Hunting Hawker Centers and Michelin Stars: An Insider’s Guide to Singapore’s Dynamic Dining Scene
Hunting Hawker Centers and Michelin Stars: An Insider's Guide to Singapore's Dynamic Dining Scene - Humble Hawker Fare Goes Haute Cuisine
Singapore's hawker centers have long been melting pots of the island's culinary diversity, with Chinese, Malay, and Indian flavors coming together in humble settings that belie the incredible quality of the food. These open-air food courts host stall upon stall of sizzling woks, fragrant spices, and generations of family cooking traditions - all available at prices that seem almost criminal for the complex medleys of flavor packed into each plastic-plated meal.
But lately, Singapore's celebrated hawker fare has been getting a major boost upmarket. Top chefs are looking to street food not just for inspiration, but collaboration, working with hawker legends to bring local specialties into fine dining contexts. Meanwhile, the government has pledged support to have Singapore's hawker culture recognized by UNESCO, both preserving tradition and elevating its status.
One pioneer has been Chef Bjorn Shen, the mastermind behind Art and restaurant Burnt Ends. Shen has partnered with hawker stalls to reinterpret classics in inventive ways, like kaya toast in the form of foie gras parfait and black truffle scramble with fish skin "croissants." His creative fusion appeals to local and international diners alike.
Janice Wong, who helms 2am:dessertbar and the Michelin-starred wun, brings her precision plating and molecular gastronomy to render hawker dishes like chicken rice and laksa into dainty, elegant bites. Handmade xiao long bao look like little bejeweled treasure boxes in her hands.
TungLok Group's Song of India also collabs with hawker stalls for its chef's table experience. Dishes like vadai fritters on coin dosa and Thosai crab cake reinvent familiar ingredients to multi-dimensional effect in the fine dining ambiance.
What else is in this post?
- Hunting Hawker Centers and Michelin Stars: An Insider's Guide to Singapore's Dynamic Dining Scene - Humble Hawker Fare Goes Haute Cuisine
- Hunting Hawker Centers and Michelin Stars: An Insider's Guide to Singapore's Dynamic Dining Scene - From Street Food to Celebrity Chefs
- Hunting Hawker Centers and Michelin Stars: An Insider's Guide to Singapore's Dynamic Dining Scene - Hotpot Havens and Chilli Crab Institutions
- Hunting Hawker Centers and Michelin Stars: An Insider's Guide to Singapore's Dynamic Dining Scene - Fine Dining with Flair at Marina Bay Sands
- Hunting Hawker Centers and Michelin Stars: An Insider's Guide to Singapore's Dynamic Dining Scene - Savoring Satay and Sushi on Orchard Road
- Hunting Hawker Centers and Michelin Stars: An Insider's Guide to Singapore's Dynamic Dining Scene - Little India's Delectable Dosas and Curries
Hunting Hawker Centers and Michelin Stars: An Insider's Guide to Singapore's Dynamic Dining Scene - From Street Food to Celebrity Chefs
Singapore's hawker fare has long been the true soul food of the city-state. But while locals have always known the incredible depth of flavor packed into a S$3 plate of chicken rice or laksa, it's only recently that these humble street stalls have caught the attention of the world's celebrity chefs.
Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto made waves when he joined the long lines for Tian Tian Hainnese Chicken Rice, declaring it the best version he'd ever tasted. Anthony Bourdain waxed poetic about the sublime perfection of Maxwell Food Centre's Tian Tian Chicken Rice and Lau Pa Sat's satay. Gordon Ramsay took lessons in how to properly prepare chilli crab at Jumbo Seafood.
Yet rather than just sample Singapore's street food like tourists, some star chefs are now collaborating with hawker legends to showcase local flavors in inventive new ways. Chef Bjorn Shen of Art and Burnt Ends partners with stalls like Ah Hoi's kaya toast and Tiong Bahru Hainnese Chicken Rice for special pop-up dinners, turning comfort food into fine dining. Janice Wong's elegant plating and molecular gastronomy transform hawker bites like oyster omelettes and fish head curry into dainty tasting menus at her restaurant 2am:dessertbar.
Song of India also works with hawkers to offer one-of-a-kind experiences like vadai fritter coin dosas and sambal stuffed crab cakes in their elegant dining room. By melding street food traditions with four-star treatment, it gives a new dimension of respect to Singapore's humble hawker fare.
For the hawkers, these collaborations are a way to reach new audiences beyond the local regulars who have supported them for generations. It also provides a sense of legacy, allowing veteran cooks to pass on treasured recipes to new generations of chefs who can carry traditions forward with openness to innovation.
Hunting Hawker Centers and Michelin Stars: An Insider's Guide to Singapore's Dynamic Dining Scene - Hotpot Havens and Chilli Crab Institutions
While celebrity chef collabs are reinventing hawker fare, some of Singapore's most beloved food institutions keep traditional flavors alive. Places like Beauty in The Pot hotpot and No Signboard Seafood chilli crab hold decades-long legacies, their recipes unchanged over generations.
