Cabbie food guide: The best hawker stalls and cheap eats in Singapore

When it comes to being privy to the streets and eats of the city, there’s no finer connoisseur than the trusty taxi uncle (and auntie, of course). Traversing the city day and night, cabbies’ pick-up and drop-off routes take them through the island’s narrowest laneways and highest crests. With each mealtime dependent on their current location, you can be sure they’ve sampled their fair share of hawker gems.

Here, we share them with you so you can get a piece of the feasting action.


Alvin Chong, 50, driving for over 10 years

Photo: Bethany Chuah

“Everyone in this country is a self-professed foodie, surely they already know all the good places to eat?”

Initially hesitant, Alvin gradually opened up as we talked and told us about his past jobs as sales staff and a police officer. Then we came to the topic of his favourite hawker haunt: Old Airport Road Food Centre (which, coincidentally, was named ‘Best Cheap Eat’ in Singapore on TripAdvisor recently).

His reasons for being its loyal supporter revealed his inner-foodie: “The majority of the stalls are very decent quality and most of them are run by people who are their own bosses and have been in the business for many years. They work hard to deliver a consistent standard, not like the franchises or chain stores that are more likely to hire staff who aren’t passionate about the food they serve, or cut corners to provide cheap but low quality dishes. For us taxi uncles who are regularly visiting a variety of hawker stalls, this is a difference that we can taste.”

Alvin’s recommendations at Old Airport Road Food Centre:

  • Xin Mei Xiang Lor Mee: #01-116. Fri-Wed 9.30am–3pm.
  • To-Ricos Kway Chap “Their chilli is good and the intestines are very clean so they don’t have any strong odours”: #01-135/136. Wed-Sun 11am-3pm.
  • Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak “Both affordable and tasty”: #01-42. Daily 10am-9pm.

 

Desmond Loh, 40, driving for 5 years

Photo: Bethany Chuah

Taking on the night shift requires a great level of energy, and Desmond possessed this in truckloads (with surplus to share), as he happily made conversation to last until we exited the car. In a bubbly mix of English and Mandarin, he lamented how working night shift is much tougher now, with the entry of Uber and GrabCar. But he immediately perked up after we declared our allegiance to taxis for their superior road and shortcut know-how, proudly announcing, “Yes, we don’t rely on our GPS like they do!”

As there is a reduced selection of eateries that open till late, Desmond is a self-proclaimed creature of habit. “Once I find some decent places, I’ll repeatedly go and eat there for a few days.”

These are the places that keep Desmond coming back for more:

  • 333 Bak Kut Teh “Balestier Rd is very famous for their bak kut teh, but I think this one’s white pepper soup is better than others”: 333 Balestier Rd. Open 24 hours.
  • Beach Road Scissors Cut Curry Rice “It’s always busy, though convenient for parking, so I go there a lot”: 229 Jalan Besar. Daily 11am-3.30am.
  • Ye Shang Hai Teochew Porridge “This one is well known among taxi drivers and they open till very late as well”: #01-217, Boyang Coffee Shop, Blk 117 Bukit Merah View. Wed-Mon 10.30am-5am.

 

Kenneth Kok, 42, driving for 5 years

Photo: Bethany Chuah

An international foodie at heart, Kenneth told us of the countries he’s taken his wife and two kids to, and eagerly shared Facebook pictures of their overseas adventures. One of the more social cabbies we talked to, he also showed us the ongoing conference call that he was on with his taxi driver kakis throughout his 6pm to 6am shift. At around 1.30am, they began coordinating where to meet for dinner, and rendezvous at an agreed location.

Kenneth takes pleasure in exploring the late night food offerings — he’s got a firm belief that the options are endless, if you know where to go.

Kenneth’s favourites include:

  • Manpei “A very fresh and authentic Japanese restaurant, great for late night sashimi cravings”: 59 Kampong Bahru Rd. Daily 6pm-4am.
  • Kin Tub Thai Steamboat “Open until 5am, good for weeknights when there’s less customers”: #01-52 Peace Centre, 1 Sophia Rd. Daily 6pm-5am.
  • Lao Zhong Zhong Fine Spice Stall “Very good and very cheap ngoh hiang, you must try it, I’ve been coming here for many years!”: 29 Tai Thong Crescent. Daily 11.30am-11.30pm, closed alternate Mondays.
  • Power Nasi Lemak “When I’m in the west, I always try to come here. There’s always a queue even late at night, but the nasi lemak there is very shiok!”: #01-106, 221B Boon Lay Pl. Mon 4.30pm-3.30am, Tues-Sun 6.30am-3.30am.

