Hawker or street food culture of Singapore is going for a UNESCO cultural heritage recognition, and where to experience it first hand than at Maxwell Road Market.
Maxwell Road Market originally started in 1929 as a wet market built on top of Chinese burial grounds. It lasted through the Japanese Occupation and housed a community kitchen that fed the poor and displaced after the war. It was renovated into its current form and opened in 1987.
Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice #01-07
This store has seen better times, and has been affected by the Covid restrictions. Not many know that the chef-owner, and now the only staff in the store, was once cooking at the famous Tian Tian Chicken Rice.
Ah Tai was the 头手 sous chef of Tian Tian who had an argument with the wife of the late owner that he quit and setup shop three stores down from Tian Tian. Tian Tian continued without him, and was made even more famous first by Anthony Bourdain (bless his soul) and then Gordon Ramsay (who tried to challenge them to a hawker war). Ah Tai slipped into oblivion.
Ah Tai’s chicken was unbelievably tender, juicy and smooth, and I gave it a thumbs-up compared to Tian Tian. And it was cheaper than Tian Tian, making it a better eat.
The rice was grainy and fragrant, though it was a little on the dry side. The most important aspect, the chicken rice chilli, was thick and spicy with a nice garlicky and ginger flavour to it. And more important, he was rather generous with the chilli, unlike Tian Tian.
But what really blew my mind was the boiled chicken gizzards and livers. The gizzard where crunchy, but it was the liver that tasted like foie gras!
Fu Shun (Kum Kee) Shao La Mian Jia #01-71
Fu Shun Shao La Mian Jia’s forte is roast meats. They attracted constant queues of customers, so expect a wait at peak hours.
Fu Shun Jin Ji Shao La Mian Jia was established in 2008 by Chan Tuck Kwai, who first began cooking in his teens. His roast meats have become popular because they are value-for-money and really tasty.
Their pork belly sio bak and char siu are the fastest selling items on their menu. They have roast duck as well, but it was those two that attracted me to their store.
The sio bak’s skin possessed the perfect crunch and had just the right amount of saltiness, and the meat was moist and tender.
Its char siew is prepared by roasting it over charcoals while basting continuously throughout the cooking period. This technique layers the surface with a thick coating of marinade, not-too-sweet and deeply savoury. It is roasted until a slight charring is created, which added a smoky flavour to the strip of meat.
Heng Heng Ondeh Ondeh & Tapioca Cake #01-31
Heng Heng Ondeh Ondeh and Tapioca Cake moved here from the old China Street (where Far East Square is today) street hawkers. Heng Heng is run by an elderly couple who learned the craft of making Nyonya style kueh in the 1960s, and has been operating at this location since 1986.
Handmade daily, the signature kueh ubi kayu (tapioca cake) and kueh kosui (aka alkaline cake, darker in colour from gula melaka) are soft and moist, with the coconut shaving offering a nutty note. The cakes had an amazing texture and were not very sticky, as compared to the ones you might find elsewhere.
Tapioca was sold out when I was there, but their ondeh ondeh (without coconut, you can ask for ones with coconut too) and kueh kosui were equally outstanding. The texture of kueh kosui is slightly bouncy because lye (alkaline) is added to the batter. And they also had my childhood favourites – the rainbow colours kueh lapis (layered rice cakes).
Aftertaste Traditional Tutu Cake #01-73
Two stores down from the roasts is another childhood snack – tutu kueh. Helmed by a young couple, it was refreshing to see new blood in an old market.
Aftertaste Traditional Tutu Cake sells tutu cake made a la minute. Besides tutu cakes, they also sell tapioca cakes, muah chee (the ancestor of the Japanese mochi, but the filling is dusted on the outside) and some fritters.
Putu piring or tutu kueh is a round-shaped, traditional steamed rice flour cake or sweet snack filled with different types of sweet fillings like palm sugar (gula melaka, the most traditional flavour), coconut, peanut, and more recently chocolate.
The coconut flavour tutu kueh was moist in the middle when you bite into it. The really lovely orange colour permeated through the white, fluffy rice cake made them a favourite among the children.
Chocolate fillings are only a recent invention. Children these days are not accustomed to gula melaka or peanut filling. Those were old traditional flavours that I grew up with.
China Street Fritter 中国街五香贯肠 #01-64
They recently made headlines for wanting to sell their recipe and brand for SGD 1 Million. Yes, that’s right a cool million.
China Street Fritter 中国街五香贯肠 has been in business for more than 70 years, currently helmed by the second generation, brothers Richard Ng 黄国荣 and Ng Kok Hua 黄国华. Today the store was managed by Ng Kok Hua and his wife Wong Siew Eng 王秀英.
The Guan Chang 灌肠 or the Chinese sausage, is hand-made by the traditional way with marinated lean pork encased with the pinky red meat sausage. And they are one of the few stores in Singapore that still offer the liver roll 猪肝卷 and egg slice 蛋片, which is a tamagoyaki deep fried.
These days, they just take order based on the set menu.
I ordered a Set D to go, which came with a bit of everything. The egg slice was feep dried to give a crispy crust on the exterior and retain much of the softness and succulent internally. If you are the liver lover, the liver meat roll will allow you to taste the flavour of the liver.
And the perfect complement for the fritters, plain fried bee hoon. This is as simple as it can be – soy sauce with fried bee hoon. I find it too “chwee” (broken up), but that’s the way it is.
Of course there are many other stores in Maxwell, but these are all I can stuff in one trip.
1 Kadayanallur St, Singapore 069184
Date visited : Nov 2021