An eclectic mix of cuisines available at mostly affordable price points makes eating out at the hawker centre a popular option for many Singaporeans.
Snaking long queues and tables “choped” with tissue paper packets are a common sight come mealtimes, and even when friends from abroad ask for food recommendations, I’ll usually point them to a hawker centre.
If you frequent popular quick-service joints such as McDonalds and Starbucks, you’re probably aware of the existence of a “secret menu” with commonly-accepted modification to items.
But did you know that hawker centre dishes have them too?
Since each order is made upon request and on-the-spot, a slight modification can result in a completely different dish (as we’ve found out), and it’s just a fun way to add some pizzazz to your meals.
We’ve gone round the office to squeeze out some of these hidden finds from our colleagues and took the liberty to make sure they actually exist.
Here’s a disclaimer though: We can’t guarantee that every hawker in Singapore will know what you’re asking for, so the key is to give specific instructions to see if they’re able to make the dish.
BA CHOR MEE “BAI (WHITE)”
Many of us love a bowl of dry ba chor mee (bcm) for its strong vinegary taste and the spicy kick of chilli in the seasoning.
While the kid-friendly tomato sauce variation may be common knowledge to parents and non-chilli eaters, the existence of a “bai (white)” version completely blew our minds.
For those who’ve never heard of it, this version contains sesame oil, braised mushroom sauce and fish sauce and tastes nothing like the BCM you know.
The uncle who served us was unperturbed when we gave the order and said he receives requests for it several times a day.
While it was an interesting take on a well-loved dish, it was too oily and cloying for us to finish the entire bowl but those who enjoy a milder form of BCM might take to it.
‘JI WEI FAN’ (鸡尾饭）
The next time you order the nation’s unofficial dish, take your chicken rice game to the next level and order “ji wei rou”, which is the meat from the tail end of the chicken.
You should be getting the thigh of the chicken, which is more tender compared to the chicken breast and a meatier cut compared to the wings.
The biggest plus point? Because it’s not exactly the drumstick, the hawker may or may not charge you extra but the juiciness of the flesh is worth the upgrade in my opinion.
UNUSUAL PRATAS – PLASTER, BOMB, MILK & KUTHU
Pratas are great to nom on anytime of the day, but the egg/kosong variations might get a little stale after ordering it for the nth time.
While onions, mushroom and cheese are popular add-ons and usually found at the top of the menu, look a little further and you might notice a few gems that might be foreign to non-supper connoisseurs.
If you like your eggs sunny-side-up, opt for a roti plaster next time round.
Instead of having the egg encased inside the dough, you’ll get it served on top of the prata so you can break the runny yolk and watch it ooze out.
If you’re in the mood to treat yourself, consider the prata bomb but watch out because it’s also a calorie bomb and may not be the wisest choice if you’re watching the scales.
Coiled for a softer and chewier bite, prata bomb is a thicker version of regular prata with margarine and sugar hidden inside.
Crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, you can even ask for toppings like cheese, kaya, honey or condensed milk if you have a sweet tooth.
A colleague of ours has also come across something called ‘milk prata’, where condensed milk is sandwiched between the flat dough so that a trickle of sweetness flows out with every bite. We are not sure if all prata sellers would immediately know how to make this, but it sounds like it’s worth a try.
For something even more unusual, try ordering kothu (“chopped”) prata — a stir-fried dish of shredded prata, meat and spices, with the end result tasting somewhat like a murtabak, just messier.
On the topic of sweet treats, you might have heard of the Milo dinosaur, where iced Milo is topped with a heaping pile of Milo powder.
If you’re able to stomach how sweet the drink is, up your game and take it a step further by giving its monster-sized cousin a try.
The Milo Godzilla is essentially the same drink but topped off with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream to give your 100 per cent sugar-level bubble tea a run for its money.
‘SAN WEI’ (三味) WANTON MEE
Before a colleague enlightened me, the only way I knew how to take my wanton mee was to have it dry or with soup, spicy or non-spicy.
The next time you’re in the mood for some dry noodles, try asking the auntie or uncle if they’re able to make “san wei” (three-flavoured) wanton mee.
If all you got was a confused stare like I did when I gave this order a try, just ask for your noodles to be seasoned with chili, ketchup and black sauce.
Basically Pontian’s flavour before Pontian came about, the aforementioned colleague also said other stalls are able to make it but it’ll taste different.
BONUS: ROTI MARIAM
Although this one is impossible to find at any hawker centre in Singapore, we’ve decided to include it on the list because it’s such a well-kept secret.
Supposedly only available at the Islamic Restaurant at North Bridge Road, Roti Mariam ($4) is a cross between a naan and prata that’s deep fried and can be eaten with plain sugar, condensed milk, curry or keema (a minced meat dish).
For those who enjoy a good backstory behind a dish’s name, it’s said that Roti Mariam was named after a woman of the same name who sold it from a pushcart in Kampong Glam.
Probably impressed by the unique texture of the bread, the Islamic Restaurant later hired her and put her roti on the menu.
Know of any more food “hacks” or secret menu items that we missed out on this list? Let us know!
This content was originally published here.