 

Mr Lee, 60, driving for 4 years

Photo: Bethany Chuah

When prodded about where to find certain dishes, Mr Lee responded promptly with: “don’t know, don’t know”. But there was one dish he talked about at great length: Hainanese Chicken Rice.

“We taxi drivers like to go to Nan Xiang at Whampoa Food Centre (#01-21) or Maxwell Hawker Centre for the chicken rice. Even though Tian Tian is the famous one at Maxwell, I feel that it’s mainly popular because of the media support, so most of the people who go there are foreigners. The other six or seven chicken rice stalls are almost just as good, so I won’t queue for Tian Tian. It’s tougher with parking at Maxwell now, so recently we’ve been eating elsewhere.”

When hunger strikes, he usually calls his other taxi uncle friends to see where they are — and if they’re close by, they’ll meet somewhere for lunch.

He then proceeds to rattle off a list of places:

  • Balestier Road Hoover Rojak “Easy to park, and the taste is very good”: Stall 01-06, Whampoa Food Centre, Blk 90 Whampoa Drive. Daily 10.30am to 9.30pm, Tues 10.30am to 6:00pm.
  • Feng Kee Hainanese Curry Rice: #01-41, 121 Pasir Panjang Rd. Daily 4am-2.30pm.
  • Hill Street Char Kway Teow: #01-41,16 Bedok South Rd. Open for lunch till about 4pm, re-opens at 6pm till out of stock, closed on Mon.
  • Hougang Lee Chen Cooked Food “It’s very famous, the fish they use is very fresh and the soup is nice”: #01-54, Block 216 Bedok North Street 1 Market & Food Centre. Wed-Sat noon-3pm.

 

Mr Ong, 70, driving for 40 years

Photo: Bethany Chuah

While camping out at Whampoa Food Market, we spotted Mr Ong returning to his taxi. He was carrying a bunch of flowers wrapped in newspaper. “Your wife is a very lucky lady,” we teased. “No lah,” he replied, his eyes crinkling as he grinned shyly. “It’s for the temple.”

When asked how long he’d been driving for, Mr Ong very modestly replied, “Not too long, 40 years.” Upon seeing our amazed expression, he added, “That’s kind of the middle, there are some who have been driving for close to 60 years!”

As a testament of his years on the road, his recommendations are diverse in location and all pretty much top-notch:

  • Hajjah Mona Nasi Padang “This one is my must-go for Malay food”: #02-166, Geylang Serai Market & Food Centre, 1 Geylang Serai. Thur-Tues 8am-7pm.
  • Soon Lee Fried Kway Teow “The char kway teow here is very well fried and they are generous with the hum”: #01-09, Blk 75 Toa Payoh Lorong 5. Mon-Sun 3pm-11pm.
  • Finest SongKee’s Fishball Noodle “The fishball here is very fresh and doesn’t taste so processed”: 532 Upper Serangoon Rd. Thur-Tues 6pm-2am.
  • Seng Kee Bak Chor Mee “Every morning, the queue is very long because the taste is the best, it’s got a nice vinegar flavour and the chilli is also nice, also good for breakfast”: Stall 4, Serangoon Garden Market & Food Centre, 49A Serangoon Garden Way. Tues-Sat 7.30am-1.30pm.

 

Ram, 45, driving for 2.5 years

Ram was pumping air into his tires when we approached him. He claimed to be “that boring guy” who didn’t usually meet other taxi drivers for lunch, but instead preferred to bring his prepared food to Mount Faber and eat there, walk around and then let the food digest a little. We reassured him that was hardly boring — perhaps he was just good at enjoying the little things in life.

On days when he doesn’t bring lunch, there are a number of criteria that the eatery must fulfil to be deemed worthy for him. “It’s important that we don’t get in trouble with parking; somewhere we can eat peacefully and not have to rush, or you can at least watch your vehicle while eating to make sure that that you don’t get any trouble (read: traffic police)”.

To enjoy life as much as Ram does, try these places:

  • Warung M. Nasir “Once in a while I just crave the nasi padang here. The price is just a bit higher, but the quality is real Indonesian nasi padang”: 69 Killiney Rd. Daily 10am-10pm.
  • Al-Haji Noordhin “The curry puffs here are the best option. Usually you can’t park here, but you can just quickly pause at the side, buy and go”: 161 Jalan Besar.

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