Top 8 hawker food centres taxi drivers patronise

Mr M, 47, was a former senior sales and marketing manager at an electronics MNC for nine years before he was retrenched in 2009. Married with a wife and twin teenage sons, he tried his hand at being a financial advisor for a year before deciding to become a taxi driver. He has been running his taxi service since 2011. He survived a heart-attack in late 2012 and now has four stents in his heart. His philosophy on life is now to live well, stay healthy and to share his real-life experiences. In his latest post on Taxi Talk, he shares the hawker food centres that taxi drivers patronise the most.

Taxi drivers are the “princes of the road”, but we are also, without a doubt, the “food experts of the hawker centres” as we ferry passengers to and fro around the city to many places to eat and dine around Singapore.

Taxi drivers simply love to eat and, when time permits, we queue for our favourite food or for highly-recommended dishes.

In this 7th installment of “Taxi Talks”, I would like to share with you the top 8 hawker food centres in Singapore that we frequently patronise. You should “die die must try!”. You can then also bond with your friends, colleagues and family through our famous hawker food.

In the Singapore context, eating food at hawker centres has become a way of life. It's a time to savour authentic Chinese, Malay, Indian and Western type of cuisine -- at an affordable price.

Though food is subjective, Singaporeans, PRs, expatriates, foreigners and tourists alike simply love to eat. It’s a natural way of bonding, chatting, “catching-up” or simply idling time away.

So go enjoy your favourite breakfast, lunch, dinner or supper at these places (in no order of priority).

1. Maxwell market

Located opposite to Chinatown, this Maxwell market is ever popular in food blogs and is a perennial tourist recommendation. Many stalls owners have toiled for at least 20-30 years here and are now in their fifties or sixties years old.

Whenever I am in the city after sending passengers at or before 10.00am, I would usually switch my taxi sign board to “BUSY” and head to the public parking lots to park for ½ hr which cost me $1 (due to CBD rates), sometimes extending by another ½ hr when buddies come along. This Maxwell market is reminiscent of fading goodies like Nyonya Kuih dessert, ondeh ondeh, tapioca cake, angku kuih, fried you ti

ao, fried sweet potato balls, peanut dessert soup and Goreng Pisang Raja, etc.

Zhen Zhen Porridge – a hainanese cooked porridge with automatic stirrer in the gigantic pot to ensure grain-less porridge or congee. They offer: century egg, fish, chicken or mixed. You also “die die must try” its raw fish – yu sheng sprinkled with lots of ginger, sesame seeds and lime.

My favourite is the century egg, egg, chicken and fish combination, coupled with a you tiao. I'll also have a small yu sheng. Total cost = $5 (exclude you tiao $0.5). Come prepared with a newspaper to read or iPhone loaded with games to idle, as the queue takes at least 40 minutes.

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice – an all-timed favourite of locals and tourists who want to savour the deliciousness of this authentic hainanese chicken rice.

The chicken is made tender and juicy with a good spread of sesame oil over it. The rice is fragrant and fluffy though they do not roll into a ball. You also must take extra of its homemade chilli sauce, with lime and vinegar added.

For two persons ordering, you may order $8 - $15 set, with an oyster sauce vegetable.

Again, be prepared to queue for at least 20 minutes for your piping hot chicken rice.

Two stalls away, the ex-chef of Tian Tian set up a competing Hainanese chicken rice stall, so you may compare which is better.

Hainanese Cook Food – an a-la-carte dish, you should “die die must try” the pork chop, cut into strips. Usually, they would add black sauce followed by massive curry gravy over the pork chop and rice. Add cabbage and other side dishes per their offerings. Typical cost $3.5 for a nice 1 meat-2 veg combination plate. There are at least 3 such Hainanese stalls there.

Fish soup with rice or noodle. Another long queue stall there too, typical wait is 20 – 30 minutes. Fish is always fresh. I like it best for the fish noodle with the evaporated milk added. Typically costs $4 - $5.

