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Forget handing over half a wage-packet for fine dining - in Singapore food fans can now experience Michelin-starred cuisine in the street.
Two Singaporean street food, or hawker, stalls were awarded a Michelin star on Thursday, a first for Michelin, whose coveted awards generally conjure up an image of posh establishments with dress codes and stiff-backed waiters.
Instead, the hawker stalls - Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle at Crawford Lane and Chinatown's Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle - are in so-called "food centers" with shared dining spaces and no air conditioning to combat Singapore's sweltering heat.
Hawker stalls usually sell local favorites such as chicken rice, char kway teow (fried flat noodles), rojak (mixed fruit salad with prawn paste), laksa and chendol (coconut milk with palm sugar syrup, kidney beans and grass jelly) and ice kacang (shaved ice with sweet syrup, sweet corn and fruit), usually for just a few dollars per meal.
A day after winning his Michelin star, Tang Chay Seng, the owner and chef at Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle, told CNBC, "There was a queue even before I opened my stall at 9:30 a.m.!"
"I was very happy to win the award. Why did they pick me? I don't know. I've heard of Michelin before but didn't think it would have anything to do with my hawker business," he said.
Chan Hon Meng, the owner and chef at Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, was too busy to talk on Friday afternoon, as he worked furiously to cater for a 40-strong queue of customers waiting for his signature dish.
"Singapore is a real crossroads of trade and commerce, with multiple culinary influences and a repertoire that is enjoyed by both locals and visitors," Michael Ellis, international director of the Michelin Guides, said in a press release to announce the hawker stalls' stars.
"Here's where our inspectors have discovered real jewels," he added.
The island nation is the fourth Asian country, after Macau, Hong Kong and Japan, to be rated by the Michelin Guide, which is a prestigious annually-published guide book by French tire company Michelin.
Michelin's one-star award is given to restaurants that offer "high-quality cooking, worth a stop," according to the guide; two-stars are awarded for "excellent cooking, worth a detour," and three stars are reserved for "exceptional cuisine, worth a special journey."
Earlier in July, the Singapore Michelin Guide had awarded the Bib Gourmand to 34 hawker stalls. The Bib Gourmand is another award under the Michelin system that is given to dining establishments that offer "exceptional good food at moderate prices," which for Singapore is under S$45 ($33.20), according to Michelin.
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