Do you need some ideas on how to spend your next layover? What about taking a secret food tour in Singapore? It’s a three-hour guided tour in Chinatown with a very passionate local who will tell you everything about Singapore’s rich history to their culture on food.

I don’t want to ruin the element of surprise, so instead of telling you the names of the places we ate, I will let you in on a few secrets I learned on my own. Shh! Don’t tell anyone, though. 

I arrived in Singapore and literally had one hour to zip through customs, collect my luggage, drop it off at the baggage storage, and hop in a 20-minute taxi ride to get to our meeting point in Chinatown. I asked my taxi driver on my way where his favorite hawker was and he couldn’t give me a definitive answer. His answer was, “You go to different hawkers for different things.” Can I get more intel, please? He really couldn’t.  At just one hawker centre alone in Singapore, there are 250 hawkers. Not 25, but 250! That’s enough to try something new almost every day of the year.

I make it with time to spare. My guide, Natalie, is holding an orange folded umbrella ready for the showers that were predicted in this hot, humid weather. 

Disclaimer: let me begin by saying this is not a tour for individuals with dietary restrictions nor is it a good time for you start your diet. Flexitarians, like me, is okay! 

Sample #1 

BAK KWA (Chinese Pork Jerky)
The tour begins with our first stop trying Singaporean bak kwa that translates to Chinese BBQ meat or as Americans like to call it, “jerky”. I get my appetite rolling with a pork golden coin that tastes similar to a breakfast sausage only more jerky-like. Traditionally, they used to charcoal grill it and use it to preserve meats during the lean months. Nowadays, it’s simply prepared over gas with spices, hoisin sauce, molasses, honey, salt, and pepper. Bak kwa is available 365 days a year but is more commonly consumed at festivals by the Chinese. During Chinese New Year, they go crazy over it and will buy 200 lbs (100 kg) or more of jerky even with the double markup. 

Sample #2

After sampling a golden coin, we walked across the way to a chain restaurant that’s been open since the 1950s and ordered (a food legacy left behind by the British) the puff pastry. Only we tried the Singaporean upgraded version, the curry puff.

It’s a perfect opportunity to sit down in A/C for a few minutes while I eat my curr-ated empanada and listen to Natalie divulge more into more Chinatown’s history. We observe some of the shophouses (also created by the British) and Natalie elaborates more on how they used to live in the 1950s. Sometimes there would be as many as 2 single-stacked bunks with two on each and the other two on the floor. The area was known to be full of diseases, unhygienic, and very poor. Because it was usually men that came over from China to support their families, it wasn’t unlikely to find prostitution, opium bars, and gangs. 

In 1983, Singapore decided they were going to either tear down all the shophouses or restore it and turn it into a commercial area. Obviously, they chose the latter. You will not find anyone living in Chinatown these days, but the history is absolutely fascinating. 

Singapore essentially thrived off of the only two resources they had, which were the harbor and the sun.  They had this dilapidated, unwanted land and turned it around into one of the cleanest, wealthiest, and most progressive nations in the world in such an incredibly short amount of time – since 1983! Absolutely impressive. 

It’s no wonder there’s so much curiosity from the states on how they managed to create 17 reservoirs, one of them coming from the marina, and all through desalinization. There are more trees than people and 90% of citizens own their own homes, likely in high-rises. Not rent, but own. Then you have the top 4% who actually own land.  


My guide first points out the health food ratings of A and B. These are mostly created for foreigners so they know it’s safe for them to eat, but look at where all the lines are. I observe and see all the locals are lined up at the B-rated stalls. Their B-rated explanation: they’re spending more time cooking than cleaning. Ha. So, the secret is to not let the B-ratings deter you from eating there next time.  

Sample #3

This is a national dish but how do you know if you’ve found a good one? I asked and am told the main characters are not the chicken. The secret is in the rice and the chili. A good Hainan chicken rice will always be served with three things: ginger for aromatics, the chili for kick, and the duck soya sauce for sweetness. The rice should be served oily and made with stock or rendered chicken fat so it tastes like ginger and garlic and served hot while the chicken should be served at a warm temperature. 