Other stalls worth to try are those offering : Tanglin crispy curry puff, Western food, Ngoh hiang, hot soups tonics (chicken/ black chicken), curry puff, nyonya kuih, sweet potato balls, teochew fried fritters, icy desserts, soya bean dessert, dry/ soup noodle, vegetarian food, Malay, Indian, Thai and shanghai cuisine as well.

#2 Hong Lim market

This is one of the most central markets offering affordable and incredibly delicious hawker food. Many of the stalls are highly recommended. To know which ones are, look at the stalls most decorated with newspaper cuttings, celebrity photos, Yummy Food endorsements, Makansutra ticks.However, parking space is limited by the multi-story car parking lots and per minute charges, so be prepared to pay at least $2 typically due to long queues at some stalls.

Outram Park Fried Kway Teow – a little wet version of fried kway teow & mee with cockles, fish cakes and a dose of “bak yu” – crisp lar, with sprinkle of bean spouts and sweet sauce. It costs $3/ plate, additional cockles priced separately. A long queue is to be expected during peak hours.

Curry Mee – it has about 3 stalls selling similar food. I like both the 1st story and the 2nd story stall located vertically apart. The curry gravy is generously thick & spicy with pieces of just chopped chicken meat, with tau pok for its crunchiness. Costs about $3 - $5 depending on size and extras.

Cray Fish Hor Fun – another all timed favourite, the gravy is succulent coupled with the half-sliced cray fish with its thick flesh. It costs about $4 per plate.

Wonton Mee – another hot favourite, like the sauce, QQ mee and the wonton. It costs about $3 for a decent bowl.

Other dishes to try: mee siam, mee rebus, prawn noodle, bak chang (rice dumpling), bak chor mee, muffins, mixed vetgetable rice, curry puff, zi char, aroma coffee and many more.

#3 Old Airport road market

This market is located in a cluster of HDB flats old and newer ones at Kallang and south of Geylang. It was near here that Singapore had its first modern airport.

The market is renowned for having a lot of all-time favourite hawker food. It's almost 150 meters long in length from one end to the other with 5 rows of occupied stalls lining up. It's arguably the longest and largest and best hawker centre in Singapore.

The many food stalls offer great variety and good value for money. You will see many accolades and food reviews written, printed and framed up at most stalls. It has open space parking at the front, side, back and multi-storey car parks – so no lack of parking spaces, though never enough when weekend comes.

Xin Mei Xiang Lor Mee – be prepared to queue for this stall. Its Lor mee comes with a thick starchy brown gravy with ingredients of fried crispy ngoh hiang, hard boiled eggs, fish cake and tender fish meat. The toppings of the ingredients are enormous. You can further heighten the taste with vinegar and minced garlic. It costs $3 – 5/ plate, extra for toppings.

Nam Sing Hokkien Mee – it has both rice noodles fried with the usual yellow egg noodles with the prawn soup over them and steamed over a period of time for the prawn taste to seep into the noodles, then fried with eggs, prawns and sotong. However, you shall miss out on the sambal chilli, as it shall be replaced with cut chilli and lime. It costs $3 - 5/ plate, extra for top up ingredients.

Blanco Court Kway Chap – if you like the spare parts of pigs like the intestines, tender meat, tau kwa, tau pok, hard boiled eggs with the thicker version of kway teow, you are in for a treat. Typical a-la-carte dishes costs about $5/person. Long queues can be found during the lunch hour.

Lao Fu Zhi fried kway teow – probably ranked among the top 6 fried kway teow stalls. Its unique name speaks volumes of our younger days when lao fu zhi comic strips were popular. This is another dry version of char kway teow, with banana leaf at the bottom of the plate to add aroma. It costs $3 – 5 for a plate.

Toa Payoh Rojak – this is another “die die must try” stall for its rave rojak – a salad of prawn paste mixed with kang kong, turnip, bean sprouts, tau pok, fried you tiao (toast) sprinkled with sliced ginger flower and lots of peanuts. Be prepared to get a queue ticket and wait at least 20 minutes before your turn to order then wait another 10 minutes before the dish is presented to you. It costs $ 3- 5 for a plate, and you can top up for extra you tiao.

