A few taps on your phone will lead you to the good ones close by.
What’s the first thing you do when you step inside a new mall or building?
You check the directory. (At least that’s what I do, and what I would do.) From there you figure out where you are, and where you want to go next.
“I believe that directories help a lot when you need direction,” says Akiyasu Takaseki, the chief operating officer of digital creative company Futurek SG. “When I come to a shopping mall, I will find a directory to assist my decision and guide my way to the shop.”
But what if you’re at an unfamiliar hawker centre? 🤔 A directory would certainly help, but is there one that’s easy to spot, and easily accessible? One that has loads of information on it?
Enter Wak Wak Hawker – a comprehensive database and directory of Singapore’s hawker centres, which diners can access online. Founded and built by Aki and his team, Wak Wak Hawker was launched in February 2021.
It includes a Search function for people to conveniently find and discover hawker stalls and meals. They can leave a rating and review too.
What else makes a directory great? “The filter is one of the factors that makes a directory easy to use, and effective,” Aki answers. “You can choose the intended category rather than idling. A well-structured filter helps users save time and find things easily.” Recommendations, too.
No easy feat
Can you imagine researching and listing down all of those hawker stalls and foods? Yikes.
“We commenced work on the project in December 2018. Our highly skilled engineers in Japan were gathering and discussing the website, logo, target users, etc. After thousands of meetings and aborted ideas, Wak Wak Hawker came up at the end,” he recounts.
It certainly tested Aki and his team. “One of the issues we faced was how to decide the ways in which to do research. There are plenty, so we needed to decide our target users as the first step.
“After I took a lot of time to do some in-depth studies, I found that tourists like to search for nearby eating places when they come to an attraction,” he continues.
“So I took it as user behaviour to consider and we finally decided on ‘nearby landmark’ and ‘cuisine categories’ as the research keywords.
“We also aim to make more people visit more hawkers to have fun. So Wak Wak Hawker helps you find other hawkers near a hawker. Actually, we named the directory ‘Wak Wak’, which in Singlish means ‘walk around’.”
On to the favourites
Fortunately, Aki and his team did all the “walking” for us. But in case you still can’t decide, and need a nudge or some inspiration, here are five hawker stalls and meals that Aki only recently – and happily – discovered. Then work your way with Wak Wak Hawker from there. 😊
#1 Zhen Zhen Porridge at Maxwell Food Centre
“It opens only early morning, so whenever I reach the office early and I can get their porridge, I feel very happy.”
#2 Weng Pancake at Maxwell Food Centre
“Their you tiao goes very well with porridge. They’re mandatory for working from morning!”
#3 Ringo Handmade Fishball Noodle at Redhill Food Centre
“Whenever I drop by this shop, the uncle there talks to me and gives me some of what he cooks. He explains how he cooks, what his signature is, and how ‘deep’ hawker food is. I love talking to him.”
#4 Good Duck at Yuhua Village Market and Food Centre
“The duck is succulent and very well-seasoned. I strongly suggest the yam rice for the aromatic scent of the yam.”
#5 Tong Sheng Bak Kut Teh at Pandan Gardens
“This was the first time I tried a Malaysian bak kut teh, which is different from most eateries’ in Singapore. The broth has a clean herbal taste.”
And here are his five favourite hawker stalls and meals of all time. (Well, since he moved from Japan to Singapore in 2018.)
#1 Boon Curry at Redhill Food Centre
“Uncle here is my first best friend in Singapore. He has taught me a lot about the hawker culture in Singapore. This is the biggest reason why I decided to develop this hawker centre information platform.”
#2 Shun Li Ah Ma Lor Mee at Redhill Food Centre
“Their lor mee is not only quite delicious, but also beautiful enough to post on your Instagram! The variety of ingredients gives you a special feeling that you might never feel in other stalls.”
#3 Tai Liok Claypot Chicken Rice at Alexandra Village Food Centre
“A famous claypot chicken rice shop you must try! It’s better to make a reservation before going as they usually have long queues and take some time to cook.”
#4 Dessert Station at Toa Payoh Lorong 5 Food Centre
Their traditional black sesame soup is not to be missed. It’s nutty, additive-free, and “surprisingly delicious and nutritious”, he says.
#5 Kallang Cantonese Live Prawn Noodle at Old Airport Road Food Centre
According to Aki, the sizes of the prawns are impressive, and their freshness guarantees a tender and fresh dish. An order can range from S$6 to S$12.
So if a visitor asks Aki for his most highly recommended hawker centre, what would it be and why?
“Lau Pa Sat is one. It’s one of the well-known hawker centres in Singapore. There’s a variety of local stalls and foods gathered here, like satay, seafood barbecue, beef noodles… Definitely have the one you like!
“I believe some local people may say that it’s not a ‘hawker centre’. I agree with that opinion, though it’s suitable for tourists who have never visited a hawker centre before. It should be a proper place to make that first step into hawker culture.”
Well, are these suggestions enough to get you started? You can always use Wak Wak Hawker if not. 😊
Immersed in the culture
What lessons has Aki learnt from experiencing Singapore’s hawker scene and culture?
“Most of the stalls sell homecooked dishes,” he observes. “Singaporeans like to gather at hawker centres for weekend meals, and hawker centres become places to tie up family members and friendships. Look at the whole picture: Hawker culture contributed to the diversity of Singapore’s multicultural society.”
And what has it taught him as a diner? “A dish for me is just for eating and rating. When I have a chance to talk to the uncles and aunties, I find that the story behind one dish is not that simple. Hawkers selling cooked food have to wake up early in the morning, like 4am, to prepare the food. Some of them will work till night. A simple plate of char kway teo is hard work.”
So let’s be open and a bit more discerning. Online reviews are useful, but it’s not the only measure of a good hawker stall or meal.
“Jump in and get your feet wet. That’s what I think, because one man’s meat might be another man’s poison. I have to go to the place and try it, so I’ll know if the dish is to my taste.” Eat away!
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