Makansutra: Bring back Orchard hawkers
Should there be a new "Orchard Hawker Centre" as part of the plans to revive Orchard Road?
That was what I discussed with a few remaining hawkers who were once at the defunct Orchard Road carpark group (from 1966 to 1978, where Orchard Central now sits).
Everything in that once shiny shopping belt lacks "Singaporean-ness" - you can hardly hear Singlish and there is no true local hawker centre.
The late Anthony Bourdain called Singapore "the best street food city in the world" in his interview with talk show host David Letterman.
Local food is iconic. I feel we should have a "best of the best" hawker centre in Orchard just like what was attempted with the defunct Rasa Sayang hawkers at Tanglin.
What better way for a visitor to have a meal that adds to the travel experience and is unique to this food-mad city?
Twelve of the carpark hawkers - among the 32 relocated to Newton - are still serving it up.
Here are five of my favourites that are still at Newton Food Centre today.
Soon Wah Fishball Kway Teow Mee, stall 69, 5.30pm to midnight, closed on Wednesday and Sunday
This is my gold standard in fishball noodles, and the Yeo brothers still make the fishballs by hand.
They are big, soft and bouncy, and it is "the little bit of water, the seasoning in the fish paste and elbow grease that give them the texture and taste". Sadly, no one is slated to continue the business when the two men call it a day "not long from now".
Hup Kee Fried Oyster Omelette, stall 73, 6pm to 1am, closed on Monday
The boss was so particular in the way he fried that he insisted on constructing a steel sheet between stove and cook to reduce the heat as he fried up hundreds of plates each day.
His wife and son now helm the stall, and their crispy version is the most popular, but you can request the old-school wet and starchy style.
Kwee Heng Duck Noodle, stall 13, 9am to 11.30pm, closed on Wednesday
It looks unappetising - a plate of yellow noodles sitting in a soya-chilli sauce with slices of duck.
But after a mouthful, it grows on you and eventually becomes comforting. The duck flavour is rather tame and goes well with the dark herbal soup.
Mr Philip Sng and his dad used to sell chicken noodles but switched to duck rice and noodles after relocating here.
Kwang Kee Teochew Fish Porridge, stall 20, 10am to 9pm, closed on Monday
It looks boring and not Instagrammable. But to the aficionados, this Teochew comfort food is home.
The rice in clear fish stock wakes you up with a blast of teepo (roasted dried sole fish bones) flavour in the soup.
The rice is soft, and the crunchy, slippery and fresh slices of batang or Spanish mackerel are a symphony in the mouth.
Second-generation hawker Jason Tan, or Ah Hui, doles it out the same way his father did back in the 60s. He has been assisting his dad since he was 13.
Bee Heng Popiah, stall 12, 12pm to 11pm, closed on Monday
The popiah skin has a softness and resilience that holds the comforting ingredients snugly.
The bits of crackers lend such a nice texture, and the stewed turnips have a sweetness with a blast of umami from the seafood stock used to braise it.
K. F. Seetoh, the founder of Makansutra, dabbles in street food businesses like Food Markets and has his own TV shows on cable. He publishes food guides and online content. He is also the creator of the World Street Food Congress. Follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.