It may not look like much: at first glance, it looks like a number of stalls crammed into the ground level of a carpark building. But this collection of food stalls happens to be one of the most popular public hawker centers on the island, outperforming the others in informal polls.
Since it opened in 1973, Old Airport Road Food Centre has hosted some of the finest family hawker enterprises, selling near-legendary satay bee hoon, char kway teow, and rojak. Today, 168 stalls make up the hawker center component on the ground floor, selling inexpensive but delectable Singapore and international favorites.
You'll only need to spend about SGD 5-7 (about $4 to $5.50) for a belly-busting meal at the Old Airport Road Food Centre: awesomely great value typical of Singapore's hawker centers.
"All Good Hawker Centers Have Got Huge Carparks"
Your guide was brought to the Old Airport Road Food Centre by Makansutra and its founder, Singapore food enthusiast K.F. Seetoh. "Old Airport Road has been around for very long, it's got very good food, a very good reputation," Seetoh told us as we waited for our order. "You get stuff from breakfast all the way to supper. And there's a huge carpark beside it - it's one of the main factors of a good hawker center. All good hawker centers have got huge carparks."
How to get there: Old Airport Road Food Centre is located in the Katong neighborhood east of Marina Bay. Ride the Singapore MRT and disembark at Dakota MRT Station (Circle Line; CC8). The Food Centre is 140 yards west of the station exit. Old Airport Road Food Centre on Google Maps. For more on using Singapore's efficient transport system, read about Riding Singapore's MRT and Buses with the EZ-Link Card.
Nearby accommodations: the neighborhood of Katong, where Old Airport Road is located, happens to host some of Singapore's top budget hotels - see a list of Katong and Joo Chiat budget hotels for details.
Pork and Chicken Satay like Grandpa Used to Make
You can find satay in every corner of Singapore, but for really special satay - the kind that makes your Singaporean grandpa's eyes twinkle with the memories of itinerant hawkers roasting and selling the stuff from carts on the streets - you go to Chuan Kee Satay, which serves grilled pork skewers served with a side of sliced onions and cucumber.
It's not satay without peanut sauce; Chuan Kee serves a thick peanut and pineapple gravy, meant to be poured over the sticks before you dig in (see above). Heard of any other stalls that put pineapple in their satay sauce? Didn't think so, but Chuan Kee delivers. K.F. Seetoh himself gives two thumbs up: "that kind of peanut sauce, anybody will love, it's just so nice!"
We were served sticks of pork and chicken satay; the latter is more commonplace in Malaysia and Indonesia, both Muslim countries that tend to avoid pork. (Read about Indonesian sate ayam, or this one about a sate ayam master in Jakarta.)
"Pork satay [is] not common in the land of satay, which is Indonesia," K.F. Seetoh tells us. "This is a Chinese and Peranakan [style of] pork satay."
Tempura-Fried Durian You'll Learn to Love (Really!)
Chi Shuang Shuang in Old Airport Road sells goreng pisang (fried banana), but their secret weapon is a devastatingly delicious goreng durian, coated in tempura breadcrumbs and fried to deep, golden perfection.
In case you haven't tried the magnificent durian fruit, well, the best I can say is that it's an acquired taste. First-time eaters of durian may be surprised when they bite down into the goreng durian - after all, it's pure durian meat under that crispy tempura skin. The durian flesh underneath is undeniably fresh and creamy, oozing out with every bite; we might just agree to disagree whether the aroma is wholesome or not.
This kind of durian preparation isn't exactly original: "[It's the] same kind of things you find in restaurants - deep fried durian, it's not new," explains K.F. Seetoh. "He froze fresh durian meat, battered it and fried it. But I've never seen this in a hawker, and theirs is very good!"
A Refreshing Asian Ice Drink - Soursop Juice
Let's say your reaction to durian resembles Andrew Zimmern's - we understand if your reaction to trying another exotic Southeast Asian fruit isn't very enthusiastic. But we promise: you won't be struggling to keep soursop juice down. In fact, we bet you'll beg for seconds!
Soursop (Annona muricata) produces a pulpy, seedy juice that tastes like a cross between apples and lemons. Fruit bar Lim Hin Assorted Cut Fruits & Fruit Juices serves soursop juice in large plastic cups with ice - ideal for dousing the flames any spicy food may have left in your mouth!
The owner, James Fua, used to sell his soursop juice at a stall near the Singapore Botanical Gardens; after the area was redeveloped, James moved his operation to Old Airport Road, where his juice still earns fans from a new generation of hawker enthusiasts.
Unlike other soursop sellers, James makes the stuff fresh every day, avoiding the use of preserved or refrigerated stuff. Drinking James' soursop juice requires the use of a straw and a spoon, as he shows K.F. Seetoh in a video.