵麵) in Market Street Interim Hawker Centre. The dish is topped with thickly sliced braised pork belly, fried fritters, hard-boiled eggs and a few slices of fish cakes. The noodle soup is completed by with a drizzle of extra black vinegar, chilli and minced garlic. Large in volume with generous toppings, this noodle dish is a must-order for any hungry soul.
Usually, the Chinese yellow noodles come with Lor Mee. However, at this store in Market Street Interim Hawker Centre you can ask for the noodles to be changed to Kway Tiao noodles (Chinese flat noodles). I personally like to switch up to a different noodle every time I go and order this. It changes the whole taste of the dish just by altering the noodles.
This time, I ordered Lor Kway Tiao (Lor Mee with Kway Tiao). The dish is best enjoyed by taking a few strings of Kway Tiao noodle with chopsticks while scooping the thick gravy soup and braised pork with a spoon. Wrapping everything together and placing this in your mouth in one go, allows these juicy rich flavours to blend with each other. I enjoy tasting every bite of the flavours coming from the meat, noodles and the toppings.
Lor Mee from this store is stronger in black vinegar, giving the soup a more refreshing sour taste, which goes well with other heavy meatier flavours. My only suggestion is to add more minced garlic which could have enhanced the flavour from braised pork belly.
Masala Chai Teh
Masala Chai Teh is a delicious local drink that a lot of people miss out when visiting a drink stall in food courts. The word ‘Teh’ refers to tea in Malay and normally ordering with that word you will be given a sweetened milk tea in food courts. Traditionally tea around this region has milk inside it.
Masala Chai Teh, is a spiced milk tea. The spiced milk tea commonly brewed with mixed spices like cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and clove. You will be surprised by how good for value this simple spiced milk tea at Market Street Interim Hawker Centre is!
Although it can be cheaply purchased from the small drink stall, the quality is beyond expectation from a food court. The milk tea is brewed to release the flavours of the spices and served at an optimal temperature.
Since the 90s, global coffee shop chains have introduced chai latte on their drink menu. Many have switched over to quicker making processes and modified its recipe to fit the taste preference of the larger consumer market. For example, by using flavoured syrups or powder mixed with steam milk. I tend to find these coffee shop drinks to taste more of sugar than the actual ingredients.
The Masala Chai Teh found in drink stalls in food courts is made mostly by hands by experienced uncle/aunties (a familiar and friendly way of calling shop floor staff in Singapore). Many of them still stick with their original family recipe from India. This explains why the taste is always different from stall to stall.
Masala Chai Teh has a very distinctive aroma and spiciness until the last sip. The unique blend of spices not only has a delicious taste but is also believed to have health benefits such as aids in digestion, nasal congestion and prevent cancer.
In food courts particularly in Singapore, drink stalls often put a little twist on the original Indian chai tea. Instead of using fresh milk, Singaporeans add condense milk into the mix. This makes the milk tea sweeter, creamier, and compliments the strongly brewed black tea and other raw spices.
I personally recommend getting this in older and more established food court such as Market Street Interim Hawker Centre because the shop owners are more experienced. Also, the cost of each cup is only about a quarter of the price of one purchased in a large coffee chain house. It is a must-try with local spicy food, or simply to have by its own after a long day of walking around.
Hawker Centre, Soul Food
Food court in Singapore offers various local soul food. Singaporeans come every other day to have dishes that they feel most comfortable and familiar with. No matter where the dishes come from originally, locals love getting orders from food courts. Try out a hawker centre once yourself and dive into Singapore’s multi-cultural food and beverages.
Market Street Interim Hawker Centre
5 Cross Street, No.01-24 Market Street Interim Hawker Centre, Singapore 048418
Open everyday, 08:30 - 18:00
Looking for a good place for coffee in Singapore? Read a foodie's review on Common Man Coffee Roaster .