Finding the perfect plate of char kway teow

 

It’s hard to describe char kway teow, even as a Singaporean. The Singapore Tourism Board defines it as a “heady mixture of flat rice, noodles, eggs, prawns, and cockles” and a “near perfect balancing act of sweet, salty, crunchy and chewy”. While descriptions vary from person to person, there’s one thing we all agree on: few things more pleasing than a great plate of CKT.

Through extensive research on blogs, forums, reviews, magazines, newspapers, and asking for personal recommendations, I drew up a list of the 20 most interesting and raved about CKT in Singapore, before engaging on a week-long binge-cum-marathon to find out once and for all, who fries the best game on our small, little island. 

You’ve seen the usual suspects on listicles around the web, but having visited the 15 best char kway teow stalls, I’ve made some pretty unexpected discoveries on my journey. Join me on the countdown to #1!

 

How I judged the best char kway teow

 

Different people have different ideas on what constitutes a great plate of CKT. To ensure a fair result, I decided to rate each plate based on the following five criteria:

Wok Hei: Wok hei refers to the flavors imparted by a hot wok on food during stir-frying. Great wok hei requires expert control over the wok and its flames and is a measure of a chef’s skill and experience. If done right, the results are nothing short of heavenly.
Kway Teow: The perfect kway teow needs to have the correct moistness, hardness, and texture.
Ingredients: One of the most important aspects of CKT, there has to be the right amount of ingredients and has to complement the dish.
Taste: How well everything comes together.
Value-for-money: This criterion considers if the CKT provides a good bang for my buck.

The scores of each criterion are added then divided by five to form the final score (out of 10). They are then benchmarked to accurately reflect the difference in quality between all 20 stalls. As the prices across the stalls are inconsistent, I selected the cheapest option to base my findings on.

 

15. Apollo Fresh Cockles Fried Kway Teow

 

If I had to describe Apollo Fresh Cockles’ Char Kway Teow in one word, it would be “bizarre”. 

Nestled in the bustling Marine Parade Central Market and Food Centre, Mr Tan Ah Guan, a self-taught hawker, prepares his popular CKT behind an unassuming stall with an equally nondescript signboard. For those wondering, yes, he named his stall after the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Mr Tan’s version is extremely wet and reminds me of my hor fun and kway chap more than anything else. The dish has a lingering garlic and peanut taste, helped along by the relatively sweet gravy. The ingredients were rather average, and the wok hei was unsurprisingly missing.

While it’s not the most photogenic and Instagram-worthy plate of char kway teow around, it does serve as a delectable, albeit unorthodox, alternative for your curious tastebuds.

Wok Hei: 7/10
Kway Teow: 8/10
Ingredients: 7/10
Taste: 7/10 
Value for money: 7.5/10

Final Score: 7.3/10

Price Range: $3, $5
Address: 84 Marine Parade Central, Singapore 440084 (Marine Parade Central Market and Food Centre, #01-174)
Opening Hours: Wednesday to Monday (closed on Tuesdays), 8am – 8pm

 

14. Katong (Peter) Fried Kway Teow 

 

Faced with both the Singapore and Penang variants, I opted for the latter as I’ve never tried it before… and also because I’ve heard good things about it. White kway teow was used in the dish, which tasted salty instead of sweet, and there was also a tinge of spiciness from the peppers and sourness, which worked really well.

While the ingredients weren’t spectacular, it’s worth pointing out that this is one of the few stalls I’ve eaten where squid is served. The 46-year-old brand certainly provides something different from your usual CKT, and it’s worth a visit if you’d like to try a char kway teow that’s dry and spicy.

