Breakfast is said to be the most important meal of the day – and if you haven’t tried typical Singapore breakfast fare, a hawker centre is probably the best place to get it.
I am often grilled about great street food, but people rarely ask me about breakfast. In fact, many of Singapore’s culinary classics originated as morning meals: hearty dishes to wake the body up and sustain it throughout the day. So head out with the morning sun to Tiong Bahru Market (30 Seng Poh Road), one of the most approachable hawker centres and wet markets in Singapore. Here you can have a great meal and purchase all of your fresh ingredients, at prices dramatically lower than in the supermarket . And with a car park on the roof, it couldn’t be easier.
On the street in front of the market, look up and admire the trademark rounded entrance. This art deco edifice is the anchor of Tiong Bahru, where new Bohemian blends seamlessly with old-school Chinese into an alluring Greenwich Village-like neighbourhood. Take the escalator to the second level, where the triangular hawker centre offers a wide variety of excellent food to suit nearly any taste. But since we’re talking breakfast here, we’ll focus on that.
You will quickly come to several stalls specialising in kopi (coffee). At 238 Coffee Stall (#02-82) you’ll find classic Singaporean coffee. Arabica beans are roasted in butter or margarine to bring a smoothness to the black powder. Brewed old-school style in a coffee sock, the elixir pouring from the long-necked coffeepot is so dark and rich that even Singaporeans add hot water to it. Think about your coffee preference and order accordingly (see sidebar). It’s served in classic green-and-white kopi cups, but if you’re on the run, ask for it in a bag. Like your own personal IV shot of java, you can walk around the market sipping it from a straw with no fear of spillage.
If you like, you could order the classic kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs with your kopi. Smear the kaya (coconut jam) and butter on the thin-sliced black-top toast, add a little soy sauce and white pepper to your eggs and dive in. This is the classic day-starter, but in truth there is so much more to breakfast in Singapore, especially if you’re foodwalking.
Continuing along the perimeter of the hawker centre, you will eventually come across Jian Bo Tiong Bahru Chwee Kueh (#02-05). The chwee kueh, steamed rice flour cake, served with flavourful slow-braised chye poh (white salted radish), makes a great breakfast, and these are some of the best on the island. Add a little chilli paste and eat them right from the brown paper they come on, four for a dollar.
Another required stop is Tiong Bahru Pau (#02-18/19), where fresh pastries, buns and dumplings are continuously prepared on site for the never-ending queue of hungry shoppers. Grab a fresh char siew pau (barbecued steamed bun) and some pork siew mai dumplings to dip into the slightly tangy chilli sauce. Their other pastries are equally delicious: try the egg tarts, yellow as the morning sun and shimmering within a delicate golden crust.
One of the most popular eye-opener meals is Cantonese-style congee, or rice porridge, and at Tiong Bahru Hwa Yuen Porridge (#02-74) you’ll find a stick-to-your ribs version that even Goldilocks would not push away. It’s thick and rich, cooked for hours in chicken stock. Add to it your choice of vegetables, fresh sliced fish or pork and a drizzle of dark soy sauce. For an early jolt, add a few chillies and scallions. A couple of bites and you’ll realise why this classic breakfast dish has been slurped up in Singapore since Chinese sailors first hacked their way through the tangled mangroves.
Having fortified yourself for the day ahead, head downstairs to the wet market to do your shopping. Tiong Bahru’s wet market is neat and orderly – an easy introduction to the hustle and bustle often found at markets. Situated around a triangular courtyard, each of the three veins of stalls loosely specialises in a certain type of food. Fruit on one side runs the full length of the market, with vegetables and the freshest pork in Singapore on the opposite side. Across the grassy space is the poultry section, ending in an explosion of colourful flower stalls, with more vegetables lining the back. And at the base of the triangle, seafood. Unlike in many wet markets, the fish is carefully presented in an appetising manner, much of it already cut into neat fillets or steaks and resting on ice.
Experiencing Tiong Bahru’s accessibl market could forever change your view of supermarket shopping. So make the journey – it’s great at any time of the morning, especially around breakfast!
Now that you’ve got the food down – check out our quick guide to ordering the perfect kopi (coffee) here!