n an open kitchen
cramped by a four-ton
brick kiln, a small army
of prep cooks plunges into the
controlled chaos of a midweek
lunch rush, chopping leeks and
grilling lobster to the psychedelic
sounds of Carlos Santana’s “Black
Magic Woman.” Less than 30
minutes from opening its doors,
Burnt Ends is already at maximum
capacity. Currently rated No.
14 on the annual Asia’s 50 Best
Restaurants list—one of five
Singaporean restaurants in the top
20—the barbecue joint, helmed
by Australian chef Dave Pynt, is
at times fully booked for dinner
up to two months in advance.
A lunchtime seat at the restaurant’s long communal counter,
it seems, is just as coveted.
Food is a serious affair in
Singapore—and arguably the
top attraction in this fascinating city-state. Now, more than
50 years since becoming a fully
Left: Chef Dave
Pynt of Burnt Ends.
by the Bay’s colossal
sovereign nation, the 278-square-mile island has
developed into one of Southeast Asia’s greatest
modern success stories. Capitalizing on lucrative shipping ports, a thriving financial industry
and a robust overall economy, city planners
continue to reinvest in and reinvent Singapore,
which today features some of the region’s most
advanced infrastructure, a seamless public
transportation network of trains and buses, and
a compelling architectural pastiche of contemporary skyscrapers, vintage Chinese shophouses
and regal British-colonial buildings.
And then there’s the food, a glorious pot-
pourri reflective of a racially (and religiously)
diverse population comprised primarily of
people of Chinese, Malaysian and Indian
descent. From such local specialties as chili
crab and laksa to pungent curries, savory satay
and delicate Cantonese-style soups and mixed
greens, Singapore’s wondrous cuisine is best
explored in the hundreds of open-air eating houses, called hawker
centers, located across the island.
Hawker centers are like a public extension of the Singaporean dinner
table at home—convivial, everyday gathering places catered by tireless,
talented chefs serving a hot, fresh and cheap smorgasbord of foods.
Every local has a personal favorite—getting a definitive answer as to
Singapore’s best hawker center is as likely as determining New York’s
finest pizza. But visitors will find plenty of tempting treats to ponder
in lively Chinatown, where both the Chinatown and People’s Park
complexes are packed with hundreds of vendors, and in colorful Little
India, home to the bustling Tekka Centre food court as well as scores
of North and South Indian restaurants, many of them clustered around
the gargantuan 24-hour retail metropolis Mustafa Centre.
On the showy downtown harborfront, Makansutra Gluttons Bay
is a raucous, late-night foodie institution featuring 12 hawker stalls,
each handpicked by a team of local food experts, offering chicken rice,
barbecue chicken wings, grilled squid and other succulent dishes. Open
until at least 1 a.m. seven days a week, Gluttons Bay is certainly a
worthwhile stop on the Singaporean food trail.