Wok Hei: 7.5/10
Kway Teow: 7/10
Ingredients: 7.5/10
Taste: 7.5/10
Value for money: 7.5/10

Final Score: 7.4/10

Price Range: $3, $4 (Singapore version); $4, $5 (Penang version)
Address: 6 Tanjong Pagar Plaza, Singapore 081006 (Tanjong Pagar Market and Food Centre, #02-05)
Opening Hours: Monday to Friday 11am – 7.30pm; Saturday, 11am – 4.30pm

 

13. Armenian Food Street Char Kway Teow (Anchorvale)

 

Armenian Food Street Char Kway Teow was the first stall I visited while working on this article. Before it abruptly vanished in 2007, long queues weren’t uncommon and customers had to wait up to an hour for their CKT. Mr Tan Soo Kiat, the stallowner, noted that prior to relocating due to renovation works, they were able to make a thousand dollars per day. He hasn’t been able to reach the dizzying heights of yesteryear since, and it’s not hard to see why – there were barely any people queuing at the stall when I visited during lunch hour.

The kway teow, while soft and savoury, felt too ‘spongy’ at times, but the ingredients were fantastic. They were full of flavor and complemented the dish well, especially the beansprouts. I thought they were a little stingy with the cockles – I counted only 4, of relatively tiny size as well – and the wok hei was barely noticeable, but overall the ingredients really helped with the taste and were the main stars.

Although business has been dwindling, the 57-year-old has no plans to engage in commercial advertising. Counting the King of Caldecott Hill Li Nanxing and Worker Party’s Low Thia Kiang as his regular customers, Mr Tan, who started selling CKT with his dad since he was a teenager, prefers to let his food do the talking and aims to build a new base of customers.

In the meantime, his nephew, Wesley Tan, a third-generation stallowner, is running another outlet at Tampines Round Market, ensuring that the brand’s 66-year legacy won’t be ending anytime soon.

Wok Hei: 7/10
Kway Teow: 7/10
Ingredients: 7.5/10
Overall Taste: 7.5/10
Value for money: 8/10

Final Score: 7.5/10

Price Range: $3, $4
Address: 303 Anchorvale Link, Singapore 540303 (Anchorvale Link Coffee Shop)
Opening Hours: Friday to Wednesday (off on Thursday), 11am – 8pm

 

12. Thye Hong Fried Hokkien Mee (Nex)

 

Before Thye Hong Fried Hokkien Mee, I never had a good Char Kway Teow at a food court, so it was a pleasant surprise to finally find one worth going to. Although the stall’s speciality lies in their renowned Fried Hokkien Mee, its CKT is also well-received both locally and overseas – the Singapore Tourism Board handpicked them as a representative at the Culinary Institute of America in California.

With a 40-year history and being the only sole ‘food court representative’ on the list, I strongly recommend the stall if you’re in Nex. The wok hei was among the most prominent of all the CKTs on this list, and they were fairly generous with their ingredients – the cockles were big, fresh and juicy, and lup cheong was present in abundance. The overall flavor was excellent, although the unfriendly staff marred the experience a little.

Wok Hei: 8.5/10
Kway Teow: 7.5/10
Ingredients: 7/10
Taste: 8/10
Value for money: 7/10

Final Score: 7.6/10

Price Range: $4.50, $6
Address: 23 Serangoon Central, Singapore 556083 (Nex Shopping Centre, Food Republic, #B2-63)
Opening Hours (of Food Republic): Sunday to Thursday, 7.30am – 10pm, Friday, Saturday, Eve of Public Holidays, 7.30am – 10.30pm

 

11. Lai Heng Fried Kway Teow

 

What makes Lai Heng unique is that they are the only stall in Singapore to offer otak (grilled fish cake) with their CKT, and boy does it taste brilliant. The combination worked surprisingly well, and the portion was generous for a price of $2.50. The kway teow was a little too moist in my opinion, although the overall taste made up for it.

It was fragrant, value-for-money, and made for a great experience. As this was the last stop on the first day, I asked them to dabao for me after taking a few bites, and it tasted just as good when I reached home about an hour later.

