I have recently made it my “hobby” to seek out good Thai food in hawker centres. Why? Well, before my encounter with the food at Bangkok Express (not the restaurant) at Newton Circus, I had always thought Thai food in hawker centres was a bit like “Japanese food” in hawker centres. You get a wannabe that isn’t like the real thing at all but charges double that of a bak chor mee. Also, my favourite food to eat at hawker centres is always something local like roast duck rice, five spice prawn crackers, or fresh fish bee hoon.
But Newton Circus’ local food is pathetic. From the You Kee duck rice (pitiful serving sizes) to the supposedly famous fried Hokkien prawn noodles that tastes like salt dissolved in oil and water, anything that isn’t BBQ seafood tastes HORRIBLE.
So when I found myself having to eat lunch at Newton Circus one afternoon, I was at a loss of what to eat. Seeing that the boyfriend ordered from Bangkok Express, I decided, “You know, everything sucks here so you might as well just break your rule and give it a go.” So I order the Tom Yum Chicken set ($6) and had one of my most memorable hawker lunches in a very long time.
Come to think of it, it does make sense. A lot of the best Thai food we eat in Bangkok are sold on the streets. Unlike Japanese food, Thai food is relatively inexpensive to create and therefore lends itself to a setting like a hawker centre. After eating my way through a list of 6 stalls recommended by friends, I have found my four favourites:
1. Bangkok Express
#01-04 Newton Circus Food Centre
500 Clemenceau Avenue North
What I ordered: Chicken with Cashew Nuts set, $6
Talk about value-for-money! This set comes with a generous serving of stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts, some green papaya salad on the side, a small bowl of tom yum soup, and rice. Taste-wise, the food is bursting with sweet, sour and spicy, and every mouthful is satisfying as it is hearty. For small eaters, you may not even be able to finish everything. I just wish Newton hawkers would stop serving their food in those styrofoam plates and give us some real cutlery already!
2. Yummy Thai
#01-161 Old Airport Road Food Centre
51 Old Airport Road
What I ordered: Chicken with Basil, $4.50
This may not be a spread like Bangkok Express but minced chicken was moist and came with a healthy dose of basil. There was a fried egg on top of the rice. This chicken with basil is very close to the ones I have tasted in Bangkok. I like that it had little chili padi cooked into it so it’s got a bit of heat, which makes it go even better with the steaming white jasmine rice
3. Tasty Thai Hut
#02-131 Bukit Timah Market & Food Centre
116 Upper Bukit Timah Road
What I ordered: Chicken with Basil, $5
I was initially very disappointed with the way the dish turned out. Unlike most chicken/pork/beef with basil dishes I have sampled, this was pale and super watery. The stall owner is a Thai lady and the menu has just 6 dishes. This was the only stir-fry. But guess what? It rocked my socks! The clear gravy was full of fish sauce flavour and imparted an appetizing note to the rice. Basil, long beans, peppers and chili padis gave texture and crunch. Overall, this was the stall that surprised me the most.
4. Pauline Thai Food
#01-68 Golden Mile Food Centre
505 Beach Road
What I ordered: Pork with Basil, $4.50
This one reminded me of a pork with basil dish I used to have at a Thai restaurant my family frequented when we were still staying in Little India. Instead of serving it with rice, that dish came with a plate of lettuce leaves that you use to wrap the pork with. Being a kid, I refused to eat “green food”, so I was fed rice with the pork. Although it looked dry, this Golden Mile offering had a strong smoky, “wok-hei” flavour. The serving was huge and I struggled to finish it.
Do you have a go-to Thai hawker stall that isn’t mentioned here? If so, drop me a note in the Comment section and let me know where to find it! Meanwhile, do check out these places during your lunch hour or on a weekend. I guarantee you won’t regret it!
About The Author: Deborah Tan is a founder of Material World. After 10 years of working in magazines Cleo and Cosmopolitan Singapore, she is now a freelance writer/editor who works on this website full-time. She likes liquid eyeliners, bright red lipsticks, tattoos, rock & roll, Mad Men, Suits and doesn’t really like the Thai dessert mango with sticky rice. Follow her on Twitter @DebTanTweets.