Singapore gets the world's first Michelin star for a food stall

The World
People queue outside hawker Chan Hong Meng's Michelin star awarded stall, for his soya sauce chicken rice and noodle at a food market in Singapore.

Where can you find the most delicious pork noodles and soy sauce chicken-rice? Some of the best is in Singapore, but not in a posh restaurant.

For the first time ever, the esteemed Michelin Guide has singled out a couple of food stalls for their coveted star. Two hawker stalls — Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle and Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle — were each awarded a Michelin star Thursday. Michelin also released its first-ever guide to dining in the city-state.

“It signifies that these hawkers have managed to hit the ball out of the park,” said Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin Guides. “In terms of the quality of the ingredients, in terms of the flavors, in terms of the cooking techniques, in terms of just the general emotions, that they are able to put in their dishes. And that is something that I think is really unique to Singapore.”

For the hard-working food hawkers, the award was fantastic news.

"I've heard of the Michelin Guide but I never thought they'd come to the hawker centers and give us such an honor," said Chan Hong Meng of Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle. He said all the attention may bring more hungry customers to his table.

"Customers usually wait about 45 minutes to an hour. But I think now, they'll probably have to wait at least one-and-a-half to two hours. I don't know what tomorrow will be like!"

Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle's Tang Chay Seng was asked about his culinary secret. "There is no secret. The ingredients just need to be fresh.”

Kenneth Lee, a food writer and blogger in Singapore, was happy to see Michelin honor two establishments that stray from the usual upscale picks. 

“I think the impression was that [Michelin] establishments should be fancy, sophisticated, have a good décor, have fancy food with a lot of flair, so we were really excited and happy to find out that two deserving hawkers were awarded this very prestigious award,” Lee says. 

There are by some estimates 15,000 food stalls or hawkers in Singapore, which means just two Michelin picks may not reflect their rich diversity. One food writer described the limited choice as “almost insulting.” Michelin's new Singapore guide features 29 restaurants in total.

But Lee welcomes the recognition, even if it's long overdue. “Hawker food has been great over many decades. I think Michelin has just gotten around to Asia and has started to recognize these stalls,” he says.

According to Michelin, awarding one star recognizes restaurants for offering "high-quality cooking, worth a stop.” Lee says there are many more Singapore food stalls that are worth a visit.

“Sometimes I’m in the mood for soy sauce chicken rice and noodles, sometimes I’m in the mood for minced pork noodles, sometimes I’m in the mood for porridge or Dim Sum," he says. "I mean there are still so many categories that Michelin has yet to uncover.”

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