Singapore is a cosmopolitan island city-state just one degree north of the equator. While it may only be a little Red Dot on the huge world map, this 51-year-old nation has a lot to offer to travellers from all over the world. Particularly, it is a melting pot of delectable cuisines, due to the multicultural composition of the society. In fact, the nation’s favourite pastime is to hunt for good food on the tropical island. Visitors to Singapore will be delighted at the huge array of cuisines available in this food paradise.
And now we have one more reason to rejoice with the arrival of the unique Makan Bus tour that has been in the Lion City since the 26th of August 2016. “Makan” means “eat” in Malay, one of the four official languages of Singapore. It is an apt description for a local bus tour catered for foodies. Follow me on this unique day tour for a brand-new discovery as you chomp your way through Singapore’s suburbs!
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A flexible hop-on hop-off bus tour through the heartlands
Food tours are definitely not something new to the Lion City. However, this is the first time such a unique hop-on hop-off bus tour has been launched in Singapore with the support of Singapore Tourism Board. Unlike other food tours, where you pay a fixed price ranging from 60 to over 100 USD per person and can only eat a fixed set of local specialties that you may or may not appreciate, Makan Bus is so much more flexible and economical.
The Makan Bus route brings passengers to 10 specially curated stops from the central area to the northern heartlands of Singapore for a taste of the best local eats at a cost of 20.50 USD (28 SGD) per person. The price does not include food expenses incurred at any of the stops. However, the beauty of this tour is, you can hop on and off the Makan Bus for an unlimited number of times throughout the day when the bus runs from 11 am to 7.30 pm. In fact, you can alight more than once at each stop if time permits as it is a looped bus service.
Just a rough idea of the cost of hawker delights in Singapore: a typical hearty meal is within the truly affordable range of 1.50 to 7 USD (2 to 10 SGD) per person! Thus, even if you binge the whole day, this flexible food tour will set you back at most 60 USD. Best part of it all, you get to eat only what you fancy, instead of being “forced” to sample a pre-determined set of dishes.
Discover yummy local food stops not covered by the usual food guides
Singapore may be small compared to many other countries in the world, but do not dismiss this as a destination where you can be done with trying all the delicacies within a few days. Visitors to Singapore may feel they know the local dining scene well, just because they have been to the downtown core area, such as the famous Orchard Road and Marina Bay, many times. But do you know that there are a lot of yummy hidden gems within the heartlands, or suburbs, where most of the ordinary Singaporeans live? Let the cheery yellow Makan Bus bring you on this flavourful culinary journey, one that you probably didn’t read about in the usual Singapore food guides. Here are some highlights of the interesting local dishes in the real heart and soul of the island!
1. Bak Kut Teh - flavourful pork rib soup
Bak Kut Teh is one of the local Chinese favourite dishes, with its name in Teochew (a Chinese dialect). Loosely translated as “meat bone tea” in English, interestingly, tea is not used in the broth for this pork rib dish. Instead, pork ribs are simmered in a broth of herbs and spices for hours till the ribs soak in the aromatic flavour of the broth. There are two specially selected Bak Kut Teh stalls near drop-off point no. 2 (bus stop before Balestier Plaza) where you can sink your teeth into the delish tender meat dish.
2. Dim Sum - small bite-sized Cantonese-style food served in steamer baskets
Mention Dim Sum and Hong Kong will be the first place that people usually think of. This is a Cantonese (another major Chinese dialect) type of cuisine, where small bite-sized portions of food are served in small steamer baskets or plates. Because Singapore is a nation built from migrants that came from different parts of the world, each community brought their own unique cuisine when they settled on the island, and modified the dishes based on available local ingredients. Therefore, even when you are not in Hong Kong but in Singapore, you will be able to taste the famous Dim Sum cuisine.
Forget about joining the long queues at “the world’s cheapest Michelin-star restaurant”, Tim Ho Wan. Head to the old-school Dim Sum restaurant just across the road from drop-off point no. 3 (Jalan Todak bus stop) instead for a delightful Dim Sum meal. It’s not often you get to dine in a rare nostalgic setting like this in modern Singapore. The restaurant may look pretty run-down, but do not be fooled by its exteriors. The bite-sized delights here are not only yummy, they are also a real steal, priced at around 1.50 to 2 USD (2 - 3 SGD) each!
