It was really providence that our hotel is located right across Maxwell Food Centre, one of the most popular hawker hotspots in the whole of Singapore. So famous, in fact that one notable celebrity foodie has deemed some of the dishes from the stalls at Maxwell "the Best of the best".
Anthony Bourdain, are you talking about Hainanese Chicken Rice?!?
This, my friends, is one of the best meals that never breaks the bank. Here are some of my Hawker Highlights:
Maxwell Food Centre is a food festival with rows upon rows of specialized street food that is a hit amongst locals, and a not-so-hidden gem from tourists. From porridge to duck to chicken to fish balls, there's is something for everything here.
Mdm Hoon Delicacy's Foochow Oyster Cake
The sign said Oyster Cake at Maxwell Fuzhou Oyster Cake but it's more well known as "Mdm Hoon Delicacy's Foochow Oyster Cake."
At Stall #5 is Mdm Hoon, and Mdm Hoon, the second generation oyster cake lady. At the very front is Anthony Bourdain's mugshot which indicates that he had tried this hawker spot, and apparently it was "Wow" at first bite.
The younger Mdm Hoon shucks oysters in the background while the elderly Mdm Hoon prepares her famed Foochow oyster cake.For those who are vegetarian, there is a slightly cheaper version without oysters, but what's the point of the oyster cake without some oysters? It is a crunchy little disc of flour batter with oysters mixed in with minced pork, prawns and celery and some basil. There are peanuts on top and I was not so sure if I really cared for them.
As we were about to enter Maxwell Hawker Center, we noticed a queue piling up from the outskirts of the parking lot.
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
The stall was plastered with praises from local culture magazines to No Reservations star Anthony Bourdain. On Tian Tian, Bourdain said: Chicken Rice so fragrant and delicious that it can be eaten on its own. Could it be true?
The chopping of the chicken was nonstop at Tian Tian, which has its own cult following. My friend and famed photographer Kai Huang even messaged me to try THIS VERY stall for really good Hainanese Chicken Rice.
True to its trademark, Tian Tian only serves Hainanese Chicken Rice, although I'm not so sure what "Spare Parts" of the chicken constitute as "spare parts".
One of the important tips when traveling to Singapore is the unbelievable humidity in the tiny country. It is always on my mind to grab a refreshing drink.
And Maxwell's refreshments station right across Tian Tian is a cornucopia of different fruit juices, colas, soya milk, and bottled drinks.
I spotted some fresh sugarcane alongside some coconuts, and I knew this was my spot to find a sweet drink.
Marina South Delicious Food
I wanted to explore some more hawker stalls and came across Marina South Delicious Food, stall #35 near the refreshments stall.
I was intrigued because of the enormous photo of Banana Leaf Char Kway Teow noodles covering the class splashguard. Plus, the little boy seemed mesmerized in anticipation at his order. I had to take his lead.
Popular with the locals, this Char Kway Teow is heralded as one of Singapore's best, with 3 sizes to choose from, at $3, $4 and $5 respectively. Not bad.
So goes Day Two of my Singapore Surprise and a repeat of hawker haven.
I ordered the Lime Drink from the juice stall across Tian Tian, and loved its light citrusy sweetness. Then I spotted a familiar little orb floating inside my juice. It's Calamansi aka Philippine Mini-Lemons. Hello Singaporeans, this one is a Filipino import. No wonder it tasted to familiar and refreshing.
Banana Leaf Char Kway Teow
I was excited to try this famous noodle dish because Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia each have versions of Char Kway Teow. Singapore is known to cook this dish with dark sweet soy sauce, while Malay cuisine uses a white soy sauce. Marina South uses fresh cockles to make the flavor more robust. It's surprisingly not as salty as my the ones I've tried before, and enjoyed the texture of flat rice noodles mixed in with some chow mein noodles, bean sprouts, eggs, green onion and other spices. I loved this!
And now, for the grand finale: Tian Tian's Hainanese Chicken Rice!
Starting with the soup, it tasted like a hundred chickens simmered in the broth for what seemed like days. Even at 11am, it had a lingering flavor of chicken soup that was boiling all day.
The rice was fragrant and moist, but, to tell you honestly, the chicken rice at Maxwell Hainanese Chicken stall from the day before tasted better. This had a faint hint of chicken paste, unlike Maxwell's chicken rice which seemed to really take on the gingery briny flavor of Hainanese chicken. It wasn't bad though... because it was the perfect accompaniment to the main component.
Since Maxwell Centre is self-served, you can help yourself to ass much sauce as your taste buds can bear. The Kecap Manis (dark soy sauce) was nice and thick, just like the bottled version. The Sambal chili had a great kick to it. What kept me wondering was the Ginger sauce, which literally tasted like fresh ginger steeped in water. I missed the scent of sesame oil or a bit of garlic, but I guess since it's self-service they can't be bothered to put expensive ingredients in their sauces.
Someone is ready to dig in...
And the main attraction: Hainanese Chicken
Tian Tian's Chicken is truly worth the trip and the queue. It's meat is tender and served slightly above room temperature. Even the white meat had fantastic flavors of Hainanese. The skin was glossy, not slimy at all, and the sauce. The Sauce tasted just like the chicken and the chicken tasted just like the sauce.
This messy spoonful is a mouthful of chicken perfection. A slight sweetness with some brine, ginger and soy. I'm sure there are many contenders out there for the best Hainanese, but I think Tian Tian wins it for me.
Happy Hawker Brunchies.
I was observing the system at the hawker center, and found that bowls and plates were color coded to designated stalls, and collected by the restaurant staff to be returned to the stalls.
Those dishes were dumped into a pail of waiter right under Tian Tian. Note the fragile hunchback lady who did the dishes. It's amazing that a lot of our servers were of age and still very active.
I'm a happy Hawkerette!
Maxwell Food Centre
South Bridge Rd, Singapore 069184, Singapore