The chicken is typically poached. The first thing is to prepare a big pot of stock with bones, meat, and vegetables. Bring stock to boil, lower heat to a minimum, then the chicken is steeped for the next 2-3 hours. Afterward, dunk into ice-cold water (to stop it from cooking and to make the skin a springy texture). Once it’s dunked, remove, and air dry it.  

Sample #4

This rice noodle dish is a braised noodle that belongs to the Hokkien clan. I guess that’s how they define some of their dishes by the clan it was derived from. The way that this is prepared is to first stir-fry the noodle, then add a prawn-based stock, add any additional seafood, and then braise it for about 10 minutes by covering the lid so it can soak up all the flavor. Don’t forget to add the must-have condiments and pair it with a local lime and local chili. 

Sample #5

There are only three stalls on the whole island to find the oyster cake. It’s a very traditional battered patty stuffed with minced pork, shrimp, oyster, celery, fresh herbs, and seasoning. If the next generation decides not to continue with it, there will be no more.

I’m watching the process of them almost ladling a shallow spoon with batter and then throwing the meats on top before adding on the last layer of batter on top. The woman who works there drops it into a deep-fry and when it’s removed, the man I’m assuming is her husband, cuts it into fours for me so it’s easier for me to eat. 

I take one bite into it and it’s still a little too hot to sink my teeth in but I’m enjoying the umami in the background and the aromatics from the fresh herbs. A good oyster cake will always be served Southeast Asian style with a chili sauce. Yum! This can definitely replace spring rolls. Proceed with caution though. I’m told that from my guide’s experience, Americans generally aren’t fans of the oyster or pork. This might have been my favorite hawker dish though.

I’m full and I’ve just sipped on a Tiger beer so we’re ready to walk. We pass another Michelin-rated hawker for Hainan chicken but she whispers to me, “The same chef cooked our Hainan Chicken and there were no lines.” I think I know who’s winning here. That’s why we’re on the Secret Food Tour. It’ll be our secret. 


Chinatown Complex
Remember how I mentioned 250 stalls in one area of food? That’s this one. Sure, I can look for the long lines and guess what to order – but it’s so much nicer and convenient to have local tips. What I learned is that many locals will come for breakfast, again for a 10:00 am snack, again for lunch, then 4 pm high-tea, and dinner. How does everyone stay so thin? They eat light and their food isn’t so rich. 

Sample #6

I’m giving away their signature secret dish and it’s called, Chendol. It’s an Indian shaved ice dessert with a mixture of a sweetened wet bean, coconut milk, rice flour, pandan extract, and lots of palm sugar. Admittedly, it didn’t look too appetizing and sounded way too sweet but I really enjoyed this! It’s airier than expected.

Sample #7

While I’m cooling down on my dessert, Natalie grabs a (not-so) carrot cake from nearby. Let’s first begin by saying it’s not the carrot cake you’re probably thinking of. Fried carrot cake (without carrots) gets its name because it’s made of daikon radish. When the Chinese look at the daikon it looks like a white carrot so in Mandarin they call it, “white carrot”. The daikon is then shaved, mixed with rice flour, and then steamed into a pudding-like texture. Afterward, it is cut into squares and then crumbled with pickled radish in the egg. 

If you order this, don’t forget to add their staple condiment: chili sauce.  

Sample #8

YUAN YANG PENG (Ice Coffee & Tea with Condensed Milk) 
After all that eating, I’m stuffed. So much so that I packed my freshly-made Indian prata with curry sauce to go. I need energy and what a perfect way to get my energy back up by finishing our tour at a very traditional coffee shop with a mini-museum. Natalie makes me learn how to pronounce Yuan Yang Peng and has me order it myself at the counter without messing it up too much. 

