When a Javanese friend texted and said that we all should meet in Lau Pa Sat for dinner, I had to google and see just where this big hawker stand was located. The location on the map looked familiar, and I realized I had stopped there before for a lunch but had never been there at night. She made an excellent call on going there – and it really is a totally different place at night.
There are many hawker locations throughout Singapore, some small and then there large ones like Lau Pa Sat or Maxwell. People tend to flock to these concentrated spots at the big hawker areas, where it just seems there are food stall everywhere and each one is preparing its special items. All of the food preparation is under tough health inspection laws, which is very noticeable if you have been anywhere else in Asia and seen what stalls without the laws look like. Here you will find Malay dishes being cooked next to South India specialties, Indonesian noodle and rice dishes, Regional Chinese foods, Thai and many other types of cooking. From wonderful omelets to so many different curries to spicy beef noodle dishes – everything you could think of is here amongst the shouted orders, clanging and clinking of pots and the smells of so many spices floating through the air as they are being added to dishes and from those that are cooking. And on the weekends there are also live bands added to all this. This all is part of experiencing Singapore.
Lau Pa Sat is also known in Malay as Telok Ayer Market, which means water bay. In the early nineteenth century, it was but a simple wooden building, located on stilts over the waters of Telok Ayer Bay. This whole portion of the city is an area that originally was the coast line. Back in 1894, after the land had been reclaimed from the sea, the market was rebuilt as the structure that it is today by Municipal Engineer James MacRitchie, who was probably the key figure in much of the design of the city of Singapore. (You will find many different items about him in the Asian Civilizations Museum in the Singapore history section.) MacRitchie added cast-iron supports to strengthen the Victorian structures of the building. The original center area had a fountain that was later removed to make more space. In 1973-86, the market was converted into a hawker centre and closed in 1986 to make way for a new Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) line. It was renamed to Lau pa Sat in 1991 and reopened as a festival tourist market, and then in 1995 it reverted to the massive Victorian hawker market it is today.
After we had linked up at the front of the market, we wondered around for about 10 minutes looking at where we wanted to start and looking for a table. There is a lot of seating – but often a lot of people as well. If there is a fan nearby, always will be more people there – since Singapore can still be a bit warm and humid even in the evening. There is plenty of outside seating in some of the side streets closed in the evening to traffic as well. The whole of that outside area is lit up in blue or white Christmas lights strung all over the place. Just to see that in itself is worth a night visit to the market!
After finding a table, the three of us soon filled the table up with foods from about 5 different stalls and reflecting fully the different tastes we had (the Singaporean girl with us was Chinese). There was a Malay omelets, roti telur, chick satay with peanut sauce, rice with Chinese sausage bits, vegetable dishes, and so much more Indonesian and Chinese foods. We went to one of the drink stands and got green coconut and other canned drinks for our feast. For three people, our total costs were about SD25 for everything.
We picked a spot that was also great for people watch, and we all really enjoyed trying all the foods we had gotten. There was not much left on any plate by the time we finally left. I have to hand it to my Javanese friend and changing my thinking about places to really enjoy dinner in Singapore. These days I have to wonder why I had always just thought of the hawker stands of Singapore as a great lunch gathering spot – when they can be so much fun at night. I definitely look forward to the next trip to do it again.