Singapore Eats: Local Food Haven in Chinatown (牛车水美食天堂)
Chinatown is a popular destination on the itineraries of most travellers and tourists to Singapore. Apart from the rich heritage and culture, the area is also a food haven for local Chinese food. Any Chinese food that can be found in Singapore, you will be able to find a stall in Chinatown.
In this post, we will recommend popular eating places, as well as food centres where there are stalls selling all kinds of food and also a couple of streets with pubs and restaurants for chilling out at night. Do check the map at the end of this post for their locations.
1. Nanyang Old Coffee (南洋老咖啡)
Start the day with Singapore's traditional coffee at Nanyang Old Coffee. It's a two-shop coffee outlet at one end of Smith Street, close to the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum. Apart from serving Singapore-taste thick black coffee with traditional breakfast set, they have other local delicacies as well. If you like the thick coffee, you can buy some at the shop and bring them home.
The decorations in the shop mimic old-days coffee shop ambience with wooden furniture. In a corner of the adjacent shop is a small display of traditional coffee ware in antiquated furnishings of the 50s. The corner is aptly named the "Singapore Traditional Coffee Museum". Nanyang Old Coffee sure has a nostalgic ambience for having traditional coffee in the 50s.
Mon-Sun: 7:00am to 6:00pm
2. Tiong Shian Porridge Centre (长城粥品中心)
Tiong Shian Porridge Centre is one of the popular eating places in Singapore for claypot frog porridge. The frog meat is served in either the ginger-spring-onion style or kung-po (spicy dried chili) style and is usually eaten with porridge. Stir the thick gravy-sauce in the porridge before eating.
By the way, the meat of the whole frog will be served, not just frog legs. If you are thinking that eating frog meat is "weird" in Singapore, check out the article below.
Daily: 8:00am to 4:00pm
3. Mei Heong Yuen Dessert (味香园甜品)
If you are looking for after-meal desserts or a place to get out of the heat, go for the traditional desserts at Mei Heong Yuen Dessert. This dessert shop has expanded over the years to having three units and another two branches at Chinatown Point and ION Orchard.
Mei Heong Yuen Dessert serves both hot and cold desserts from traditional glutinous rice balls and various types of Chinese desserts to ice shavings. They have so many varieties that you won't be able to try all on just a couple of visits. Their super-fine sesame paste, almond paste and glutinous rice balls in ginger soup are signature desserts to go for.
Above left: Water chestnut cake. Above right: Sesame paste and mango rolls
Below: Almond and sesame ice shavings
Tues-Sun: 12:00pm to 9:30pm
Closed on Mondays. If Monday falls on a public holiday, it will close on Tuesday instead.
Two outlets at Chinatown Point and ION Orchard are opened daily.
# FOOD CENTRES
The list below are major food centres located in Chinatown that have many stalls serving all kinds of local food. You can go to any of these places and try the food you fancy.
However, do note that although these food centres are located in a tourist area, most of the stalls cater primarily to the working class. So, most of them will open for businesses on weekdays and close on Saturdays, Sundays and/or public holidays. They may also close by 5pm on business days. If you intend to visit any particular stalls, do check their opening days and time before going. Otherwise, just get to Chinatown and find, you will still be able to find stalls that are opened for the day.
1. Hong Lim Market & Food Centre (芳林熟食中心)
Hong Lim Market & Food Centre (531A, Upper Cross Street) is located away from most site of interests in Chinatown and hence has lesser traffic. But it is situated right next to Chinatown Point Shopping Centre and closed to Chinatown MRT Station, albeit hidden from the main streets. The food centre is usually the busiest during lunch time on weekdays catering to office workers in the nearby Central Business District.
All the stalls here serve local Chinese traditional food. It also has quite a number of stalls listed in Michelin Guide 2016 for Singapore under one roof. And of course, the most number of long queues. Try to go there outside of peak hours (11:30am to 1:30pm) on weekdays.
Most of the stalls here will be closed by 5pm and on Sundays. The more popular ones will open on weekends. So, check them out if you are in the vicinity.
2. Chinatown Complex (牛车水大厦)
Chinatown Complex (335, Smith Street) is one of the great places to try Chinese local food in Singapore. The complex is located right beside the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum, a prominent landmark in Chinatown that can't be missed. The food centre occupies the whole of the second floor, a big place with over 200 stalls. There are more stalls hidden in obscured corners, do check them out too. You will be spoiled for choices here.
The original stall of the Michelin one-starred Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle is also located in the complex. Check the guide below for more details.
A larger number of stalls here are opened on weekends and at night till 10pm.
3. People's Park Food Centre (珍珠坊美食阁)
Once you exited from Exit C of Chinatown MRT (Northeast Line) Station, you will come face to face with People's Park Food Centre (32, New Market Road). It is that conveniently located. The food centre is on the ground floor and houses many local food stalls as well as stalls selling China-Chinese food, especially the popular Sichuan spicy hotpot (ma la xiang guo, 麻辣香锅). You get to try both Singapore local Chinese and China Chinese food under one roof.
4. Maxwell Food Centre (麦士威路熟食中心)
Located diagonally across the road (South Bridge Road) from Buddha Tooth Relic Temple & Museum, though close to Chinatown but consider to be in Tanjong Pagar district, Maxwell Food Centre (1, Kadayanallur Street) houses yet another collection of food stalls. Unlike all the other food centres in Chinatown, Maxwell Food Centre has several Muslim stalls.
5. Chinatown Food Street (牛车水美食街)
Chinatown Food Street is where most of Singapore's specialty food from well-known names are assembled under one roof. Travellers can experience more food varieties here instead of going around Singapore to hunt for them. But, if you have a lot of time, do go around Singapore to try more of the local fares from other races as well.
Notice that the glass-canopy was specially constructed to provide shelter for diners without affecting the preserved two- or three-storey shops on both sides of the lane. The lane is fully pedestrainised and closed off to all vehicles.
Different from the above food centres in Chinatown, which the stalls have inconsistent opening days and time, Chinatown Food Street is setup to take care of tourists, night diners and weekend crowds. All the stalls here are opened daily until 11pm.
Daily: 11:00am to 11:00pm
6. Ang Siang Hill & Club Street
Last but not least, the rows of restaurants and pubs along Ang Siang Hill and the adjacent Club Street. Most travellers are unaware of these two streets, which are hidden from sight from the central area of Chinatown. There are more shops here in the old-days buildings, less crowded and definitely more photo-worthy. Both streets have more restaurants and pubs than boutique shops.
Some of the restaurants will open during lunch time but most will open around evening — when most of the other eating places in Chinatown are closing. The restaurants and trendy pubs here are better for chilling out in the night time after all the running around in the day. On every Friday and Saturday nights, both streets are closed off to vehicles for outdoor dining.
The Honey Combers did a very good job covering most of the restaurants and pubs along Ang Siang Hill and Club Street and very recently only. We wouldn't want to redo what they had already done, so do check out their website.
The eating places are so close to one another that you will hardly need this map. Just get to Chinatown MRT Station and you are in heaven — I mean "food haven".
From a nice cup of traditional black coffee, to popular favourites for lunch, to traditional desserts and then pubs and restaurants in the evening, we have all the places covered in this guide although we couldn't list down every stalls and outlets to try. There are just too many good food in Chinatown.