Wok Hei: 7/10
Kway Teow: 7.5/10
Ingredients: 8/10
Taste: 8.5/10 
Value for money: 7.5/10

Final Score: 7.7/10

Price Range: $2.50, $3 (w/ otak +$1)
Address: 320 Shunfu Road, Singapore 570320 (Shunfu Mart Food Centre, #02-20)
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10am – 7.30pm

 

10. 91 Fried Kway Teow Mee

 

One of only two stalls in Singapore topping their CKT with chye sim (mustard leaves), 91 Fried Kway Teow Mee is a bonafide hit with office workers. The kway teow was handled well, the wok hei was satisfying, and as far as I can remember, this is the only stall which offers ikan bills (anchovies), which provided a nice texture. The stall owner Mr Tan fries the CKT with a special broth that takes about 10 hours to prepare and uses neither pork nor lard, opting for a healthier option: vegetable oil. 

With the essence of the soup, along with the aromatic kway teow and ingredients, the only major flaw with this dish is its portion size. 91 Fried Kway Teow Mee is one of few stalls I visited where I didn’t feel satisfied after eating, with the quantity of the ingredients was comparatively little as well. Could this be attributed to the hefty rents at Golden Mile Food Centre? I’m not sure, but it’s certain you’ll get a great tasting plate of CKT there – just not one that makes you even close to full. 

Wok Hei: 8.5/10
Kway Teow: 8.5/10
Ingredients: 7.5/10
Taste: 8/10 
Value for money: 6.5/10

Final Score: 7.8/10

Price Range: $3, $4
Address: 505 Beach Road, Singapore 199583 (Golden Mile Food Centre, #01-91)
Opening Hours:Tuesday to Sunday, 11am – 8.30pm

 

9. Green Sky Fried Kway Teow

 

Green Sky Fried Kway Teow was one of the surprise packages of this CKT marathon. After all, the store is known more for its orh luak (oyster omelette), and unlike its more high-profile counterparts, there isn’t much media coverage of their CKT besides the occasional online chatter. 

One of the only few stalls selling Halal-certified char kway teow in Singapore, Green Sky’s version of the dish was extremely flavorsome, relatively eggy, and its large portion was greatly appreciated. While it tasted fine despite the lack of wok hei, I felt the mee was a little too hard, while the kway teow was a tad too soft.

Wok Hei: 7/10
Kway Teow: 7.5/10
Ingredients: 8.5/10
Taste: 8/10 
Value for money: 8.5/10

Final Score: 7.9/10

Price Range: $3, $4, $5
Address:  1 Bedok Rd, Singapore, Singapore 469572 (Bedok Corner Food Centre, #01-14)
Opening Hours: Wednesday to Monday (closed on Tuesdays), 11am – 9.30pm

 

8. Heng Huat Fried Kway Teow

 

The other stall in Singapore to offer fresh green vegetables with their CKT, Heng Huat Fried Kway Teow is conveniently situated right beside Pasir Panjang MRT. Unlike 91 FKT, Heng Huat’s vegetables are stir-fried, not boiled. It is also worth noting that the latter provides a significantly larger portion of vegetables. You can also choose to have oysters with your CKT for about $8 – $10.

The palette and combination worked to exceptional success, but the quality of the ingredients just about qualifies as average. There were very few cockles, and the beansprouts were poor. It is somewhat forgivable, considering the vegetables were the main attraction, and I’m glad they did not disappoint a single bit.

While touted the “healthiest CKT” in Singapore, I’m not convinced the greens make the dish any healthier. In fact, it looked the least healthy among the other CKTs on this list once you remove the vegetables, and is, without a single ounce of doubt, the oiliest.

Credit should be given where credit is due though, for Heng Huat Fried Kway Teow did provide an appetising dish that tasted almost perfect, if not for its sub-par ingredients and disturbing levels of greasiness.

Wok Hei: 7.5/10
Kway Teow: 7.5/10
Ingredients: 8/10
Taste: 9/10
Value for money: 8/10

Final Score: 8/10

Price Range: $3, $4, $5, $7
Address:  121 Pasir Panjang Road, Singapore 118543 (Pasir Panjang Food Centre, #01-36)
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday: 12pm – 9pm

 

7. Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee

 

With plenty of positive comments and reviews, both online and in the mainstream media, I was surprised to receive my plate of Char Kway Teow after only 35 mins of queueing. 

