Hawkers with that One Star Quality
I wonder how Singapore’s fanciest restaurants felt when they were gazumped by hawkers at the launch of The Michelin Guide in 2016? The guide, like Asia’s 50 Best or whatever other guide du jour, is just that, a guide. I don’t pay it much attention and I’m certainly not interested in queueing for hours on end or waiting months for a reservation. What the guides are good for is to show that cooking, in its purest form, can sometimes win out over money, marketing and extravagance.
Michelin on a Budget
The folks at Cuponation, who brought you a previous post about being a savvy traveller in Singapore, have kindly put together a handy resource below. You can use it to identify the budget options in Singapore that were graced with one Michelin star. Budget is a relative word but you can eat at all of these Michelin starred eateries for well under $100. That’s pretty good in the scheme of things. And the top two, being the only two I’ve visited, are what can only be called a bargain at $7 and $10 per head. You can read my two reviews below.
Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle
You can read a full review of Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle here. This has long been one of my favourite hawkers to visit for truly soul warming, comfort food. Their springy noodles, crispy pork crackling, succulent pork slices and deep umami soup are truly exceptional. And the lines have been long here for years. I suggest you arrive early, they open at 09:30 each day but until about 11 you shouldn’t have to wait too long. Note that Tai Hwa is closed on Monday but open every other day until 9pm.
Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle – Take 1
I only recently managed to get to Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle so I’ve included my full review here.
The first thing to note is that the queues are massive. I thought an 11:20 arrival would be ok but the queue was at least 30 deep already! After a couple of minutes I started contemplating my options. My little brain remembered that Hawker Chan had opened up an eat-in restaurant across the road at 78 Smith Street. Do you think I stuck with it to see what all the fuss was about? Or did I abort mission and head to the more convenient option. I really had no choice, an hour or so wait at a hawker centre on a hot day is just not in me.
Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle – Take 2
And I wasn’t disapppointed. I arrived at 11.30am and there was no queue. I’m not sure if I was lucky or what 11.30am seems to be a good time. What I can’t quite work out is why more people don’t pop across the road. The price is higher, yes. For example you pay $4.80 for the soya sauce chicken with noodles, whereas the same dish is $2.50 at the hawker centre. Personally I don’t think $2.50 is a sustainable price. Neither the hawker or the staff can be reasonably compensated at that price. This is one of Singapore’s issues with the dying trade of hawkers, unless people will stump up and pay more for their chicken rice their hawkers WILL disappear.
Anyway, I digress. The other big plus about the 78 Smith Street location is the air con. It was a stinking hot day on my visit and I really enjoyed the cool room. Granted there’s not much soul. I think what they’ve done is created this place to completely streamline their process by upping man power, automating where possible, and managing the flow of customers better. I’m sure that does have an impact on the end product, but by what percentage I’m not sure.My soya chicken and noodles was pretty darn good. The chicken was actually excellent. Very succulent, the skin was addictively rich, it had a slight bounce about it and made you want to suck the meat and skin from the bone. As for the noodles, they were bouncy but they were a little cold, the only disappointing element. This is simple food and I’ve no doubt it isn’t quite as good as the original stall across the road. However, the chicken itself is excellent and I’d go back to try the char siew as well.
What I am pleased to see is that a hawker has been able to somewhat capitalise on his Michelin standing by expanding his business, something that probably wouldn’t have happened otherwise. If you’re interested Hawker Chan is also doing a pop up at Town Restaurant in the Fullerton Hotel until the 10th June. You can find out more here.
Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle
335 Smith Street, #02-126, Chinatown Food Complex
Open 10am to 7pm every day except Wednesday
78 Smith Street, (opposite Chinatown Food Complex)
Open 10am to 8pm every day except Wednesday
You can read about some more pricey Michelin options in Singapore here.