Decadent dresses, elaborate weddings and so much incredible food that I’m sure most people considered booking a flight to Singapore right then and there! But luckily, it is possible to eat like characters from the hit rom-com Crazy Rich Asians without needing their bank balance. It doesn't matter how much money you have, because in Singapore anyone can eat like a millionaire – easy when a plate of fried rice literally could have a Michelin star. Food culture in Singapore is just about good food, not about how much it costs or where you’re eating it.
The best dish in the world could cost $4, and you won’t care if you’re eating it sitting on a plastic chair on the side of the road. So for anyone looking for things to do in Singapore, look no further than the city’s hawker centers. These food courts are attractions in themselves and a symbol of the city, being places where you can get an authentic slice of Singaporean life. You could also possibly spend a lifetime eating your way around them in search of the holy grail; that perfect plate of noodles or chili crab - but who could say no to a challenge like that? And while you don’t need to be crazy rich to eat like a Crazy Rich Asian, you do need this unique food guide - which is where I come in.
Where to eat
Sipping a cocktail from Ce La Vi by the Marina Bay Sands infinity pool – the glamorous rooftop party venue from the movie – is a surefire way to get a feel for that extravagantly wealthy life, but if you’re in it for the food, it’s got to be a hawker center. Hawker centers are a unique aspect of the island’s food scene that you probably couldn’t miss if you tried, and they can make you feel crazy rich even if you aren’t.
Where else in the world could you afford to eat at Michelin star places every day? If you want the pleasure of spending lunch hour in one of these addictive food spots, there’s a vital tactic you’ll need to adopt. You’ll probably spot a lot of abandoned tissue packs and ballpoint pens scattered about – and it’s not because people In Singapore are neglectful of their cheap personal belongings either.
Leaving a personal belonging (usually tissue packs) on a table is the Singaporean equivalent of calling shotgun, and one of the only ways to secure time at busy lunch periods. It’s called the art of “chope” and if you don’t pick up on it, you’re likely to go hungry or run into some seriously disgruntled and “hangry” locals. Now, for some of the best hawker centers to grab a bite like a “Crazy Rich Asian”, read on!
This open-air hawker center (open every day from 12 pm to 2 am) is not called Newton Circus by the locals for nothing. A dizzying, delicious assault to the senses, this late-night food market is famous in particular for its seafood dishes and satays.
Newton is the hawker center that Rachel and Nick head for as soon as they land in Singapore, where steaming bowls of laksa, sticky satay skewers, and whole chili crabs await them. Nick confidently flits from stall to stall, ordering dish after dish of hawker center classics. Where to order the best laksa or chili crab in the city is fiercely debated, but what to order is a different story.
These are the hawker center dishes that the characters from Crazy Rich Asians, and the rest of us, adore. And just in case you needed any more validation on this being a must-eat spot, it happens to be home to no less than three stalls listed in the MICHELIN Guide; Heng known for delectable fried carrot cake and oyster omelets, Alliance Seafood, worth a visit for its barbecued seafood and black pepper crab, and Ah Gong Traditional Hainanese Chicken Rice which has been recognized with a Michelin Plate.
Maxwell Food Centre
As Rachel attempts to orientate herself among the sizzling woks and steaming bowls of broth being dished out at Newton, Nick proudly tells her that some of Singapore’s hawker stalls have even been credited with Michelin stars. But he’s not talking about any of the stalls at Newton; if you want your street food with a Michelin star, you’ll have to visit Maxwell Food Center.
This Chinatown food court is just around the corner from Ann Siang Hill, a historic street that Eleanor passes through on her way to a Mahjong game. Stroll up the small hill and you’ll feel the modernity of the city melt away behind traditional Chinatown shophouses.
These colorful, colonial-era buildings offer a glimpse into Singapore’s past. After you’ve explored the neighborhood, head straight to Maxwell Food Center and get ready to feast on some more local dishes! Like many hawker centers, Maxwell is open from 8 am till the wee hours of 2 am; that’s eighteen hours of eating mouth-watering Singaporean cuisine!
Old Airport Road
Although it doesn’t feature in the movie; this off-the-beaten path hawker center deserves a mention for its pure authenticity. Sitting on a stool at one of the Old Airport Road hawker stalls for a few hours is like watching a time-lapse of a day in the life of the Singaporean populace.
Older generations enjoy a leisurely breakfast before the lunch crowd storms the counters, leaving a hush into which families slowly trickle for the evening meal, once again filling the space with a contented hum. With over forty years of feeding the locals and housing some of the best Singaporean food stalls in the city, it can only be true that this hawker center is one for the books.
It’s not going to make the set of a Hollywood blockbuster for its looks any time soon, but the pleasure and foodie satisfaction you’ll get from eating here is pure wealth. At Old Airport Road you’ll find, among the 168 stalls, all the classics of the Singaporean food scene and, being slightly off the tourist trail means it offers all the signature dishes without any compromise.
While this might not be one for the midnight snackers, it certainly caters to early risers, opening up bright and early at 6 am and serving up an authentically Singaporean food extravaganza up until 11 pm.