Matter Rd Seafood – another hot favorite for seafood lovers where you get real value for money. It typically costs a fraction of what you would pay in a restaurant for a similar kind of dish. It is famous for its white pepper crab, though black pepper and chilli crab are also available. It costs $35 - $50 for a 1kg++ crabs in contrast to $80 - $100 for similar dish at a restaurant.

Other dishes worth a try: tonic hot soups, muah-chee, wonton noodles, fruit juices, otah, satay, BBQ chicken, western food, chee cheong fun, vegetable rice, porridge and many others.

#4 ABC Brickworks Market & Food Centre @ Jalan Bukit Merah road

The market is located at the heart land (ie: Behind Ikea at Alexandra road and along the Jalan Bukit Merah road).

It was named ABC market in respect to its original heritage as the birth place of a brewery called Archipelago Brewery Company (its acronym ABC).

Fatty Cheong Roasted Meat – a HK style way of cooking the roasted meat by dipping it into a pot of char siew honey mixture then roasting it over charcoal fire. The process is repeated several times until the meat is roasted to its perfection. The roasted char siew is one of the best in town due to its moistness. The stall also sells roast duck and roast pork. A long queue forms during lunch. He also sells the wonton noodle as well. For a plate of char siew, it costs about $3. Sambal chillies is just as good, DIY for more, if needed.

Wow Wow West – a western food stall. It has great servings in a big plate at a reasonable place of $6 - $10 depending on your actual order. It serve steaks, chops, sausages, too. The strong recommendation is for its black pepper chicken chop. It's cooked to perfection, with the black pepper sauce poured over the chicken chop.

Tong Fong Fatt Hainanese chicken rice – has a big poster showing our former Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew passing by the stalls with the owner at the side. Its chicken is tender and usually de-boned for customers. Rice is fragrant too. Generally, the key attributes to a good chicken rice is tender chicken with a strong scent of sesame oil coating over the skin of the chicken. Its rice must be fragrant with pandan leaf and chicken oil. Is chilli must be a solid mix of spice, ginger, lime, and some salt. Price starts from $3 onwards.

Lao Huo Tang – brewed over a long period of time, its soup offering is superb and does not have any MSG (mono sodium glutamate – food additive and enhancer commonly used in Asian cooking). Their rice comes in 3 types – standard white rice, yam rice & pumpkin rice. The soup usually comes with some pork meat, which is tender and soft. Various types of soups include old winter melon soup.

Other dishes to try include: Indian biryani, tandoori, roti prata, Malay nasi padang, beef rendang, hot & cold desserts from Jin jin, Malay & Chinese kueh, puff, exotic bread.

#5 Tiong Bahru market

The market is surrounded by buildings from the 50-60s era. With the influx of more foreigners and expatriates, this place has become hipper with newer shops like Tiong Bahru Bakery and Indian and Mediterranean restaurants now surrounding the market,.

178 Lor Mee – this Lor Mee is quite unusual as they use the fried "shark meat" which is crispy instead of the usual fish meat as one of the ingredients beside the typical ngoh hiang, hard boiled egg with the flat yellow noodle and the thick brown tasty gravy. You can choose to add vinegar and garlic to make the taste better. Typical cost is $3, extra for more ingredients. It has received rave reviews from food critics.

Tiong Bahru Char Kway Teow – a version of char kway teow. With the usual lup cheong, sliced fish cakes, cockles and bean sprouts and some pork lard, it will certainly make your day. Cost = $3/plate, extra if you want to add more ingredients.

Jian Bo Shui Kueh – the history of the stall dates 30 years. Although the original man no longer works here, the successor still does a decent job with the salted fragrant chye poh, lots of sambal chillies on top of the chwee kueh. It certainly brings back some old memories of dating.

Tiong Bahru Pau – this dim sum stall has been around for more than 30 years, making daily steam buns of various stuffings – char siew meat, chicken, red bean, lotus seed paste – and siew mai, prawn dumpling and egg tarts. However, they do not sell them in steam baskets.