At Beauty in The Pot, the DIY hotpot experience lets you take control. Cook thinly sliced meats, seafood, veggies, and noodles in bubbling broths with customized spice levels. Their signature Mala soup base perfectly balances numbing Sichuan pepper with the fire of chilli oil. The Tom Yum soup is intensely flavored yet light. Going uptown, their Orchard outlet even has a high-tech pot that can be controlled via your phone. But the highlight is always the phenomenally fresh ingredients like tender Kurobuta pork belly and plump prawns.
No Signboard Seafood is famed for perfecting Singaporean chilli crab, slathered in a sweet, spicy, tomato-based sauce. Their version stands out with an unbeatable freshness - crabs are air-flown daily and each is carefully selected to hit the 1 to 1.2kg sweet spot. Work through crab hammer, cracker and scissors yourself or have staff debone for you. Best paired with fried buns to sop up the luscious sauce. They now have several outlets but many locals swear by the original Geylang location.
At Palm Beach Seafood, third generation owner Francis Ng still mans the wok, carrying on his father's famed chilli and black pepper crab recipes. Their crabs impress with juicy flesh and a complex fragrance from its chili, eggs, tomato base. Chin Huat Live Seafood is a neighborhood favorite offering crab done simply, with minimal ingredients allowing natural flavors to shine. Their white pepper crab lets white crab roe shine alongside tender meat and crispy fried mantou.
Mellben Seafood at Ang Mo Kio started out with just one crab dish in 1980 but now has six signature styles including trendy salted egg yolk crab. Their Chilli Crab features a distinct padang sauce made fiery by a whopping eight types of chili. Chef Wang's Kitchen's chilli crab impresses with copious crab roe and a sambal that brings gentle heat.
Hunting Hawker Centers and Michelin Stars: An Insider's Guide to Singapore's Dynamic Dining Scene - Fine Dining with Flair at Marina Bay Sands
While Singapore's hawker centers showcase the country's humble culinary roots, the city also houses world-class fine dining experiences that blend innovation with multi-cultural influences. And the epicenter of this high-end food scene is Marina Bay Sands. The integrated resort's celebrity chef restaurants invite diners on a global gustatory adventure, all under one roof.
Joël Robuchon's eponymous restaurant holds more Michelin stars than any other dining destination on the planet. Across two spaces, L'Atelier (one star) offers a more casual but still superb experience focused on Robuchon's contemporary French cuisine. The Salon (three stars) is an elegant affair with a seasonal tasting menu that is the pinnacle of French fine dining. Dishes like caviar jelly topped with a delicate cauliflower cream and king crab wowed during a recent meal. Service matches the stellar food, with knowledgeable servers gracefully guiding guests through the experience.
Cut by Wolfgang Puck blends American steakhouse classics with global accents, earning a Michelin star for its efforts. Their dry aged selections like the 45-day New York strip simply melt in the mouth, beautifully enhanced by red wine reductions or chimichurri. Japanese wagyu really shines though when paired with truffle butter. If seafood is more your speed, langoustine, lobster and scallops are prepared impeccably. Their Asian-inspired sides like garlic fried rice and edamame balance flavors nicely.
Celebrity chef David Myers brings Spanish flavors to Adrift with two concepts - Adrift Burger Bar (for fantastic dry aged beef burgers) and Adrift Restaurant. At the restaurant, the 5-course Chef's Journey Menu provides a taste tour of Spain's diverse regions and ingredients via dishes like Galician octopus and Wagyu beef cheek paired with sherry from Andalusia. It's playful fine dining at its best.
Cloud Forest at Flower Dome within the Gardens by the Bay is home to Pollen. Chef Jason's 8 or 10 course vegetable focused tasting menus are wholly inspired by the natural setting and use ingredients from their on-site gardens. Dishes like foie gras done two ways with rhubarb astound with their freshness and creativity. The sleek space's floor-to-ceiling windows immerse you in lush greenery, making for a multi-sensory experience.
Waku Ghin by celebrity chef Tetsuya Wakuda has two Michelin stars and provides highly personalized fine dining. Just 25 guests per evening are ushered through a 25-course omakase menu featuring pristine seafood and the finest Japanese Wagyu. The highlight comes when you move to a private room to cook your own A5 Wagyu on a teppanyaki grill under the chef's guidance - an exceptional treat. Care and attention to detail elevates the entire experience.
Hunting Hawker Centers and Michelin Stars: An Insider's Guide to Singapore's Dynamic Dining Scene - Savoring Satay and Sushi on Orchard Road
The famed Orchard Road offers much more than just high-end shopping. This bustling thoroughfare is also home to an incredible array of dining options, from humble hawker fare to elegant fine dining. For visitors eager to experience Singapore’s melting pot of flavors, Orchard Road provides delicious opportunities to savor satay and sushi without ever having to hop in a taxi.
