Man, there is just no way to make some street food look attractive. I poked and arranged and even tossed a Hudson filter over it and that char kway teow still looked like a pile of…well, whatever. This signature Singaporean stir-fried rice noodle dish is hyper-addictive and boasts some serious signature culinary moves of hawker culture.

Well, I went back to Maxwell Hawker Center for lunch as I was in danger of doing from the second that first bite of chicken rice hit my mouth. Oh wait, there’s no danger at all — Singaporean street food is clean as a whistle. Food-borne illness is all but nonexistent, the tables at hawker centers are all meticulously cleaned after every group of diners and somehow I haven’t managed to spend more than five bucks to pack my belly dangerously full each time. Hang on, I found the danger.

The secret to great char kway teow is being in Singapore. Nah, I’m messing with you, but there is one very important component to making this dish right: high heat. I mean really hot. You want your wok smoking before you start cooking, as evidenced by the explosive hiss I heard when the cook tossed the noodles in. This gives the dish its smoky, almost-burned but really just delightfully charred flavor. 

Guess what cooking agent can stand up to the required temperature? Lard, and lots of it. Vegetable oil cowers in fear at the frying power of shimmering pork fat, the smell of which domineers the entire surrounding area. Would I dab that scent on my wrists? I would. The point of perfume is to attract men, correct?  

Two bucks and a giant plate of char kway teow later, I had all the energy I could have ever needed to head across the street to observe Buddha’s actual tooth surrounded by 500 pounds of solid 24-karat gold (which is exactly how my teeth felt while I was eating this stuff), and light a stick of incense to honor the gods who bestowed hawker centers on the world. Heresy, you say? Here, have some more enlightenment, I can barely finish mine.

More lunch in Singapore on Food Republic: