The bowl of noodles is tossed in black vinegar and chili paste and topped with pork dumplings, minced pork and meatballs. Liver slices and dried sole fish are also in the mix.
If he’s lucky, Lowe may be able to get his meal within 90 minutes. Last year, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles became one of two street food stalls in the world to earn a star in the Michelin Guide. Now, diners cue up for more than an hour for the hearty bowls of noodles that will usually cost less than $10.
“Growing up, it becomes part of your memories,” he says. “That’s why you keep coming here.”
Singapore has its share of fine dining, but many locals and visitors prefer to go to its many food stall — or hawker — centers to taste inexpensive yet well-prepared dishes.
At each one, you can find a variety of cuisines because of Singapore’s proximity to so many other foodie destinations — Malaysian, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Middle Eastern. The large immigrant population has made its mark on the culinary scene.
You can find savory and sweet at each hawker center. There’s usually something to satisfy every craving — Hainanese chicken rice, laksa and curry puffs among them.
“The hawker center in Singapore is a service to the people,” says Tang Chay Seng, chef and owner of Hill Still Tai Hwa Pork Noodles, which his family started in the 1930s.
Seng has been cooking since he was a child. He’s now in his 60s.
And a new wave of younger chefs is putting its spin on traditional dishes.
At Amoy Street Food Centre, two culinary school classmates, Gwern Khoo and Ben Tham, started A Noodle Story, which has earned a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin Guide for Singapore. Bib Gourmands are selected by Michelin’s anonymous food inspectors, and cost diners $40 or less.
A Noodle Story markets itself as the place for "the first and only Singapore-style ramen."
The noodles are accompanied by Hong Kong-style wontons, a soy-flavored hot spring egg and a crispy potato-wrapped prawn. This is topped with barbecued pork then garnished with sliced scallions and red pepper. A small bowl, which is not that small, costs $5. A monster bowl is $9.25.
"Singapore's hawker centers are something very unique in this part of the world," Khoo says. "It's a melting pot of different cuisines at affordable prices. Most Singaporeans have most of their outside meals in hawker centers because it's cheap, delicious with huge varieties."
Perhaps one of the most popular hawker center dishes is Hainanese chicken rice. It is a simple dish — boneless chicken, rice cooked with chicken fat and bones, ginger, salted vegetables and broth. Simple, yet various food stalls vie for the title of best Hainan chicken rice producer.
At the Tiong Bahru Market Hawker Center, Tiong Bahru Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice has received a Bib Gourmand designation from the Michelin guide.
“It’s comfort food really,” says Naseem Huseni, a tour guide who specializes in food. “When I travel and come back to Singapore, this is the first thing I want to eat.”