Sample #9

Toast is a legacy left by the British, so what did the Singaporean-Chinese do? Make it better. What makes a good Kaya toast is that instead of using a marmalade like the Brits, the locals made their own jam with coconut milk, egg yolk, tons of sugar, and pandan extract.   

Our three-hour secret food tour comes to an end at the coffee shop with some light conversation about our her upbringing and some old generation views. I also learn Natalie is also a professional baker and was able to educate me on some key things to avoid when shopping for pastries.

This is my fourth trip to Singapore but I learned more in these few hours than I did all three previous trips combined. What I superficially labeled, “a shopping destination” or stereotyped by the movie, “Crazy Rich Asians” is now appreciated by the perseverance and obstacles they’ve overcome. It was most definitely a perfect way for me to spend my layover.

If you’re interested in booking a tour with them, I’ve included their links below:

Singapore, one of the most luxurious cities in Asia, bringing together elegance and class with an array of culture, diversity, and history. The city is well known for being incredibly clean, providing plenty of action and not forgetting the exquisite food and drinks on offer.

This guide will provide wine lovers with the best Singapore has to offer whether they’re stopping for a night or for a week.

Praelum Wine Bistro

This wine cellar is the one stop to make for a crash-course in delicious wines. Praelum offers around 350 labels in its modern cellar with options starting from $4/25ml up to more premium wines at $200 a glass. The relaxed, but tasteful wine bar has knowledgeable staff on hand to provide recommendations to suit any pallet from reds, whites, rosés, dessert, and sparkling wines.

The wines are re-stocked and updated regularly bringing in new tastes and selections from all over the world, perfect for anyone traveling to Singapore with a love for wine.

Napoleon Food and Wine Bar

Situated in the heart of Singapore, Napoleon Wine bar is famous for offering the best of European wines, including a Grands Crus selection from Burgundy, France. The owner is very proud to work with a team in France to carefully select and import only the finest wines.

Alongside the wines, this wine bar provides a mouth-watering menu which will leave any food lover in awe. This wine bar describes itself as cozy, warm and inviting offering the best wines in Singapore. However, be quick with booking, this wine bar is very intimate only seating 54 guests for an intimate setting.

Bar Stories

As wine doesn’t suit all palettes, or perhaps you need a night off, Bar Stories is one of the best places in town to get delectable, hand-crafted cocktails. On arrival, if you strike up a conversation with one of the bar staff, they can craft a personalized cocktail to suit any personality, preferences, and taste.

The bar is hidden behind boutique clothing stories along Haji Lane, making it a perfect little escape for some afternoon cocktails. Also, to mention, the detail that goes into creating such cocktails can include petals, dripping chocolate, and even flames.

Verre Modern Bistro and Wine Bar

For serious wine enthusiasts, Verre Modern Bistro and Wine Bar offers over 700 labels of wine with bottles ranging from $75 – $5,350. The very best of French wine is imported to Singapore to provide locals and tourists the refreshing taste France is known worldwide for.

To accompany a plump Vino, Verre offers a vast range of appetizing meals and desserts, both of which have very good reviews from all who visit.


Leaving the best until last, Manhattan was crowned number one bar at Asia’s Best Bars 2018, and third in the world! This elegant and sophisticated bar is located inside Singapore’s Regent hotel, it describes itself as being modern yet with a touch of New York glamour.

Home to an extensive collection of classic cocktails and spirits, wines to suit any taste and some of the world’s rarest whiskeys, including Whiskeys from one of the worlds most prestigious distilleries, Buffalo Trace. When visiting, book in advance and ensure the dress code is being followed.

When in Singapore, the best bet of any self-respecting foodie is to forget the fancy restaurants, at least for a while. If you want to get to know the Lion City, hawker food is where it’s at. Cheap, tasty and surprisingly diverse, it’s everything a backpacker wants in a meal.

