Until not too long ago, Singapore’s streets bustled with hawkers plying their trade. The hawkers dished out sumptuous dishes from laksa to char kway teow, satay to goreng pisang, rojak to mee goreng, and more. These days, however, it is hard to find authentic street food along Singapore’s roadsides. In fact, it wouldn’t even be an exaggeration to say that “street food” per se no longer exists on the streets of Singapore.
From the 1960s to the 1980s, street hawkers in Singapore were moved off the roadsides in masses and into open-air pavilions called hawker centres. This was part of the government’s attempt to regulate the street hawker trade due to issues of food contamination, improper disposal of waste, traffic obstruction and exploitations by secret societies. Nowadays, you may still occasionally run into a hawker on his bicycle selling otah-otah or curry puffs in the neighbourhood, but this is illegal and can be subjected to a fine by the law.
Today, there are only two kinds of street food vendors you can find on the roadsides of Singapore. First would be the ice-cream uncles with their colourful parasol-adorned carts, followed by the lone kachang puteh man with his metallic pushcart. Here’s more about them as well as the deserts and snacks they offer:
1. Singapore’s Ice-Cream Uncles and their ice-cream
The ice-cream uncle is a familiar figure in Singapore, where many generations of Singaporeans grew up eating ice-cream from these traditional vendors. A common childhood memory for many would be the sense of excitement felt upon hearing the ice-cream uncle ring his bell after school or during outings to the park, and the adrenalin-packed run to the cart for a cooling treat on a hot and humid day.
There is a whole range of local ice-cream flavours to choose from, which includes durian, coconut, yam, red bean and sweet corn. All-time favourites such as vanilla, chocolate, cookies and cream, raspberry ripple, coffee and chocolate mint are also available. While the flavours may vary from cart to cart depending on ice-cream uncle’s supplier, most of the ice-cream are from the Walls and Magnolia brands.
Besides the exciting variety of ice-cream flavours offered, you can also customise the way you want your ice-cream served. There are a few ways you can enjoy the ice-cream:
A: Sandwiched between rainbow bread
B: Between two pieces of wafer biscuits
C: In a cone or a cup
Regardless of whether it is accompanied with bread, wafer biscuits, a cone or a cup, one serving of ice-cream, will set you back by only about $1 to $1.50. Perhaps this is why the humble and affordable roadside ice-cream remains to be a favourite for people of all ages.
In every neighbourhood in Singapore, as long as there are residential flats, schools and parks, you will be able to find at least one regular ice-cream cart. You can also find the ice-cream uncles at the central business district of Singapore, where many of them are situated along the streets of Orchard Road.
2. Singapore’s Kachang Puteh Man and his kachang puteh
In the past, kachang puteh sellers with their trays and carts of snacks were a common sight outside cinemas and schools in Singapore. The kachang puteh men roved around from place to place in search of business, but in recent years, there are very few kachang puteh sellers left in Singapore. At the entrance of Peace Centre in Selegie Road, however, you’ll be able to spot a kachang puteh man named Moorthy Arumugam peddling an assortment of nuts, beans, peas and crackers.
Kachang puteh is an assortment of nuts, beans, peas and crackers typically served wrapped in a thinly folded paper cone. It a savoury snack mix of spicy dried ingredients that originated from South India (it is known as Chevdo in the Hindi language). In Singapore, the snack is known as kachang puteh, where “kachang” means bean, and “puteh” means the colour white, in the Malay language. Kachang puteh, or “white bean” refers to the popular sugar-coated peanut in the assortment of snacks.
The kachang puteh assortment includes tidbits such as sugar-coated peanuts, cashew nuts, chickpeas, sweet tapioca fritters, prawn sticks, satay broad beans, tepung peanuts (peanuts fried in flour) and murukku. You can pick and choose your preferred kachang puteh mix to fill up your folded paper cones. If you prefer steamed nuts, you can also choose between the lightly-salted boiled peanuts and the chickpeas that are served warm from an electric steamer.
A cone of kachang puteh can cost about $1 to $1.50, depending on the mixture nuts chosen. Most customers usually choose a variety of six to eight snacks at one go.
The assortment of snacks is usually prepared from scratch by the kachang puteh man himself, according to his family’s secret recipe for kachang puteh. Some steps in the preparation process are as follows: skin from the nuts are first removed, followed by the seasoning of the assorted nuts with satay sauce, sugar and or salt. A coating of crispy batter is also applied before the nuts are fried or roasted.
These days, although you can also find the assorted snack in supermarkets, the nuts are pre-packaged into air-tight bags by brands such as Tong Gardens and Camel. For an authentic kachang puteh, you should definitely visit the kachang puteh man, who continues to prepare the snack via traditional methods of seasoning, frying and roasting the nuts.
By Prisca Lim, ASEAN Correspondent from Singapore