3. Roti Prata - fried flour-based pancake served with curry
Roti Prata is another uniquely local dish that is commonly found in the Singapore heartlands. Fried over a flat grill, the flour-based pancake is usually served with Indian curry. Singaporeans love the dish so much that, besides eating it anytime of the day, as a snack or as a main dish, there are many creative concoctions that have been introduced. In fact, this national favourite was listed in the World’s 50 Most Delicious Foods by CNN Go in 2011. Seeing how the Roti Prata is prepared can be an entertaining sight too, as you wonder how the chef is able to flip the dough into a large thin layer so perfectly. Take your pick from the wide selection of Roti Prata (price ranges from 0.70 to 2.90 USD [0.9 - 4 SGD] per plate) available at the recommended Roti Prata House along Upper Thomson Road!
4. Mee Rebus Tarik - yellow egg noodles in spicy sweet curry gravy
We must not forget about the prominent Malay community in Singapore, and one of the local Malay favourites is the Mee Rebus. This is a yellow egg noodle dish, drenched in a spicy and slightly sweet curry-like gravy, and served with a hard-boiled egg. Alight at drop-off point no. 6 (Ang Mo Kio Jubilee / S11 bus stop) and discover an interesting twist to this popular Malay dish in the nearby food centre. The Mee Rebus Tarik (3.30 USD [4.50 SGD]) is laden with satay gravy (a peanut sauce), topped with either chicken or mutton satay meat. Meat lovers will appreciate this innovative twist to the signature meatless Mee Rebus, that even locals who grew up in the neighbourhood may not know about!
Uncover intriguing Singapore heritage
When it comes to attractions in Singapore, most would think about Orchard Road, Sentosa Island, Marina Bay, the National Museum and so on. Indeed, the majority of visitors will flood well-known places such as Little India, Chinatown, and Kampong Glam for a taste of the different cultures and religions on the sunny island. But do you know that beyond these famous sightseeing spots, you can uncover the lesser-known heritage spots in the suburbs too?
There is always a registered local tour guide on board the Makan Bus, whom you can count on for an insightful day tour that covers more than food. The knowledgeable guide not only provides you with insider recommendations on yummy local eats along the 10 stops, but also shares insights of noteworthy architecture throughout the journey. There are drop-off points that bring you to the country’s only Burmese Buddhist Temple, the Sun Yat Sen Memorial, and the largest Buddhist temple (Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery). These are gems that are often overlooked even by the locals themselves, but definitely worth exploring if you are into history and culture.
Go on a ride that brings you through the remarkable development in Singapore
A lot of thought has been put into the selection of the 10 specially curated stops. Makan Bus will bring you through the buzzing Orchard Road area, to the old shophouses in Balestier and Thomson, and finally into the HDB heartlands of Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, and Toa Payoh. This is a deliberate move to showcase the development of Singapore over the past 51 years to foreign visitors.
Alongside some of the mouthwatering hawker delights, move away from all the glam in the central district, to see the types of housing estate the typical Singaporean lives in as you venture up north. Indeed, Singapore’s second-oldest satellite town, Toa Payoh, is a classic example of how a swampland could evolve so quickly to a model contemporary residential area. Take your time to check out the HDB (Housing Development Board) high-rise flats in the neighbourhood as well as the well-equipped town centres in each satellite town.
Embrace the tastes and sights of off-the-beaten-track Singapore with Makan Bus
Unveil the Singapore you did not know about from the usual travel guides with a fun and insightful ride on the Makan Bus. This flexible hop-on and off bus tour is certainly a one-of-a-kind experience that lets you eat and explore your way through other parts of Singapore. Go beyond the city areas in comfort and convenience without burning a big hole in your wallet. As the saying goes, the best travel experiences are when you do it like a local. So, hop on the Makan Bus soon to embrace the local way of life for a day!