4 Must-Try Hawker Stalls
Street food guru K.F. Seetoh tells MELANIE LEE his favorite Singaporean and Malaysian hole-in-the-walls.
Guidebook author K.F. Seetoh muses upon his passion for hawker food and reveals his favorite stalls in Singapore and Malaysia. By Melanie Lee
K.F. Seetoh claims that his initials stand for “King of Food,” and in some ways, it’s a worthy title. The former photojournalist began his foray into food back in 1997 with The Makansutra, a guidebook on hawker, or street cart, food in Singapore. Multiple editions later (including Malaysia, Jakarta and Beijing versions), Seetoh has extended his culinary business to eateries, television shows and food tours. Right now, he is the host of The Food Surprise! on TLC channel, where he arrives unannounced at famous hawker stalls and restaurants in Singapore and Malaysia for a surprise review of their dishes.
Hawker food has a special place in Seetoh’s heart because he feels it’s an authentic reflection of the culture in Singapore and Malaysia. “This region has a rich migrant history. You’ll find the food here is an expression of how people in the past led their lives as they reconstructed dishes from their homeland,” he explains.
For Seetoh, having a hawker meal is a necessity when in Singapore or Malaysia. “It’s the greatest culinary souvenir you can take back from your trip. You’re not just digesting the food, but also partaking of that country’s heritage.”
SEETOH’S HAWKER FAVORITES
“Authentic street food is found deep in the heartlands (local suburbs) and not in travel guidebooks. You’ll have to look hard for it. This is because many Singaporean hawker or food court stalls now get their food supplies from central factories.”
1. Selera Kita (Blk. 58, New Upper Changi Rd., #01-217). “This humble mee rebus stall is well visited by people from all walks of life. The lady owner still keeps her prices affordable—just S$1.20 per plate. It’s a simple noodle dish with an egg and a splash of dark soy sauce, but the gravy is beautiful and there’s just this good old days taste to it.”
2. Chey Sua Carrot Cake (Blk. 127, Lorong 1 Toa Payoh, #02-30; S$2-$4). “It’s their special family recipe, and they adapted this southern Chinese radish dish by making it like a pancake. They have this special frying technique where they tilt the pan so the oil collects at the side and the carrot cake becomes crispy instead of soaking up the oil. Absolutely brilliant.”
“Penang is Malaysia’s street food capital. I love how the place evokes a 1960’s nostalgia feel and the food here is cheap, good and hygienic.”
1. Beratur Nasi Kandar (98 Jln. Masjid Kapitan Keling; open hours vary daily; RM10-30 per person). “Nasi Kandar is a mixed rice dish created by the Indian immigrants in Penang. This particular stall has been around since 1943 and has a long-standing reputation—be prepared for a long queue. They use an aromatic spice paste for their curries and I love their fried chicken, beef slices and black squid ink sotong (calamari).”
2. Sin Kheng Aun Restaurant (2 Lorong Chulia; 61-4/261-6786; opens 11 a.m.–2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-8:30 p.m., except Mondays; RM16-32 per person). “Hainanese cuisine is a bit of an anomaly compared to other Chinese cuisines in this region because it includes Peranakan and Western dishes as well. This is because many early Hainanese immigrants in the 19th century were cooks for British troops and wealthy Straits Chinese. In this restaurant, they do a wonderful assam pomfret and Hainanese chicken chop.”