Hawker centers in Singapore is the go-to dining destination for local and tourists alike. It’s not only inexpensive but you get to taste local and regional flavors—from laksa to chicken rice to fried hokkien mee to mee siam to roti to satay.
Personally, I have not tried hawker centers. I know, I know. Bad, foodie. Bad! The first time I was in Singapore (eight years ago), everything was already planned for us and it did not include a visit to the food center. We ate at restaurants like Jumbo Seafood at Clarke Quay.
I promised myself that when I return, I’ll eat at one of these hawker centers. I have yet to return to Singapore, however. Sad face.
Luckily for me and other foodies here in Manila, we don’t have to fly to Singapore anymore to experience these traditional hawker centers. Recently KF Seetoh opened Makansutra, a Singapore style food center right smack in the center of Metro Manila. Located at the second floor of one of the country’s biggest malls, SM Megamall in Ortigas Center, the food hall brings in the flavors of Singapore to the Philippines.
Seetoh, who is known as the local food expert of Singapore is the founder of Makansutra, a company that promotes and celebrates food culture. The Southeast Asian nation is known to be very proud of its rich food culture. Not only that they love eating so much, its local flavors is a reflection of the region. Its food has Indian, Malay, Indonesian, and Chinese influences.
“The Philippines doesn’t really have a regional street food culture,” Seetoh said, who I was able to interview on opening day. “Filipinos also travel a lot, so they are already familiar with the food. There are so many Filipinos in Singapore so a lot of the dishes need no introduction.”
Filipinos already got a taste of Singaporean street food through the World Street Food Congress (WSFC) that was held last April in the country. Makansutra is also behind the said the successful food festival. But unlike the week-long WSFC, Maknsutra is here to stay.
I arrived at Makansutra during lunchtime so it was predictably packed. The first thing that will greet customers at the entrance is a horse-less kalesa, giving the interior a Filipino touch. Although I feel like it’s an unnecessary décor since it takes up space, which can be used for more tables.
Like those hipster food parks, the interior is very industrial—bare concrete floor, graffiti-filled unpolished concrete walls, rusty corrugated iron ceiling panels, etc. It makes you feel like you’re outside even if you’re inside an air-conditioned mall.
There are a total of 11 food stalls and one beverage stall that is located at the center. I was able to try several dishes like the classic laksa. Donald and Lily’s laksa is rich, creamy, and has the right spice. Probably one of the best dishes at the food hall. Another must-try are the satay sets of Alhambra Padang Satay & Muslim Food—grilled curry meat-on-a-stick served with peanut sauce.
Hong Kong Street Old Chun Kee has great Chinese offerings, too, like it’s salted egg dishes. Salted egg is so popular in Singapore right now they practically put it in everything, even potato chips. This stall has pork, chicken, and prawn salted egg dishes. The proteins stir-fried and smothered with the salted egg sauce is a different Chinese food experience.
Ah Tee’s oyster omelet is also a must-try. I was iffy about this classic dish since I’m not a fan of oyster and I always avoided this shellfish. I expected it to be slimy and fishy. But Ah Tee makes it perfectly, slightly crispy egg with the soft oyster pieces topped with fresh spring onions and served with chili sauce. It was my first time to have one and I actually liked it.
My favorite of them all is the claypot rice of Geylang Claypot Rice. It’s really good. Chicken and Chinese sausages is served on rice that was cooked in a clay pot then topped with a generous drizzling of thick soy sauce. Like paella, the best part of the dish is the burnt rice at the bottom of the pot—crunchy flavorful goodness. This dish is so good that Anthony Bourdain picked it up to be part of Bourdain Market food hall in New York City.
Makansutra is located on the 2nd floor of Bldg. A (above National Book Store), SM Megamall, Ortigas Center / http://www.makansutra.com