Evolution of street food in Singapore

December 26, 2016

It would not be an exaggeration to state that food is more of an obsession in Singapore. At any given time, you will see people indulging in one lip-smacking dish or another. And a testament to this is the crowded hawker centres or food courts that fill up to the brim during lunch and dinner hours. But don’t be surprised if you catch a few folks enjoying a snack during the off peak hours. 

The epicurean obsession has been largely fuelled by the ubiquitous street food served in food establishments that line the island city like a throbbing vein, keeping its spirit alive, and might we add, sumptuous. 

There is an interesting story that traces the beginning of the street food obsession to its current evolved tastes.    

A Passionate Beginning

In the beginning, there was none of the systematic arrangement of stalls or even proper seating arrangements. Street food was served in pushcarts, with the meals kept warm in leaf-covered packets. People would crowd around the popular pushcarts, purchase their meals for next to nothing, and then squat nearby and eat or find a shady spot. The food was tasty and filling, however, the lack of sanitation and hygiene was a major issue. Often the pushcarts were stationed next to open sewers and drains. 

It was an imperfect beginning. But the food was as good as gold. 

Modern Hawker Centres

As Singapore evolved from a colonial outpost into a modern metropolis, so did the culture of street food. The hawkers who earlier served food in mobile pushcarts moved to stationary hawker centres where they had dedicated stalls. All kinds of people could now taste the tantalizing street treats inside the hawker centres. There was ample seating and a high standard of hygiene was maintained. The icing on the cake was the variety of dishes available at a single location. You could try all the flavours of Asia within a few square feet. As the hawker centres grew, so did the variety with international foods appearing in the stalls. 

The crown jewels of Singaporean street food are perhaps the Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle and Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle - the world’s first street food centres to earn a Michelin Star. 

Vetted By The Best

None other than Gordon Ramsey has graced the street food culture in the island city. The revered chef received a challenge from Singaporean food bloggers to go up against their super talented hawkers. He came, he saw, and he tasted. Right from the outset he knew the fierce challenge that awaited him when he sampled the laksa from 328 Katong Laksa, one of his competitors.  

On the day of the competition, Singaporeans began queuing up as early as 1 am to taste and vote for their choice.

The celebrated chef lost the overall challenge narrowly, but won the chili crab competition. 

Singapore Is Street Food 

Good food is never too far away or never too expensive in the island city. Thanks to the emergence and evolution of street food.

Click here to read more about the types of food establishments in Singapore.