Fritters & a History of Singapore’s Hawker Centres

Singapore is full of hawker centres and both before and during our recent trip to Singapore, we were recommended more than one to try. In a city where eating and drinking is expensive, hawker centres give a real opportunity to try local cuisine without breaking the bank!

The first one we visited was Maxwell Road Food Centre in Chinatown. It was a humid, wet afternoon and we were pleased to step out of the drizzle and into the cooled area beneath. I’m a massive fan of street food and we’d been blown away by the what we’d eaten and experienced in Penang, Malaysia so my hopes were high.

Maxwell Road Hawker Centre

After trying a few things from different traders (more of which later), we chose to finish our meal at China Street Fritters, a family business which has been at Maxwell Road hawker centre since it opened. This is a traditional Ngor Hiang stall of Chinese origin selling various handmade fritters. We ordered the plate of all seven fritters available (a little taste of each item served with fresh cucumber and two dipping sauces and sat down to eat.

Fritters at China Street Fritters

This piled high plate cost around S$7 and included the following items:

  • Fried fish balls
  • A century egg
  • Ter Kwa Tng (fried liver roll)
  • Guang Chiang (fried Chinese sausage)
  • Fried bean curd
  • Ngor Hiang (five spice meat roll)
  • Fried egg slice

I love trying new foods (however unusual) and this plate really tested my western palette. The century egg was probably the most unusual item on the plate. You might have heard it referred to as 100-year-old egg and preserved egg too. Basically, it’s an egg (in this case, chicken) which has been preserved in a clay, ash and salt mix. The preserving stage can last anything from a few weeks to several months. The yolk changes colour from yellow to dark green and the white turns to a brown see-through jelly. The whole thing together is creamy and slightly salty. Personally, I wasn’t keen but Dave loved it.

The fried liver sausage, however, was totally delicious, with a crispy outer and soft meaty centre. I also loved the bean curd with its crispy skin, especially when dipped into the chilli sauce. There was another sauce present which we weren’t able to identify. It had a slight irony flavour. This makes me believe it was offal or blood based but our companion just said it contained ‘some ingredients’! Maybe best not to know!!

China Street Fritters

Whilst we were eating, we were really lucky to be able to sit and chat with one of the three owners of China Street Fritters. He told us a lot about Singapore and the history of hawkers. A trade which his family has had for generations. He was extremely proud of his city and all that has been achieved there since independence from Malaysia in 1965. At times his enthusiasm was perhaps a little much. Erring into almost cultish devotion (especially given Singapore is effectively a one-party state with a strict penal system which includes the death penalty for relatively minor infractions).

That said, there are things on which he is right to be proud. Singapore is a clean, modern city with filtered drinking water, extensive green areas and some of the world’s most impressive architecture. Not to mention its rapid growth both physically (through land reclamation) and as a key financial player in the world markets, despite starting out with few natural resources or arable land.

The Counter at China Street Fritters

He gave us a lot of info on Hawker Centres and their history in Singapore too. They began popping up in the 1970’s as a way of clearing food traders from the streets and have helped raise levels of food hygiene dramatically. Whilst these places still probably don’t comply with strict health and safety regulations in the UK, they are a huge jump up from some of the stalls we saw in Bali and Malaysia. Hawker Centres are all over Singapore and Malaysia and are usually quite basic open sided buildings lined with permanent stalls selling all sorts of cuisine. There are communal tables and wash areas, places to stack your trays and usually toilets too.

Inside Maxwell Road Hawker Centre

This insight into Hawker Centres was really interesting. I’ve since read about the negatives though. They can be expensive and pitches hard to come by. OK for traders like China Street Fritters who’ve been there since the beginning but hard for new traders to get a foothold. I did really enjoy seeing the mix of tourists and locals eating in one space though. We visited more touristy hawker centres (like Lau Pa Sat for example) which did not have the same feel.

So, you want the noisy, authentic hawker centre experience in Singapore? My advice is to head to Maxwell Road Food Centre. It’s open daily from 1 pm – 3 am and is easy to get to from Chinatown.

1 Kadayanallur Street, Singapore 069184

What is the most unusual thing you’ve eaten in a hawker centre? Have you tried a century egg? Even better, have you been to Maxwell Road Food Centre? I’d love to know what you ate there and whether you tried China Street Fritters! Share your comments below!

12 Comments

  1. 30th May 2017 / 9:21 pm

    I have such similar photos from Maxwell Road but alas didn't go to that particular stall. I did however try century eggs. Taste not too bad but the texture was very weird.
    My faves are Maxwell Road, Lau Pa Sat (for arcitechture and satay), Tekka Centre and the Chinatown Complex. ♥SG

    • 4th June 2017 / 10:22 am

      The century egg is so strange isn’t it! I wasn’t keen on the texture either. We didn’t go to the Tekka Centre I don’t think! One for next time :0)

  2. 30th May 2017 / 9:48 pm

    I am longing to to go Singapore and try all the markets and food possible. R

  3. 31st May 2017 / 11:00 am

    It has been over 10 years since I was in Singapore. You are making me want to schedule a trip to eat all the hawker food!

  4. 4th June 2017 / 9:25 am

    The first time I saw this website, I was immediately attracted to zoom. Moreover, all the information is in my opinion quite interesting and intriguing. I hope you also visit my website and pass judgment on my website. Thanks.

  5. 10th June 2017 / 2:18 pm

    Wow that egg does sound challenging. Giving me hunger and wanderlust…urm hungerlust?!

    • 10th June 2017 / 2:36 pm

      ‘Hungerlust’ is brilliant! What a phrase! I’m sure it’ll catch on 🙂. With the egg, I am glad I tried it but probaby won’t do it again!

  6. 10th June 2017 / 8:18 pm

    I’d love to visit Singapore and go to a hawker centre – I love spicy street food, sounds like my kinda place!

    • 10th June 2017 / 9:48 pm

      Singapore and Penang in Malaysia will be amazing for you if you like spicy street food! I have so many more blogs still to write about it all!

  7. 10th June 2017 / 9:36 pm

    Your travels sound amazing and lovely to see food from a different cultures especially Asian cuisine:-)

    • 10th June 2017 / 9:47 pm

      Thank’s Camilla! It already feels like so long ago 🙂

  8. 10th August 2017 / 10:49 pm

    I love Singapore. The hawker centers are so amazing! Maxwell was one of our favs 🙂 The food there is so amazing, it seemed no matter where we went, there was a hawker center, offering such yummy foods. And you’re right, it is so beautiful there. It’s amazing how perfect all the gardens are and how clean the city is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *