SINGAPORE–Marvin Lowe lines up at Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle at 10:30 a.m. for a lunch of bak chor mee.
The bowl of noodles is tossed in black vinegar and chili paste and topped with pork dumplings, minced pork and meatballs. Liver slices and dried sole fish are also in the mix.
If he’s lucky, Lowe may be able to get his meal within 90 minutes. Last year, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodles became one of two street food stalls in the world to earn a star in the Michelin Guide. Now, diners cue up for more than an hour for the hearty bowls of noodles that will usually cost less than $10.
Lowe does not mind the wait. He’s been eating at Hill Street for years.
“Growing up, it becomes part of your memories,” he says. “That’s why you keep coming here.”
Singapore has its share of fine dining, but many locals and visitors prefer to go to its many food stall — or hawker — centers to taste inexpensive yet well-prepared dishes.
There are more than 100 hawker centers in Singapore, and the number keeps growing. Some have 10 or fewer stalls in them. Some have more than 100.
At each one, you can find a variety of cuisines because of Singapore’s proximity to so many other foodie destinations — Malaysian, Indian, Thai, Chinese, Middle Eastern. The large immigrant population has made its mark on the culinary scene.
You can find savory and sweet at each hawker center. There’s usually something to satisfy every craving — Hainanese chicken rice, laksa and curry puffs among them.
“The hawker center in Singapore is a service to the people,” says Tang Chay Seng, chef and owner of Hill Still Tai Hwa Pork Noodles, which his family started in the 1930s.
Seng has been cooking since he was a child. He’s now in his 60s.
And a new wave of younger chefs is putting its spin on traditional dishes.
At Amoy Street Food Centre, two culinary school classmates, Gwern Khoo and Ben Tham, started A Noodle Story, which has earned a Bib Gourmand in the Michelin Guide for Singapore. Bib Gourmands are selected by Michelin’s anonymous food inspectors, and cost diners $40 or less.
“No doubt, there will be some critics because of our age,” Khoo says. “We prefer to let our food do the talking.”
A Noodle Story markets itself as the place for “the first and only Singapore-style ramen.”
The noodles are accompanied by Hong Kong-style wontons, a soy-flavored hot spring egg and a crispy potato-wrapped prawn. This is topped with barbecued pork then garnished with sliced scallions and red pepper. A small bowl, which is not that small, costs $5. A monster bowl is $9.25.
“Singapore’s hawker centers are something very unique in this…