This 100-stall, open-air hawker centre is open 24 hours a day. When I arrived at 1 AM, almost every table was full. I quickly saw why they call it a hawker centre. The stall owners will say anything to find you a seat and convince you their food is what you should be eating. Lying, exaggerating and begging seem to be popular tactics. The food all looked so good, with a range of eating choices that puts most small American CITIES to shame, but I held strong and made sure to examine each stall before making my first choice, Stall #4, Best B.B.Q. Seafood.
Best B.B.Q. owner Roger, in a scruffy beard and gray #23 sweatshirt, said he wouldn’t lie to me. Serving with the Americans for three years beginning in 1984 and being married to a Kiwi seemed to be important selling points to him. Why, I have no idea. Roger’s boast of a “five-star chef” and money-back guarantee still weren’t enough to draw me in. What did it was seeing his chef eating an off-the-menu dish, Char Kway Teow. I had to have it. Roger cleared Table 281 for me and I sat down.
Char Kway Teow (S$5) was a huge Styrofoam plate filled with rice noodles stir-fried with chilies, scrambled egg, prawns, calamari rings and sprouts until the whole mess was rich brown with spice, crusty and delicious. It came with two garnishes: sliced onions in prawn paste and a plate of chili sauce topped with a calamansi (like a mini-lime), to cut the spice.
I paired the noodles with fresh longan juice (S$2) from Stall #3, with several pitted longans topping the ice.
I asked Roger where to find the best sate, and he said, “I’ll show you a man who’s been cooking sate for 30 years.” And he did, at Stall #49.
The going rate for sate in the hawker centre was 40 cents a pop, with a minimum order of 10. I chose 3 mutton, 3 beef an 4 chicken.
Ten minutes later, the sate chef presented me with ten skewers on meat on a banana leaf with a bowl of nutty, greasy sate sauce on the side. The skewers were chili-rubbed, pleasantly chewy and succulent.
I was aching for an order of sambal-crusted BBQ stingray, a Singapore specialty, but my stomach wouldn’t cooperate, so I took a taxi back to my hotel to recover in time to gorge myself again the next day.