Other dishes to try: char siew, duck and roast pork rice, fried hokkien mee, oyster omelette, braised duck, dry/soup fish ball, bak chor mee, rojak, western food.

#6 Bukit Merah View Blk 115 market

By virtue of its massive parking lots – spanning 3 open car parks around the area, this is the hottest market based on the number of taxis parked there at any time of the day and night. Its proximity to the city – either via CTE or AYE/ECP is well known. In peak hours – ie: after 9.30am to 11.00am and 7.30pm to 9.00pm – you can see between 30 and 80 taxis parked there daily.

Beside the hawker centres, there are 2 adjoining coffee shops at both ends of the block. You can see queues there for hot teochew porridge, a-la-carte vegetable rice, roti prata and many more.

At the blk 115 market, there are many stalls selling cheap and good food (prices range from $2 to $4 for the following types of cuisines:

Economy Fried Bee Hoon. The stall opens very early in the morning and closes about 10.00am after their fried bee hoon or mee with fish fillet, fish cake, luncheon meat has sold out. Other morning stuff like chee cheong fun is also available.

Teochew Porridge. A typical share of 4 a-la-carte dishes for 2 persons costs $5 - $9, depending on extras ordered. The plain porridge can have sweet potatoes added to it. My typical order would be: 1 salted egg or onion omelette egg, black bean fried with minced meat, home-made fish cake, cabbage with 2 bowls of sweet potatoes porridge can last me for a least half of day.

R&D Wonton Mee. The noodle has to be “QQ” meaning chew-ably soft and tender. It has a great combination of oyster sauce and shrimp paste chilli and sesame oil. Similarly, the home-made wonton wrapped with scrimp meat with prawns and water-chest nut and egg flour skin is simply mouth-watering.

Vegetable Rice with a-la-carte dishes. There are at least 6 stalls offering the same cuisine types but dishes vary. Some stalls do offer plain porridge beside the standard rice. You can be spoiled for choice as you can try the sambal fish, cuttle-fish, steamed fish, steamed egg, omelette eggs, fried sunny side up eggs, steamed meat patties, home-made fish cake/ otah, different type of vegetables from fried cabbage, long beans. Nonya style is also available.

Other dishes to try are: Malay & Indian food, fried carrot cakes mixed porridge, braised duck, chicken rice, western food, freshly0squeezed sugar cane drinks, desserts, mutton soup, dry/ soup fish-ball noodle, “yong tau foo”, satay (night only)

#7 Aljunied Avenue 2 market

With its proximity to the city and the connecting road leading to Geylang road, Geylang Serai, Aljunied and Paya lebar road, this is where you will see lots of taxi drivers taking their breakfast, lunch and dinner breaks. Other adjoining coffee shops in the vicinity like the clay pot rice stalls and other seafood stalls nearby have also benefited.

Ng Soon Kee Fish & Duck Porridge – a “die die must eat” stall which offers fresh sliced fish soup with rice, added with dark gravy, its soup is relatively clear with usual fish bone added for taste and slice of deep fried cutter fish for its soup base. It does not have the fishy smell. The stall opens at 11:00am but you will see many bowls lined up and waiting time can be up to 50 minutes during the busy lunch hour. Off peak period, be prepared to wait from 20 to 30 minutes. It also sells braised duck, which blends well with the fish soup too. Price starts from $4/ bowl, extra for added ingredients.

Fu Lu Shoh Niang Dao Fu – a wong tau foo stall with a variety of choices of vegetable, fried dumplings, fried ngoh hiang, cutter fish, fish balls, meat balls, mushroom etc. You can have noodle, rice or even yam rice. It is value for money.

Cityzoom Minced Fish noodle – this stall only sells fish cakes, minced fish balls, fried fish balls noodle, mee sua, mee tai bak. It has a very unique taste indeed.

Western Food – notable for its juicy sauce over the pork chop, chicken chop and steaks. Also sells fried chicken and cutlet. It has good serving portions. Average price starts from $5.