The cockles were big and fresh, and the kway teow was delightful – neither too dry nor too wet. According to acclaimed food blogger Dr Leslie Tay, the CKT here is prepared in bulk, with at least 15 to 20 eggs used in each batch, resulting in each plate getting at least one and a half eggs, instead of one like the other places. My observations corroborated his findings: my plate of CKT was considerably eggy. 

The right amount of moistness, along with well-prepared ingredients but slightly lacking wok hei, made this an extremely flavorful dish. Its addictive taste does leave me craving more, but is it really the best in Singapore, as claimed by many others? I’ll have to disagree.

Like Singapore’s SEA Games 2015 soccer team, it ultimately didn’t live up to its hype.

Wok Hei: 7.5/10
Kway Teow: 8.5/10
Ingredients: 8/10
Taste: 8.5/10
Value for money: 8/10

Final Score: 8.1/10

Price Range: $3 (+ $1 for extra serving of cockles)
Address: 531A Upper Cross Street, Singapore 051531 (Hong Lim Market and Food Centre, #02-17)
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday, 6am – 4.30pm

 

6. No. 18 Zion Road Fried Kway Teow

 

The first thing you’ll notice when you visit No. 18 Zion Road Fried Kway Teow is the amount of newspaper and magazines clippings on display. Although they were featured extensively in die-die-must-try lists, I was quite skeptical about the quality of their CKT. 

Empty barrels make the most noise, and many stalls who had displayed an abundance of similar press features turned out to be grave disappointments. Fortunately, that was not the case. A personal favorite of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Mr Ho Kian Tat’s CKT had great wok hei, kway teow of the correct moistness, and a set of ingredients that contributed to the dish’s excellent taste.

A writer from the Business Times commented that the “cockles (were) among the biggest (while) the beansprouts and chives (were) practically negligible.” During my visit however, I found the opposite to be true. The oil also coagulates the noodles, making them soggy when it cools down, so make sure to devour them ASAP while they’re still hot!

Wok Hei: 8.5/10
Kway Teow: 8.5/10
Ingredients: 8/10
Taste: 8/10 
Value for money: 8/10

Final Score: 8.2/10

Price Range: $3.50, $4. $5
Address: 70 Zion Rd, Singapore 247792 (Zion Road Riverside Food Centre, Stall 17)
Opening Hours: Daily (closed on alternate Mondays), 12pm – 3pm, 3.30pm – 10pm

 

5. Circuit Road Char Kway Teow

 

If I had to pick a stall I enjoyed eating at the most, it would be Circuit Road Char Kway Teow. For one, I love the little ‘dance routine’ the stall owner Mr Chee Wei Liang does when he’s preparing the dish. Secondly, his version of this hawker fare is truly distinctive. Check out what he does differently:

  • Instead of lup cheong, he uses char siew (barbecued pork).
  • Unlike his peers, he doesn’t fry the cockles with the kway teow.
  • A thinner kway teow – think pad thai (Thai noodle dish) – is used.
  • The chilli he uses is a sour alternative, reminiscent of those accompanying your chicken rice.
  • Shredded carrots and stir-fried cucumbers are added.
  • According to him, he also caters for Muslims by using vegetable oil (upon request).

The unique concoction was, frankly, quite special – it certainly beats Lai Heng in the innovation department – and I can’t help but fall deeply in love with it. Given the generous portion size, I’m confident you have plenty of time to do so too.

Wok Hei: 8/10
Kway Teow: 8/10
Ingredients: 8/10
Taste: 8/10 
Value for money: 9.5/10

Final Score: 8.3/10

Price Range: $2.50, $3, $4, $5
Address: 79 Circuit Rd, Singapore 370079 (Circuit Road Food Centre, #01-19)
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Saturday, 3pm -11pm

 

4. Dong Ji Fried Kway Teow 

 

Mention Dong Ji Fried Kway Teow to most foodies and chances are they have never heard of the stall before. After all, Old Airport Road Food Centre is more known for its other CKT stall, Lau Fi Zi Fried Kway Teow, which has been featured on numerous publications. To my surprise, not only did Dong Ji blow the latter out of the water*, it actually made for a splendid experience that left me wanting more.