To be honest, it’s extremely difficult to pick just a few dishes from the mind-numbing assortment that is available. But since it would take forever for us to finish enumerating the best of hawker fare, we’ll just stick to our absolute favorites. Make sure to have a taste of these, but don’t be shy of expanding your palate to other stalls that you find around the city.


Price per Serving: around $4

We just cannot say enough good things about laksa. It’s a spicy rice noodle soup with a mix of coconut milk, beancurd puffs, fish, shrimp and cockles. It is at once satisfying and flavorful and we’re pretty sure will quickly become one of your go-to meals.

Our favorite laksa place is Sungei Roak Laksa, located somewhere between the New World Centre and Avant Theatre. It’s not as rich as other laksas, which can only mean that you’ll be coming back for a second serving.

Carrot Cake

Price per Serving: around $5

This certainly isn’t your typical carrot cake. It’s crispy, savory and doesn’t contain any carrot at all. Instead, it’s made with the visually similar daikon, which is grated, mixed with eggs and flour, and fried until crispy and golden brown. You’ll want to try carrot cake from different places, as each stall throws in its own mix of flavorings and toppings.

One of the best carrot cake places out there is Fu Ming Carrot Cake, located in the Redhill Food Centre. Here, they flavor their carrot cakes with a drizzle of soy sauce. Simple, but it allows the natural flavor and texture of the carrot cake to shine through.

Pork Rib Soup

Price per Serving: around $4

Perhaps calling this a soup is inaccurate. Locals actually call it pork rib tea. At first glance you may see why. It looks like nothing more than pork bones and scraps boiled in water. One taste, however, and you’ll be completely blown away by the complexity of flavor in this simple soup.

Each stall has a different spice mix so it’s hard to choose which one is our favorite. However, we do highly recommend Leong Kee Bak Kut The, which is not too far away from the National Stadium. Leong Kee serves Malaysian-style pork rib tea, which is more strongly flavored with herbs than most.

Kaya Toast

Price per Serving: around $4

While you’re in Singapore, you must try the quintessential Singaporean breakfast, kaya toast. It’s basically layers of bread toasted and slathered with coconut jam in between. It’s absolutely delicious on its own, but most Singaporeans prefer to eat it with soft-boiled eggs and a choice of either coffee or tea.

If you’re a kaya toast newbie, you must try Ya Kun Kaya Toast, which has over 40 outlets all over Singapore. If kaya toast isn’t your thing, you can opt for French toast or what they call “toastwiches”, also served with classic eggs and a hot beverage.

Met A Space Pod brings the Chucky Cheese back into adulting and a perfect place for VIP backpackers or space cadets. It’s the only themed hostel you can find in Singapore, so I’m feeling pretty comfortable in my tiny space pod quarters nestled up to my (not one, but TWO) down pillows and comforter with frequently flowing air ventilation and fold-down TV. It’s such a nice break from all the cheap and sometimes lousy hostels I’ve stayed at. For approximately $50 USD per night (I never said it was cheap), you get a space pod (or coffin, depending on how you look at it) perched along the famous Clarke Quay river where you’ll find plenty of nightlife with dozens of bars and restaurants.  If you’re the party type and don’t plan on bringing home any company, then this is a perfect solution for you. You can get rowdy at one of the bars and then crawl back into your space quarters at the end of the night.


I’ve never stayed at a themed hotel or hostel, so I was pretty intrigued by the idea being a solo traveler. There were so many modern upgrades like USB outlets that made me kiss the sky. The restroom facilities were very clean (albeit as tight as the pod), and I even had a little privacy screen when lights were out.


It gets pretty rowdy in the neighborhood, so if you’re a light sleeper they offer earplugs, but honestly, if noise is the type of thing to stir you into Grumpy, I wouldn’t recommend it. That being said, I’d say Met A Space Pod is for a very niche group. If you’re tall (over 6′), you probably won’t fit. If you’re a larger than average size couple, you probably won’t fit. If you don’t like noise, you’re probably not a right fit. Other than that, all others welcome to apply.


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