Singapore hawker dishes: A tale of two rojaks
More than a mixture.
What we say:
Rojak is a Malay word meaning ‘mixture’. But if you hear it used in conversation in Singapore, it’s probably referring to what’s for lunch. Rojak is the name of not one but two hawker dishes, and both are delicious and completely different.
First up is fruit rojak, also known as Chinese rojak, which is best described as fruit salad with an injection of Southeast Asian flavours. The exact mixture varies by hawker, but fruit rojak generally consists of pineapple, apple, cucumber, jicama, bean sprouts, tofu, and youtiao (fried dough fritters) tossed in tamarind sauce and topped with crushed peanuts. It might sound like a vegetarian dish, but the sauce usually contains prawn paste and some variations include dried cuttlefish.
Much like the Thai salad som tam, fruit rojak is a rollercoaster of tastes and textures – it’s sweet, sour, wet, crunchy and can even be spicy. Fruit rojak is sold in different sizes (usually S$3-5) and is served with skewers, making it an easy dish to share. It’s also a common street food dish in Malaysia and Indonesia.
More unique to Singapore’s hawker centres is Indian rojak. To try this dish look for a stall with a display of deep-fried snacks like battered prawns, tofu puffs, fishcakes, dough fritters and chilli potatoes. Use the tongs to load a plate with as many as you like then hand it to the hawker who’ll dice them up and mix in some raw onions and chilli peppers. The sauce for Indian rojak is served on the side and is an addictive mix of chilli thickened with sweet potato. Many Indian rojak stalls develop a loyal following based solely on their homemade chilli sauce.
Like fruit rojak, Indian rojak is an easy dish to share and tastes great with an ice-cold Tiger beer. The price depends on the number of pieces you choose and, for the big plate of Indian rojak in the photo above, I paid S$4.
No hawker centre is complete without a rojak stall or two (the big ones will have both kinds), but if you want to try the best of the best here are some recommendations:
Chinese Fruit Rojak
Toa Payoh Rojak, Stall #01-108 at the Old Airport Road Hawker Centre
Vegetarian Uncle Rojak, Coffee shop at Blk 805 Hougang Central
Temasek Indian Rojak, Stall #01-254 at Tekka Centre
Adam’s Indian Rojak, Stall #5 at Adam Road Food Centre