Where To Find The Best Of Singapore’s Old School Hawker And Zi Char Eateries
Dig into char kway teow, moonlight hor fun, kaya toast, and laksa—plus a side trip for some Spanish churros by La Lola SG
I found myself back in Singapore for the third time this year, thanks to an invitation from La Lola Churreria SG group. This Spanish churros concept from the Philippines was brought to Singapore last year by the MFT Group, a Philippine-based private equity firm with a growing international food portfolio that includes Salad Stop outlets in Spain and Vietnam.
Cocktail hour view of the iconic Marina Bay Sands from Caffe Fernet | Cyrene dela Rosa
Despite being a frequent visitor to Singapore, I was very excited to go back (and eat) again. After all, through the years, Singapore has undeniably become one of Asia’s top culinary destinations, seducing us with a wide variety of cuisines at different price points. During this special food trip, thanks to our host, not only did we get to try what’s new at La Lola SG, but we also dined at some of the best hawker and Zi Char (a Hokkien term to describe a Chinese food stall that offers a wide selection of home-style dishes) eateries in town.
La Lola SG
Our first stop fresh off the plane was at La Lola SG’s new branch at the famed Jewel Changi, Singapore Changi Airport’s new mall located right beside terminal one. After checking out Jewel’s centerpiece attraction, the majestic 40-meter high HSBC Rain Vortex, the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, we went down to level B2 for a quick snack at La Lola SG, which just recently opened its second store there. (La Lola opened its first branch last year at Clarke Quay Central Mall.) This is currently one of only two Filipino brands that have found a home in Jewel Changi.
Heap Seng Leong
Block 10 North Bridge Road, #01-5109, open 4am to 8pm daily
Coffee with melted butter and kaya toast | Cyrene dela Rosa
The nostalgic charm of this old-school coffee shop or kopitiam will transport you back to the 1950’s. Heap Seng Leong is well known for its traditional kopi gu you or coffee with melted butter, and, in my opinion, serves one of the better old school kaya toasts I’ve tried so far.
Kaya Toast | Cyrene dela Rosa
The old uncle and son who run this place flip slices of traditional white bread on a charcoal stove to brown both sides before applying butter and kaya (a jam made of coconut milk, egg, sugar) on it, which makes a big difference. This is not the place to go when you’re in a hurry as the uncle takes his time to make both the coffee and toast, making only up to two at a time. Traditional kopitiams are really hard to come by now, so do visit before the very old uncle retires.
Keng Eng Kek
Moonlight Hor Fun | Cyrene dela Rosa
No grumpy aunties are found at this well-known and loved Zi Char, recommended by the Michelin Guide and featured on Netflix’s Street Food. This star eatery happens to serve good food with a smile, thanks to its very friendly owners, Paul and Wayne Liew. Keng Eng Kek is most known for its signature Zi Char dishes like the super IG-friendly Moonlight Hor Fun, a fried tau pork stuffed with different ingredients called Mingzhu Roll, and Coffee Ribs.
Coffee Ribs | Cyrene dela Rosa
One must not miss trying its seafood dishes like the to-die-for Salted Egg Fried Crabs and Deep Fried Fish Skin. The salted egg sauce alone with rice is heavenly! Those who do not eat rice can eat the extra sauce with steamed mantau buns. Locals swear that the place also serves the best chili crabs in town, although I wasn’t able to try that. Make sure to bring some friends so that you can get to try more dishes.
Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee
#02-17 Hong Lim Food Center, 531A Upper Cross Street, open Monday to Saturday 6 am to 3:30 pm
Char Kway Teow | Cyrene dela Rosa
Located inside Hong Lim Market & Food Center, one of the first proper hawker centers in the Chinatown area, this humble stall is home to one of the best takes on char kway teow, one of Singapore’s national dishes. Made of stir-fried rice noodles with eggs, Chinese sausage, and bean sprouts, the version here is oiled just enough for it to retain a smoky taste from the frying, with better-than-bacon tiny bits of fried lard adding a punch of flavor to each bite. It’s best to visit early in the morning when the lines are not that long and, if you get lucky, are non-existent.
Sungei Road Laksa
Blk 27 Jalan Berseh #01-100, open 9:30 am to 4 pm daily (closed on some Wednesdays)
The modest laksa stall with charcoal stove to the side | Cyrene dela Rosa
Reputedly serving one of the best laksa in town, this coffee shop in Jalan Besar has been around for more than 60 years. It started as a pushcart operation in the same area by Uncle Wong who just recently passed away. The most unique element of the Sungei Laksa is that charcoal fire is still used to keep the laksa gravy warm at all times. The laksa broth here is a tad lighter in consistency and less gritty than my other favorite at George Katong Laksa located in the off-the-beaten track East side. But, this one is still tasty.
Laksa | Cyrene dela Rosa
The $3 serving already includes cockles and comes with a generous smear of sambal on the side for those who prefer a spicier laksa. Since the serving portion is on the small side, those with bigger appetites may need to buy two orders which, at $3 a bowl, is still a reasonably priced meal. Sungei Road Laksa is located around 5 to 10 minutes away from the Jalan Besar MRT station.