The wok hei was phenomenal, and they weren’t parsimonious when it came to the ingredients. There were plenty of eggs, big cockles, and really fresh prawns. Dong Ji’s brilliant, charred take was also neither too sweet nor salty, probably due to the conservative use of sweet black sauce, and felt like a hybrid between the Singapore CKT and the Penang version. 

The only thing that disappointed me was the tiny portion; I downed everything in under 5 minutes and was only barely full. 

*Lao Fu Zi didn’t qualify for an appearance on this list.

Wok Hei: 9.5/10
Kway Teow: 8/10
Ingredients: 8.5/10
Taste: 8.5/10 
Value for money: 7.5/10

Final Score: 8.4/10

Price Range: $3, $4
Address: 19 Old Airport Rd, Singapore 390019 (Old Airport Road Food Centre, #01-138)
Opening Hours: Daily, 8am – 2pm

 

3. Hai Kee Char Kway Teow

 

Known to many as the famous Queenstown CKT, Hai Kee Char Kway Teow still draws in long queues when the shutter goes up at 5pm, despite having moved to a less prominent location at Telok Blangah Crescent Food Centre. 

Mr Low Kwee Weng’s CKT stands out for multiple reasons. Having fried the dish for over 40 years, he still prefers to cook it the traditional way – without prawns, fish cake, and lup cheong. He controls the wok expertly, and despite the hoards of people patronising his stall, he insists on only cooking one plate at a time.

It would be too “difficult to control the quality and dryness” if cooked in bulk, Mr Low says. He also carefully wipes the sides of every single plate to ensure that it is clean, before handing it over to his customers with a satisfying smile. The final product tasted exactly like how many before me have described it to be; great wok hei, decent ingredients, kway teow of just the right moistness, and most importantly, the love its master has put into his creation.

Wok Hei: 8.5/10
Kway Teow: 8.5/10
Ingredients: 8/10
Taste: 8.5/10
Value for money: 9/10

Final Score: 8.5/10

Price Range: $3
Address: 11 Telok Blangah Cresent, Singapore 090011 (Telok Blangah Crescent Food Centre, #01-102)
Opening Hours: Monday to Saturday, 5pm – 10pm

 

2. Ang Mo Kio Char Kway Teow

 

The first thought that came to my mind after finishing a plate of CKT from Ang Mo Kio Char Kway Teow was “Gosh, did they mean to give me this much hum (cockles)?!” The amount of cockles on my dish was unbelievable! I lost track of how many I had, but it had to be more than 13. Not only that, the lard was abundant as well. CKT is pointless without lard, and for someone who loves cockles, the combination at Ang Mo Kio Char Kway Teow is the stuff of dreams. 

The only real gripe I had with this dish was with the kway teow. It was too soggy, lacked any real texture, and made me feel like I was chewing on a clump of soiled sponges. The rest of the ingredients were fine, and the wok hei was there – one of the best in that aspect I would say.

Note: This store’s position on this list will be a point of contention for many. The kway teow, make no mistake, was disappointing, and I did spend a lot of time deliberating if Hai Kee should have ranked second instead, considering it performed more consistently across the 5 criteria. However, Ang Mo Kio Char Kway Teow catered more to my tastebuds, and its position on this list ultimately reflects my preference.

Wok Hei: 9/10
Kway Teow: 7.5/10
Ingredients: 9/10
Taste: 9/10 
Value for money: 8.5/10

Final Score: 8.6/10

Price Range: $3, $3.50
Address: 724 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 6, Singapore 560724 (Ang Mo Kio Central Food Centre, #01-28)
Opening Hours: Daily (closed ad-hoc), 11am – 7pm

 

1. Hill Street Fried Kway Teow

 

With nearly half a century’s worth of experience under his belt, Mr Ng Chang Siang’s plate of CKT is the real McCoy. The wok hei can’t be any more apparent, the ingredients complement the dish superbly, especially the sinful, crunchy pork lard, and the kway teow was fried to perfection; neither too wet nor too moist.