Other dishes to try: Fish ball noodle, wonton mee, hot & cold dessert, hainanese chicken rice, kway chap, vegetarian food, prawn noodle, herbal soup, nasi padang, zhi char, Indian food, chwee kueh, fried carrot cake, roasted meat joints, mixed economy rice, and hot pancake with peanuts as well.

#8 Old Havelock road /Beo Crescent market

These 2 market places are frequented by many taxi drivers due to its proximity to city (CBD). From 9:30am to 11.00am, usually between 30 and 40 taxis can be found parked on the road, ERP open parking lots and multi-storey car parks.

On the left side, you can see the Havelock market that is at least 40 years old. Behind it is the Bukit Ho Swee Estate which is one of oldest housing estates in Singapore. Many aged residents still live there, and the market offers many yummy stalls like those offering wonton mee, braised duck rice, fish ball noodle, prawn mee, nasi lemak, kuih Tutu and many more.

On the right side, there is the newer Beo Crescent market with the typical wet market behind the food stalls. You can see stalls offering the following: fish soup, prawn mee, chicken rice, bak chor mee, vegetable rice, vegetarian food, Malay and Indian food.

Opposite to the Beo Crescent market, the HDB block coffee shop sells fried hokkien mee, vegetarian food and hainanese pork chop. It has similarly long queues for its cheap and good food.

On the main road, there is a corner coffee shop selling vegetable rice with a-la-carte dishes. Usually many limousine taxi drivers – white Mercedes Benz, black Chrysler and the white bigger MPVs – like to park there and to eat their breakfast or lunch followed by a cup of hot coffee or tea and watch over their taxis, which usually do not display parking coupons. The rest of the taxi drivers would park at the ERP car park or multi-storey car parks to avoid the unnecessary fines and to have better peace of mind while they eat and chat.

Other popular hawker centres (aka market or food centre) by region:

Central Business District: Amoy Street, Queen Street, Lau Pa Sat, Chinatown market, People’s Park, Golden Shoes, Gluttons Bay, Tanjong Pagar (renovating).

North District: Tekka, Whampoa Drive, Bendeemer, Geyland Bahru, Pek Kio market at Cambridge road, Toa Payoh Central, Lor 1, 5, 7, 8 market, Marsiling/ Woodlands, AMK central; blk 628, Ave 10, Mayflower, Newton Circus, Kovan, Hougang, Chomp Chomp at Serangoon Garden, Serangoon Garden, Shunfu, Chong Pang, Sembawang Hill.

South District: Beach Road market, Crawford Road market, Chin Swee Road market, Zion road, Tiong Bahru, Telok Blangah Crescent, Telok Blangah Drive, Seah Im, Redhill.

East District: Lavender, Boon Keng, Geylang Bahru, Geylang Serai, Haig road, Dunman, Circuit road, Bedok road (Bedok camp), Bedok Central, Bedok North street, Bedok Central, Fengshan 85, Bedol South rd, New Upper Changi road blk 207/ blk 58, Marine Parade, Eunos Crescent, East Coast Park, Changi.

West District: Mei Ling, Tanglin Halt, Alexandra Village, Holland Village, Adam road, Bukit Timah, Pasir Panjang, Clementi Ave 2 market, Clementi West Street 2, Clementi drive, Ghim Moh, Teban Garden, Boon Lay place, Jurong East St24, Jurong West St52.

As hawker centres are part of our DNA and Singapore iconic food heritage culture, it is hoped that we continue to have new generations of hawkers to take over the aged ones and as the Chinese saying goes: “In every mountain, there is another mountain to climb”. This means the new generation needs to surpass the previous generation and to do things better.

Hence, remember to appreciate and give good compliments to the uncles, aunties or their children that serve you your next food. Tell them how nice and how the good the food is.

Please share your thoughts with them, how much you may have miss their food when you are away on vacation or travelling. Words of gratitude will go a long way to make Singapore a gracious society and it will definitely make their day too.