In Singapore it’s all about the Hawker Centres.
Hawkers are big open areas with millions of food stalls that serve every local dish you’d ever want to try. There are also “food courts” which are pretty much the same thing except they are indoors, usually in malls. And boy do Singaporeans love their malls! The closest Hawker Centre to me is the Newton Hawker Center which I went to at least 3 times when I first arrived in Singapore.
The first time I visited the Hawker the vendors could tell I was new in town and they did hassle me a bit. Finally after my second time going I had it down to where I knew I couldn’t stare like a deer in the headlights while figuring out what I wanted to eat.
In a hawker center you definitely have to be assertive with what you want – and at any open food market in Singapore for that matter. Another thing about Southeast Asia (and Asia in general) is that is it such a sensory overload with the sights and sounds that sometimes even if you are used to a big city it’s hard to figure out what the heck is going on. Luckily for me in Singapore everything is in English and they have pictures of the food so you know -for the most part – what you’re getting.
One of the Singapore local favorites found at every hawker center is the BBQ Stingray. Everywhere I went it seemed like everybody was getting at least one plate of it and then sharing for the table – tapas style. Since I’m traveling solo at the moment I went all-in and got myself a plate of stingray and a side of stir fried noodles. I think it was seafood mee goreng (literally translated as “Fried Noodle”).
They call it a BBQ dish but the stingray itself is covered with a ton of different spices and tastes similar to a blackened chili rub. The paste was slathered on top of the the stingray and cooked over the flame, then served on a banana leaf.
It was delicious!
I was expecting the meat to be very tough like the cownose rays back in the Atlantic Ocean but it was a flaky, white flesh. I was very surprised. Though it was quite oily as you can see from the picture it didn’t have a very fishy taste to it. I was curious if this was even a stingray but I looked at the guy cooking at the grill and it definitely was Stingray by the shape and skin texture. The oil of the stingray blended together with the different spices and made for an excellent dipping sauce for all the scraps. I scarfed down the whole thing – noodles and all – in a matter of minutes!
For trying to get a local seafood plate, I’ve found the Newton Hawker Centre to be one of better spots for variety and price. I walked out feeling extremely full and satisfied. BBQ stingray is one dish I’ll be eating again.