New on the hawker menu

New on the hawker menu

Hawker centres are Singapore's go-to for cheap, affordable and tasty fare - from char kway teow, mee rebus, rojak to... Kyushu-style ramen with Iberico pork cheek, and Mexican tacos?

Yes, you read right. The humble, non-airconditioned cooked food centre now offers more than just local fare or budget Western cuisine.

In the past year, a new wave of first-time food and beverage entrepreneurs has introduced exotic cuisine to the tissue-chope-able dining scene.

Fancy the afore-mentioned fancy ramen? Try Maxwell Food Centre. Want to try Costa Rican food or scarf down affordable, unpretentious Mexican grub? Head to Amoy Street and Golden Shoe Car Park food centres.

Rents for hawker stalls can range from the hundreds to about $5,000 a month, low enough to allow a new breed of hawkerpreneurs to use their units as testing grounds before expanding their food empire.

Typically, a hawker stall's start-up cost ranges from about $15,000 to $30,000, although it can cost more if specialist equipment is needed.

In comparison, setting up a restaurant or cafe can cost in excess of $100,000; rental, depending on location and size, can also be exorbitant.

Chef and celebrity television host Anthony Bourdain coined the term "hipster hawker" when he spoke at the inaugural World Street Food Congress in Singapore last year.

Indeed, these adventurous hawkers are creating new offerings for a new generation, keeping Singapore's street food culture alive.

In previous years, stalls serving French cuisine, Singapore interpretations of ramen and pound cakes have appeared, cheek by jowl with traditional sellers of bak chor mee and chicken rice. Since then, some of these unorthodox stall owners have now gone on to open full-fledged restaurants.

The duo behind French hawker stall Saveur, which started out in a small coffee shop in Joo Chiat, now run the Saveur restaurants in Purvis Street and Far East Plaza as well as Concetto at The Cathay, for instance.

Mamacitas

Where: Amoy Street Food Centre, Telok Ayer Street, at the junction of Amoy and McCallum streets, 01-50

Open: 11am to 3pm (weekdays), closed on weekends. A second Mamacitas opens in Lau Pa Sat, stall No. 6, in the middle of next month

The Central and South American food trend has made its way from Singapore's trendy restaurant scene into the humble hawker centre.

At Amoy Street Food Centre, an unlikely stall serving Costa Rican fare, run by a Costa Rican native, has sprung up.

Heredia-born Cindy Castro, 35, a Singapore permanent resident who is married to a Chinese-Singaporean in the finance industry, moved here about six years ago. Heredia is about 10km north of Costa Rica's capital city San Jose.

Ms Castro owns a company that owns and rents properties in Costa Rica, but is based here. She has two young toddler-aged children and a teenage daughter from her first marriage.

The stall owner, who has no formal culinary training, says: "I missed the food from my country and I wanted to see if people in Singapore would enjoy it. I love Singapore food, so maybe Singaporeans would like my country's food."

She adds: "If I were to fail, at least I know I tried."

She admits that she took a gamble and was somewhat worried that no one would accept her or her food when she opened last August. But business so far has been brisk.

When SundayLife! went to her stall on two weekday afternoons last week, it had only one portion of beef for the casado and several servings of mashed potato left.

She will open a second outlet at Lau Pa Sat next month.

On the menu at her stall, which is in the midst of being certified halal, she says, is casado, a Costa Rican rice dish which she serves with stir-fried beef and onions; a vegetable of the day such as mashed potato or pumpkin cooked in milk which is known as picadillo de ayote; and chalupas, a fried tortilla topped with chicken or beef, salad, cheese and pico de gallo (a tomato salsa).

There are also burritos - tortilla wraps filled with meat and vegetables - which are actually known as tacos in Costa Rica.

Vegetarian options are also available. Items are priced at about $5 to $7 a serving.

The new Lau Pa Sat stall will offer a wider variety of Costa Rican fare.

There, expect casado with sides of fried plantains; and gallo pinto, a traditional bean fried rice which she will serve for breakfast with scrambled eggs, sausages, a tortilla and sour cream.

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