Nick and Karen Soon

Nick and Karen Soon are the husband-and-wife team behind One Kueh At A Time, a hawker stall at Jalan Besar Food Centre that sold kueh – traditional handmade Chinese dumplings – between 2014 and 2017. Family recipes plus a savvy Instagram presence ensured the stall was an essential stop for locals as well as visiting big-name chefs such as Massimo Buttura and Mauro Colagreco. Like all Singaporeans, the Soons are also serious eaters. When they’re not working to preserve local food culture, these are their favourite places to dine.

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Our Favourite Hawker Centre

If a visitor from overseas would come to Singapore we would bring them to Ghim Moh Hawker Centre near Buona Vista [a housing estate] so it’s kind of central west and nearer to town. It’s clean, airy and spacious and the hawkers there are generally very friendly. Although some have long queues and they’re very busy, they’re still very pleasant. That makes a difference. Different hawker centres have different busy periods too. Ghim Moh is more of a morning and lunch centre. By around 2pm or 3pm, it gets very quiet. Normally we go for these three stores.

One is Thye Hong Handmade Fishball Noodle which is run by an old man. There’s always a queue. He still makes his own fishballs and he cooks his noodles in a very simple, old-school way that makes them very tasty. You can just tell the fishballs are handmade: the taste, the soft bouncy texture. Our favourite order is the mee pok (flat yellow egg noodles) with the fish balls. Uncle is probably in his early 70s and he’s a veteran. It’s amazing to see him cook and talk to customers at the same time. He’s a multitasker.

Another is Granny’s Pancake that serves mee jiang kueh or what we call a Singaporean pancake. It’s a thick fluffy cake that’s cooked in a flat pan on a gas stove that gets sprinkled with peanut, coconut or red bean filling, then folded and cut up like a cake. The version here is one of the best in Singapore. You can choose to buy however much you want. One slice. Eight slices. Twenty slices. For me, my favourite filling is the red bean. For Karen, it’s the peanut.

There’s also this stall called Lao Chao Zhou (#01-18, Ghim Moh Hawker Centre) that serves satay bihun and mee siam. They only sell two items. The satay bihun has pork, liver and cuttlefish in this satay gravy kind of thing and some vegetables while the mee siam is sour, sweet and spicy. What’s interesting is that mee siam is a Malay dish but the hawkers are Chinese so it has a slightly different taste to the original. The Malays cook it with more spice and the Chinese rempah (spice mix) is milder. The sauce is less viscous and more watery. It’s a traditional breakfast noodle dish and we love it for its gravy.

One Of Singapore’s Last Old-School Coffee Shops

A traditional Singaporean breakfast is toast with soft boiled eggs, kaya and butter. It’s our favourite. We like getting it at Heap Seng Leong which is one of the last remaining old-school coffee shops in Singapore. The thing that’s special about all these old-school places is that they boil the water over charcoal and grill the bread for the kaya toast over charcoal, too. That makes the difference. The taste. The texture. It’s very nostalgic. Growing up in Singapore, our grandparents and parents would always cook food over charcoal. They said food always tasted better with charcoal.

It’s Easy To Eat Vegetarian In Singapore

There’s a restaurant in Little India called MTR that’s our go-to for Indian vegetarian food. The buttery and crisp masala thosai (a crisp rice flour and lentil crepe, also known as dosa) is the best. It’s served with curry vegetables and potatoes and makes a very nice combination with the chutney and sambal. Every thosai is freshly made and you’ll have to wait 10 to 15 minutes. Even though the queue is very long, you won’t have to wait too long. The other thing that’s very good is the vadai (savoury fried doughnut). It’s also worth mentioning that MTR is very, very clean.

More Addresses For Little India

Azmi Chapati is an old Indian-Muslim coffee shop where you can watch the old uncles make fresh chapati on the spot. The fragrance of the chapati and watching them puff up when they’re ready while you’re sitting there is very appetising. It’s not the cleanest because there’s a lot of pigeons around, but that really gives it a character. Further down from Azmi is Mr Biryani another Indian restaurant that is very good. It serves very good biryani: brinjol biryani, dum biryani. It’s the best. It’s pricey but its well worth the money you’ll pay for it. We’ve noticed they use fried shallots as a garnish, that’s a nice touch. 

Singapore-Style Neighbourhood Chinese

Zichar (Singaporean home-style cooking) is one of our favourite Chinese cooking styles and is usually offered in coffee shops. It’s very local and only found in Singapore. Chinese families, over the weekend when they don’t cook, will often go to a zichar stall and order a variety of dishes with rice. There will usually be at least one zichar shop in every neighbourhood. Kok Sen is one of the best known ones, the other is Keng Eng Kee which is the one we go to most. We like the pepper crab. There’s also claypot liver with spring onion and salted egg yolk squid.

Our Favourite Chicken Rice Stall

Our favourite chicken rice stall is Shi Mei Hainanese Chicken Rice in the HDB block in Bukit Gombak. As well as the steamed and the roasted chicken, it has different flavours of chicken rice such as sesame chicken and lemon chicken.

Two Local Noodle Specialties

928 Yishun Laksa is in the northern part of Singapore and just sells laksa. It’s another small stall in the HDB estate as well. For us the broth is just right. There’s not too much coconut and it’s not too thin. You can ask for extra ingredients like extra cockles. Char kway teow (stir-fried fat rice noodles) is another local food that we love as well and there’s a particular good one at a coffee shop called Luk Lu Eating House. It’s cooked with a lot of lard which makes a lot of difference. It’s a bit on the dense side which is what I like about it. As well as char kway teow, there’s also fried carrot cake which is also very good.

An Introduction To Yong Tau Foo

Yong Tau Foo consists of minced meat or fish that’s been sandwiched in an eggplant, bittergourd or tofu. There’s also broccoli, cuttlefish, fishballs, pork, chicken and fish. Each stall usually has a minimum number of pieces. You queue up, choose your food and then pass it to the hawker who fries everything and prepares it with noodles. Xi Xiang Feng Yong Tau Foo is one of the places where you can have chee cheong fun (steamed rice flour rolls) with your yong tau foo. The sauce is amazing and one of the reasons why this stall is so popular. The sauce and the stuffed meat paste are their own recipes and the gravy is really, really good. 

A Deeper Respect For Hawkers

After three years of running a hawker stall, we look at hawkers very differently now [The Soons ran One Kueh At A Time as a hawker stall from 2014 to 2017 and, as of January 2020, are preparing to open their new store]. We’ve seen how hard it is to be a hawker. It’s so hot within that small space. A lot of the hawkers that we spoke to during our hawker days worked 12 hours a day. That’s something we both couldn’t do. It’s really very, very hard. At our old hawker centre, there were these two ladies who ran their own stalls. One-woman-armies. They were there at 2am every day to prepare to be ready for the breakfast crowd. It also gave us a much deeper appreciation for our janitors as well. We didn’t realise they’re really invisible. Without them, the table or the space wouldn’t be clean for people to eat. We learned to appreciate all of them. Recently we’ve seen more and more youngsters becoming hawkers. That is very encouraging. Singapore is trying very hard to get its hawker food recognised with a UNESCO intangible cultural award and honouring the hawkers.  

Guide last updated March 2020

Our guides are fact-checked and updated regularly. Read more here.

Nick and Karen Soon

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