What To Eat - Satay
Remember the scene where Nick uses his Singaporean know-how to load up on a decadent serving of beef and chicken satay just outside Lau Pa Sat? While the size of his portion might seem crazy, I get it – a snack of this flavor caliber goes beyond the realm of moreish and into the danger zone of “can I have that with a side of rehab, please?”.
A dish of Indonesian origin, satay is a feature of every hawker center in Singapore and for obvious reasons, number one being that it is thoroughly addictive. Juicy blocks of meat are slid onto skewers before being grilled over an open flame and cooked to succulent perfection, after which they are served up with a viscous sweet and spicy peanut sauce that you’ll be licking off your fingers.
The side of fresh cucumber that usually comes with satay is just what you need to cut through the intensity of the sticky sauce. Satay comes in all sorts of meat varieties; you’ll find pork belly, chicken, lamb, and even prawn satay so for a meaty small feast, order a bit of everything.
Pork and prawn; a classic Chinese combo that makes a strong appearance in the dark, fragrant sauce so characteristic of this heavenly noodle favorite. With origins in China's Fujian province, this stir-fried noodle dish – typical of Malaysian and Singaporean cuisine – is smothered in an aromatic stock made of pork bones and prawn heads.
This stir-fried noodle dish is a hawker staple in Singapore, and is made with thick, yellow noodles that you won’t find anywhere else – they’re a regional specialty.
Some vendors mix in thinner, vermicelli noodles too then stir fry them with a delectable assortment of seafood, pork belly, egg and beansprouts, and a thick, chicken stock-based gravy. This is the noodle dish that Rachel and Nick feast on with their friends, so for the full movie experience you need to give it a try!
What is an Asian food experience without some sort of delicately flavored broth or soup? Incomplete is the answer you’re looking for, and specifically when it comes to eating like the Crazy Rich Asians.
Nick and Rachel order their laksa at the open-air night market, but this delicious noodle soup is eaten at all times of the day here – something you will probably find yourself doing too purely thanks to how yummy it is!
A spicy, coconut soup is served with thick bee hoon (a Nyonya-style rice vermicelli noodle) – cut before serving so you don’t need to use chopsticks or slurp tremendously, not that I’m judging! – and topped with prawns, fishcakes, and cockles.
Slurp your bowl to your heart’s content and enjoy the layers of ocean flavors mingling with the creamy broth, or seek out a vendor who adds chicken, fried beancurd, extra chili or bean sprouts if you want to try something a little different.
Of all the dishes that appear in Crazy Rich Asians, chili crab must be the most enticing; an exotic specialty that surely had travelers grabbing the first available flight to the island just after the credits rolled.
More an experience than a dish, the delightfully messy, hands-on dish chili crab (which you can get in abundance at Newton Center) is one of Singapore’s national dishes, one thing you need to eat to say you’ve truly eaten like a “Crazy Rich Asian”; and for that matter, a regular Singaporean!
First, you choose your live crab (which will be priced in terms of weight) to be cooked whole and tossed in a thick, chili-infused sticky tomato sauce. It might not look pretty, and you’ll have to get your hands dirty if you want to enjoy the delicate crab meat hidden inside but it’s more than worth it!
Hainanese Chicken Rice
A staple in Malaysia and Singapore, this is, in my opinion, one of Singapore’s most iconic dishes, proving that from the simplest ingredients often come the most delicious results. Don’t be fooled, perfecting this classic dish to get the most tender flesh and crispy golden skin is a complex art form.
In a traditional serving of Hainanese Chicken Rice, delicately poached chicken (seasoned to ultimate tastiness) is sliced up and served atop a bed of garlicky rice and accompanied by minced ginger, a spicy chili sauce, and a deeply flavorsome sweet and sticky soy sauce.
As one of Singapore’s national dishes, every hawker center in the island city will have at least one vendor selling their version – and you can judge by the quality by the length of the queue forming outside. With subtle differences in the way the chicken is cooked or the balance of flavors in the sauces, no two will taste exactly the same – so you’ll just have to try them all.
For a simple chicken and rice dish good enough to earn a Michelin star - literally a masterclass in the art of perfection - join the queues waiting in front of Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken And Rice in the previously mentioned Maxwell food center. Trust me – it’s worth the hype.
Oyster Omelette and Fried Carrot Cake
While not in the movie, I’ll bet my hat these two dishes are what Nick and Rachel were munching off-screen, because both are simply must-try meals for the ultimate hawker center experience. Known as “orh luak”, you’ll either love or hate oyster omelet; this dish has a thick, chewy texture thanks to the addition of rice flour in the mix. Throw in some freshly shucked oysters (the crispy fried egg combining perfectly with the salty flavor of the oysters) and you’ve got a local staple dish.
As with all hawker food, each one is different from the next, but be sure to try at least one, while you’re in town. Equally worth the effort of acquiring is fried carrot cake. Leave everything you’ve come to expect of carrot cake behind because there’s nary a carrot in sight. This local favorite is a dim sum classic that you’ll find being whipped up in every hawker center in Singapore.
The cake is actually cubes of radish cake made from rice flour and white radish steamed, cut into cubes and stir-fried with eggs and lashings of garlic. Orange isn’t an option, but you can choose to have yours served white (the original way) or black, where the mixture is fried with a sweet soya sauce. Somehow silky smooth and crispy at the same time, carrot cake is a must eat!
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