Where to find the best hawkers, cafes and restaurants in Kovan
Previously a Teochew area, this sleepy residential area that used to border the forested areas of Sengkang and Punggol was known as Lak Gor Jio (’six-mile stone’), as it was six miles away from the Fullerton area, where many Chinese immigrants first landed in Singapore. In the 60s and 70s, Kovan was rife with secret societies, which has since given way to supper spots galore and a fledgling hipster scene.
Photography by Benjamin Soh and Soh Kah Khee
With over 50 years of history, Simon Road Market defined the area. It was common to see traffic jams in the mornings as people flocked to the market for groceries and to have breakfast at the well-loved hawker stalls there, including a famous mee rebus and a muah chee stall that served free Chinese tea. Although the market was demolished in 1999 to make way for a condominium and Kovan MRT, a plaque and several bronze statues stand in its stead to commemorate fond memories of the market.
Today, Simon Road has been taken over by cafes and bistros–a sign of changing times. The tiny coffeeshop at the corner of Simon Road and Upper Serangoon Road, Nam Heng, used to house two hawker giants; a Hokkien mee and an orh luak stall, both of which have relocated to nearby coffeeshops.
Lola’s Cafe (5 Simon Road)
One of the more prominent places within the glut of hipster cafes that have sprung up over the last few years. Be sure to go between 10am and 3pm to catch their brunch menu, where they serve silky, buttery scrambled eggs in their breakfast butter croissant ($15) and Lola’s Full Works ($17). They also have a dinner menu where you can find a confit of duck leg with mustard sauce ($17). Daily 10am-11.30pm Tel: 6284 0349
Ice Edge Cafe (#01-10 Simon Plaza, 2 Kovan Road)
Chill out with their selection of homemade ice creams and gelatos, which you can pair off with freshly-made waffles. The cafe also serves bistro food like prawn pesto cream linguine ($17.8) and French onion soup ($5.80). Daily 11.30am-11.30pm. Tel: 6858 5729
Joe’s Corner Cafe & Bar (25 Simon Road)
With its homely interior and chill atmosphere, it’s like you’re hanging out at a friend’s place. Around for almost a decade, they serve consistently good thin crust pizzas and meltingly tender lamb shanks, which can be paired with its modest selection of beers–craft or otherwise. Tue-Fri 4.30pm-12am, Sat-Sun 12pm- 12am. Tel: 6280 0855
Bordered by Florence Close and Hougang Street 31, this small part of Upper Serangoon Road is a favourite supper haunt due to the different stalls that are open until the wee hours of the morning. Most of the stalls here sell Teochew dishes, possibly due to the fact that Kovan used to be populated by Teochews.
Heng Long Teochew Porridge (1006 Upper Serangoon Road)
One of the longest-surviving shops in the area, they serve all the tasty accompaniments like salted egg and braised duck that go well with Teochew-style porridge, which is more watery and has more distinct grains of rice. Open 24 hours
Wang Xing Teochew Porridge (1008 Upper Serangoon Road)
Located just a unit down from Heng Long is this newly opened Teochew porridge restaurant that took over the site of Alishan Restaurant (that also sold Teochew porridge). The prices here are slightly cheaper than Heng Long. Open 24 hours
Yong’s Teochew Kueh (1022 Upper Serangoon Road)
One of the oldest fixtures in this area, Yong’s serves comforting Teochew kuehs like soon kueh (braised turnip filling, $1.10) and png kueh (glutinous rice filling, $1.20). Expect to queue on weekend mornings. Tue-Sun 7am-7pm or until sold out. Tel: 6287 4328
First Street Teochew Fish Soup (1014 Upper Serangoon Road)
There is a minimum 30-minute wait for their smooth, tender batang fish and a sweet, flavourful soup ($5). Prices are on the higher side but it’s worth it. Tue-Sun 8am-3pm
Sin Chie Toke Huan Hainanese Curry Rice (1018 Upper Serangoon Road)
Another supper favourite, the curry here is lighter and doesn’t weigh heavily on your stomach, perfect for when it’s really late at night. Daily 6pm-5am
Punggol Nasi Lemak (965 Upper Serangoon Road)
Known for their crispy chicken wings, fragrant rice and less-than-friendly staff, they also have a wide array of dishes to choose from so you won’t be stuck with just fried ikan kuning and luncheon meat. Fri-Wed 6.30pm-2.30am. Tel: 6281 0020
Simon Road Oyster Omelette (Mee Sek Food Court, 965 Upper Serangoon Road)
This is the famous oyster omelette stall that used to be at the old Nam Heng coffeeshop located at the corner of Simon Road. To add to the confusion, a new stall that also sells oyster omelette has sprung up in its place. The oyster omelette here is fried until very crispy, and then topped with plump oysters. Wed-Mon 4pm-2am
Heartland Mall (205 Hougang Street 21)
Opened in 1984, the aptly-named mall has been a fixture in the area for decades. Chances are, you used to drop by the long-standing KFC in your school uniform. Much smaller than the mega-malls that are connected to MRTs, this mall has its own quiet charm and is often filled with families out for a meal or doing grocery shopping. It also housed the last Taco Bell in Singapore.