With a maestro helming the fire, the resultant CKT has that seductive smoky flavor which separates the masters from the wannabes. Alongside the eggs, beansprouts, and lup cheong, the additional flavor of Chinese chives and juicy cockles finish off an aromatic dish that will leave your tastebuds feeling pampered.

Although the queue stretches a good distance – expect to wait at least 25 minutes – it’ll be thoroughly worth it. Depending on your luck, Mr Ng rotates between his sister and his son, Mr Ng Yeow Kiat. Online netizens have noted a distinct lack in wok hei when Mr Ng Jr. takes over the cooking duties, but the last I heard, things have improved after the additional months of practice.

I was lucky to have tasted the cooking of Mr Ng Sr., marking the perfect end of this exhausting Char Kway Teow binge. This is as good as a plate of Char Kway Teow can get in Singapore right now, and everyone who considers themselves a true-blue Singaporean should try this at least once in their lives.

Wok Hei: 9.5/10 
Kway Teow: 9.5/10 
Ingredients: 8.5/10 
Taste: 9.5/10  
Value for money: 9/10

Final Score: 9.2/10

Price Range: $3.50, $4
Address: 16 Bedok South Road, Sinapore 460016  (Bedok South Market and Food Centre, #01-41)
Opening Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10.30am – 6pm

 

Honourable Mention: Guan Kee Fried Kway Teow

 

Used and modified with permission from Dave Wong.

Widely regarded as one of the Top 5 Char Kway Teow in Singapore, Guan Kee Fried Kway Teow never fails to attract long queues during meal times. However, with Ghim Moh Food Centre under renovation, the elderly couple behind the stall has chosen to take a hiatus. According to their grandson Jurvis, they will be making their much-anticipated return in March 2016.

 

Which stall do you like best?

 

The other stalls I have tried for this list include Armenian Food Street Char Kway Teow (Tampines; comparable to main outlet), Meng Kee Char Kway Teow (7.1), Lau Fi Zi Fried Kway Teow (6.9), Amoy Food Centre Fried Kway Teow (6.8), and Lim Brothers’ Char Kway Teow (Malaysian Food Street, Resorts World Sentosa, 6.5).

Remember, the char kway teow are graded based on a number of criteria, some of which you might not even care about. Some wouldn’t mind an expensive plate of CKT if they come with a large serving of ingredients, while others might not necessarily be looking for one with the best wok hei. I’ve compiled the following list for those looking for the best in each of the categories:

  • Wok Hei: Hill Street Fried Kway Teow, Dong Ji Fried Kway Teow (9.5), Ang Mo Kio Char Kway Teow (9)
  • Kway Teow: Hill Street Fried Kway Teow (9.5), Hai Kee Char Kway Teow, No. 18 Zion Road Fried Kway Teow, Outram Park Char Kway Teow, 91 Fried Kway Teow Mee (8.5)
  • Ingredients: Ang Mo Kio Char Kway Teow (9), Hill Street Fried Kway Teow, Dong Ji Fried Kway Teow, Heng Huat Fried Kway Teow, Green Sky Fried Kway Teow (8.5)
  • Taste: Hill Street Fried Kway Teow (9.5), Ang Mo Kio Char Kway Teow, Heng Huat Char Kway Teow (9)
  • Value-for-money: Circuit Road Char Kway Teow (9.5), Hill Street Fried Kway Teow, Heng Huat Char Kway Teow (9)

The standard of CKT may have dropped over the past few decades, but the hard work and dedication each of these hawkers put into their dying trade is immensely commendable. Every stall on the Top 15, even those flirting on the fringes, is unique in its own right and worth a visit if you’re in the area. 

Let me know in the comments below if you agreed with my list, or if you have any undiscovered gems you wish to share with us!