LSF On Tour: ordering a hot pot in 8 seconds at Singapore’s People’s Park Food Complex

Ordering items for the hot pot at Mala Hot Pot, People's Park Food Complex, Chinatown, Singapore

Ordering items at Mala Hot Pot, People’s Park Food Complex, Chinatown, Singapore

8.45pm and a woman is talking at me, urging me to decide what I want to order for my hot pot.

Things happen fast around here.

“Lady, do you want meat? Fish? Vegetables? Which ones? Tell me quick!”

Sensing the urgency, yet not speaking the language, I pick at random. Greens feature highly, as do pieces of pork, then some fishballs; all good things. I am then directed round the back.

Yong Xiang Xing Dou Fu Yong Tau Foo, Stall #01-1084 at People's Park Food Complex, Chinatown, Singapore. Pic: Tony Johor Kaki

Yong Xiang Xing Dou Fu Yong Tau Foo, Stall #01-1084 at People’s Park Food Complex, Chinatown, Singapore. Pic: Tony Johor Kaki

Under this canopy is the heart of the People’s Park Food Complex in Chinatown, Singapore: a pandemonium of people surveying, paying, sitting, munching and slurping. Between tables, alarmingly age-d men and women chug around, selling tissues and stacking empty plates.

Singapore is one of the most food-obsessed places I have ever travelled to. This is my third visit [thank you Singapore Airlines for the flight discount] yet I’ve only tasted a few grains’ worth of what’s available. Still, for a slightly chaotic taste of Singapore this complex is one of my favourite places to visit.

There’s an array of edible things on offer: fruit and dumplings, to pancakes, exceptional ngor hiang and fried tofu, and meat on sticks. Aside from a handful of tourist spots, no dish at PPFC is so expensive that you’d feel hard done by if it wasn’t absolutely everything you’d hoped and dreamed of. Indeed the colossal size of the place encourages the kind of wandering that I really love, led not by Instagram tips or lists of must-visit spots but by the nose and eyes; the type where you actually look around at the dishes being made, at the faces of the people eating them, and at queue lengths, before taking a final punt on something.

The mixed dish from Mala Hot Pot, People's Park Complex, Chinatown, Singapore

The mixed dish from Mala Hot Pot, People’s Park Food Complex, Chinatown, Singapore

Back at Mala Hot Pot, the Szechuan grill spot from which I have just ordered, I linger awkwardly around the hot stoves. One chef, with earphones plugged in, is on a roll, banging his head to silent beats whilst throwing food into scorched frying pans. Flames whoosh up centimetres away from his chin.

After my order is called, I locate the only spare seat at a table where a girl and her boyfriend sit, the space in front of them scattered with dishes: two small mounds of plain rice, cabbage strewn with dark red chillis, pork mince tumbled over green beans, and a plate of tomatoes with more chillies. They break into the mounds of rice, and begin to feast.

My food is quite something. Though the Szechuan pepper begins to coat my mouth, briefly numbing my tongue, each chew reveals incredible amounts of garlic and pepper. There are also loose green leaves folded over chunks of delicious marinated pork. The fishballs are typically squeaky and – for me – difficult to eat, yet each one unapologetically peppery.

Finally, satisfied, I get up, leaving my young neighbours to continue mining their vegetable treasure.

People will endlessly give you recommendations on where to eat in Singapore, but I think this place has a feast for all sorts.

Do take a look at the LSF Facebook page if you’d like *slightly* more regular updates.

Victoria travelled to Singapore on Singapore Airlines, which runs return flights from London Heathrow to Singapore from £680.


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