The street food classic of chicken and beef satay, with its charred meat and peanut dipping sauce, can be found at Satay Street at Cuppage Terrace. Their satay stays consistently juicy and flavorful, with just the right amount of smoky chargrill flavor. Their recipe has been passed down over generations. For an upscale twist, KPO at Killiney Road weaves satay into contemporary dishes like wagyu beef satay bruschetta. Their signature is the satay baguette – tender grilled meat stuffed into freshly baked bread.
Elsewhere, Watami Grill Dining on Somerset Road lets you enjoy yakitori skewers and teppanyaki tables along Orchard Road. Chicken thigh skewers arrive with perfectly crisped skin covering velvety meat. Scallops and foie gras are decadent additions to balance the classic chicken and pork belly. Watching expert chefs maneuver sizzling iron griddles at your table is entertainment in itself.
Japanese fine dining is on offer at Shoukouwa, nestled on the second floor of Pacific Plaza. Their sushi creations exhibit an avant-garde approach, like truffle aburi salmon belly and foie gras nigiri. For more traditional edomae-style sushi, Hashida Sushi's tightknit wooden counter seats just eight lucky guests each evening. Courses highlight ultra-seasonal seafood flown in daily from Tsukiji Market, treated with masterful precision.
For conveyor belt sushi, Genki Sushi’s many outlets provide reliable freshness combined with novelty. Their browned rice sushi adds lovely nutty flavors, and seaweed or quinoa wrapped rolls add healthful options. Kids love being able to grab favorites off the belt while parents enjoy Japanese beer and sake.
Tamuya Japanese Dining Bar & Bistro at Paragon Shopping Centre also rolls out whimsical sushi burritos and pizza-shaped sushi. Their aburi oven adds charred, melty edges to nigiri. Inside Isetan Scotts supermarket, you’ll find Tempura Tendon Itsuki, serving up impeccably light tempura alongside elegant Kaiseki-style courses. From a quick sushi snack to a full omakase experience, Orchard Road truly captures the essence of Japanese cuisine.
Hunting Hawker Centers and Michelin Stars: An Insider's Guide to Singapore's Dynamic Dining Scene - Little India's Delectable Dosas and Curries
Little India packs the vibrant flavors of South Asia into one sensory-smashing Serangoon enclave. On buffet spreads and banana leaf platters across the neighborhood, dosas showcase perfect crispness and curries burst with complex spice. For visitors keen to dive mouthfirst into this melting pot of Indian cuisine, Little India serves up profound variety in casual settings that spur communal dining.
The area glitters with the gilded temples of Sri Veeramakaliamman and Sakaya Muni Buddha Gaya, but its true treasures are found in unpretentious eateries emanating aromas that envelop you like a warm hug. Komala Vilas has been drawing locals and expats since 1947 with scrumptious dosas, those giant crispy lentil and rice flour crepes often served with fragrant sambar and cooling coconut chutney. Their signature is the ghee dosa, laced with clarified butter for an extra hit of toasty flavor. The plain dosa provides a perfect canvas to appreciate the delicate, lacy crispness of the edges contrasting the pillowy center. For curries, Komala's mutton and fish head versions excel by allowing rich gravies to take center stage rather than overspicing.
For an endless variety of Southern Indian fare under one roof, MTR draws daily crowds for its vegetarian family-style meals. Their famous rava idli steams rice and semolina into fluffy, custard-like satisfaction. Giant masala dosas envelop spiced potatoes, onions and chillies in a bundle of joy. Filter coffee adds a jolt to help diners plow through unlimited refills of over 15 curries, sabzis, pachadis and desserts for just S$14. Servers exude good cheer, fostering an atmosphere of community rather than mere routine.
In contrast to barebones Komala and cafeteria-style MTR, Jaggi's Northern Indian Cuisine offers refined dining with Bollywood music. Their showstopper palak paneer boasts the creamiest, freshest spinach gravy you'll find outside Delhi. Punchy curries like murgh makhani balance savor with subtlety instead of blowtorching your tastebuds. For an interactive experience, you can watch staff make naan to order in the tandoor oven right at your tableside. One bite of their garlic or cheese versions will have you chewing slowly in sheer bliss.
When the sweltering midday heat becomes too intense, Little India thankfully offers ample spots to chill with an afternoon lassi or masala chai. Chaiwalla serves up classic masala tea sweetened with condensed milk, plus Indian soda variants like rose lychee. Gorge on snacks likes vadas while calming your senses. Across the street, Ananda Bhavan draws those craving homemade tastes with snacks like medu vada and gobi 65. Their cooling mango and rose lassis can't be missed on a hot day.