Hansik Korean Family Restaurant (level 2)
You will have to wait for at least 45-minutes during weekend meal times at this popular Korean BBQ restaurant. The quality of their meats is good–try their green tea pork belly ($23) and boneless beef rib ($38) that you can grill on their smokeless, non-stick grill. They also do one of the best Korean seafood pancakes ($14) around; flavourful, crispy and stuffed with seafood. Mon-Fri 11am-3pm, 5-10pm; Sat-Sun 11am-3.30pm. Tel: 6288 2448
Ivins (level 2)
The food is comforting and inexpensive at this family-style Peranakan restaurant. Be sure to try their sticky-sweet honey pork ($7.90) and super shiok ayam buah keluak ($7.90), best enjoyed over a heaping mound of steamed rice. Daily 11am-10pm. Tel: 6288 7922
Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh (level 2)
One of the outlets of the popular supper spot at Havelock Road, this new branch looks a little more upscale. They still sell all their old favourites like their clear, peppery Teochew-style bak kut teh ($10.50), in addition to new dishes like Teochew steamed fish ($14.50) and fried prawn rolls ($7.80). Daily 10am-10pm. Tel: 6282 5818
Kovan 209 Market and Food Centre (street 21)
Renovated in 2010 for $4 million, the hawker centre has always drawn large crowds with its awardwinning food stalls. Expect long queues at Fa Ji Minced Meat Fishball Noodles (#01-05, closed Wed) and Hougang Hainanese Curry Rice/Economic Bee Hoon (#01-25). Other stalls of note include one of the first few Lee Wee Brothers outlets (#01-02), Yi Shi Jia Wanton Mee (#01-57) and Kovan Rojak (#01-39), which serves an extra-punchy rojak sauce. For something more meaty, try the crispy roast pork belly at Bedok Cooked Food (#01-32), or the locally inspired chicken chop at Cowboy Grill (#01-31). For all you Pokémon trainers, look out for a nearby mural and Pokéstops located at 206 Kovan.
Hougang Street 21
Soo Teck Ling Confectionary (#01-257, 210 Hougang Street 21)
An old-school Teochew bakery that churns out vegetarian versions of tau sar piah (from $2.10 each) and mooncakes. Stop by in the afternoon and you might get a chance to see gigantic trays of bean paste being set outside to cool. Tel: 6287 0198
Knuckles (#01-33, 212 Hougang Street 21)
Don’t dismiss this as yet another hipster cafe–the wooden crate furniture and dim lighting are mostly functional, explaining their extremely reasonable prices. Go for the chicken chop ($8) or pork knuckle ($10), which is fried till crispy and then deboned. Tue-Sun 5.30-11.30pm
Hatter St. Bakehouse and Cafe (#01-333, 212 Hougang Street 21)
This Alice in Wonderland themed cafe offers much more than whimsy with its range of innovative sweet treats. Try their Smoked Sawdust Pudding ($5); smooth, creamy pudding topped with crumble. The pudding is smoked with wood chips before serving, giving it a pleasing, smoky aroma. They also do a delicious waffle with pandan ice cream and gula melaka syrup ($9.50). The owner, Ash, insists that there’s no connection between his name and the fact that there are two Pokéstops in the cafe. Daily 1pm-10pm. Tel: 6988 4591
Nakhon Kitchen (#01-341, 212 Hougang Street 21)
This popular restaurant draws packed crowds every day for dinner with its authentic Thai food and low prices. Try the tom yum soup ($6) and phad Thai tang hoon ($6) which is lighter than the rice-noodle version. Thu-Tue 12-2.45pm, 5.30-9.45pm. Tel: 6286 8785
Simon Road Hokkien Mee (210 Hougang Street 21)
The other famous stall that used to be located at Nam Heng coffeeshop by Simon Road, the owners have been selling Hokkien mee (from $4) for four generations. It was originally located in Simon Road Market. The Hokkien mee here uses thin bee hoon, which better absorbs the tasty stock. Wed-Sun 10.30am-10pm
Jforte Sportainment Centre (50 Hougang Ave 1)
Taking over the old Kovan Superbowl, the entertainment complex offers a bowling alley, cue hall and a cafe with an extensive menu offering mains like salmon mentaiko spaghetti ($9.50) in addition to the usual snacks (from $1.50) and drinks. Daily 10am-1am. Tel: 6289 2121