From chicken rice with a Michelin star to sweet ondeh-ondeh, Singapore's hawker centres provide a fascinating and inexpensive food trip

Chickens hanging on a Michelin-starred food stall

Chickens hanging on a Michelin-starred food stall

Forty people are already waiting in line, an hour before service. They're in a distinctly unglamorous food court in Singapore's Chinatown to try a chicken dish served by the world's least expensive Michelin-starred venue. Chan Hon Meng's stall, Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, has become the the biggest culinary draw in town following the recent announcement of an award of one star; but the humble owner seems unfazed, going about his daily routine as he has done for the past 35 years. While camera crews from Japan and Australia complain about people getting in their shot, he calmly checks the rows of chickens marinated in a wonderful mahogany-coloured glaze. His assistant, who comes from the Philippines, chops piles of green stems that accompany the dish costing the equivalent of US$1.50.

Street food stalls in Singapore

Street food stalls in Singapore

Chef Chan may be the most famous street food vendor in town, but he's not alone as there are more than 20,000 of them plying their trade and making this South-East Asian city a genuine culinary Mecca. Seemingly at every turn there are hawker centres and food courts where scores of vendors hold stalls offering a vast array of dishes at incredibly low prices. They form a critical part of the fabric of the city where everyone, from CEOs to schoolchildren, goes to eat.  

Well-known Singapore dishes include bak-kut-teh, or 'meat bone tea'. It's much better than its translation suggests, a beguiling mix of ribs slowly simmered in a broth bursting with herbs and spices, including star anise, fennel seeds, cinnamon and cloves.

Indian cuisine at Melt Café

Indian cuisine at Melt Café

The simply named 'chicken rice' has Hainanese migrant origins. The rice is cooked in chicken stock with pandan leaves, ginger and shallots, while the chicken meat can be steamed, roasted or covered in sticky and dark soy sauce. It's available everywhere across the Lion City and is also a dish served with great pride at the award-winning restaurant Melt Café, one of seven dining options at Mandarin Oriental, Singapore.

Reflecting the city as a multicultural melting pot, Singapore also offers knockout biryani, dhosas, breads and curries from across South Asia. Back at Melt Café, chef Santosh Kumar oversees Indian cuisine that is often cited as the best in town. That's quite some call, but tasting the chicken, lamb and jhinga king prawns marinated with spices and carom seeds from the tandoor, or mopping up the rich curries with their sinful cheese rotis, it soon becomes clear why the accolade fits: the marriage of first class produce with flawless technique and vibrant flavours pays dividends.

Light bites at Axis Bar and Lounge

Light bites at Axis Bar and Lounge

Local dishes and touches add a flourish to afternoon tea, a favourite ritual in Singapore. At Axis Bar and Lounge, the decadent and delicious selection includes a petite pie filled with the classic stew braised beef rendang, or a pastry filled with Nyonya potato curry – fragrant and vibrant flavours from a cuisine unique to South-East Asia. To finish, what better way than a macaron made with ondeh-ondeh? The wonderfully named chewy mix of palm sugar and coconut is a true taste of the city and the region.

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