Visiting a Singapore hawkers center is quite literally a requirement when in the country. After all, one of the main perks of visiting the city is enjoying the food, and the good news is that it is easy to find nice food in Singapore. Singapore definitely is one of the best food destinations in the world.
During the last 50 years, the city state of Singapore has become a beacon of innovation and hope in south-east Asia. As a tech-ready nation, one of the largest financial centers in the world and a global transport hub, Singapore has plenty going for it in 2018. There’s plenty of exclusive hotels and some fabulous places to eat in Singapore.
The city is home to the Marina Bay Sands, an incredible luxury hotel known for its boat-like rooftop offering spectacular views across the bay. And in terms of restaurants in the Lion city, places like Candlenut, Meta or Wild Rocket deliver the best food in Singapore.
However, for those that like to get under the skin of travel destinations and get a feel for life as a true Singaporean, there’s one cultural activity they must indulge in before they go home: visiting one of the famous Singapore hawkers center.
Why You Must Visit A Singapore Hawkers Center
A Singapore hawkers center is a part of everyday life for the city’s people, and it is where to eat in Singapore if looking for a quick, tasty bite. Some 50 years ago, the city sought to clean up its street food act by providing hawkers with purpose-built accommodation from which to serve up their authentic, great-value dishes to locals.
Hawkers centers in Singapore were subsequently born, creating vibrant local communities in multiple suburbs and ideal meeting points for friends and families to catch up over a plate of chili soft-shell crab or a warming bowl of laksa. Nowadays, the local government still controls the hawkers centers, and hawkers have to bid for available stalls and pay rent to the authorities.
Singaporean cuisine, and consequently Singapore street food, takes elements from a variety of cultures and ethnicities, due largely to its predominantly immigrant population. There are influences from India, Malaysia, China, Indonesia, Thailand and even England running throughout.
Nice food in Singapore is easy to find, even at reasonable prices, despite the fact that this is one of the most expensive cities in the world. Hawkers centers (also known as food courts) offer down-to-earth culinary experiences and some of the best food in Singapore, such as chicken rice, chilli grab, satay and laksa.
What makes a hawkers center in Singapore the ultimate place to eat is the fact that, although the prices are cheap, the quality of the food isn’t. Foodies regularly eat at food courts, finding it often hard to pick among the thousands of stalls (each one typically specialized in one dish, with recipes that are passed down through generations of family members) scattered around the city.
But it is not just that: Singapore hawkers centers are clean – as pretty much everything in Singapore.
Before selecting the top Singapore hawkers center, however, it’s important to point out a few rules that make the hawkers centers experience more enjoyable.
How To Enjoy A Singapore Hawkers Center
A first-time visit to a hawkers center can be an intimidating experience. With so many stalls to choose from, some of the vendors can be notoriously pushy, particularly if they can quickly identify potential customers are tourists. Keep in mind, however, that the best food typically is where there’s a long line!
In terms of hawkers center etiquette, the best thing is to find a table and seat before going up and place an order from the chosen vendor. An insider’s tip is to place a pack of tissues on the chair to point that the seat is taken. If there’s a group of people, it’s a good idea to go up one by one to save the table, and get a variety of dishes in order to try all the amazing food there is on offer.
Make sure to try the local dishes, and not just stick to the comfortable yet obvious bowl of noodles: nice food in Singapore is easy to find, so why not just be a bit more adventurous?
Hawkers center etiquette says that, once the meal has been consumed, it’s good manners to clear away the plates and cutlery in the bins provided.
Although some of the hawker centers are increasingly using emerging brands like Deliveroo that also deliver restaurant-quality Chinese and other kinds of Asian food and other cuisines to homes throughout the Lion City, many of them continue to stand the test of time as places to visit.
In recent years, the BBC has discussed the prospect of Singapore’s hawkers center heritage dying out, in favor of a more international cuisine that suites the taste of a nation with people who have increasingly higher incomes and more expensive tastes. The Singaporean government has warned in the past that not enough people are joining the hawker industry to maintain the centers and help them thrive – it can be a really tough and demanding job, with working days of up to 13 hours.
If that’s the case, it’s even more important that fanatical foodies venture to these much-loved institutions before it’s too late. So, here’s a selection of the best hawkers centers in Singapore that nobody should miss during a trip to the city.
The Best Food Tours In Singapore
These are some of the best food tours in Singapore (needless to say, they go to Singapore’s hawkers centers!):
The Best Singapore Hawkers Center
Lau Pa Sat Hawkers Center
Lau Pa Sat is one the longest-serving Singapore hawkers center in the city. The colonial-style octagonal-shaped building dates back to the late 1800s and remains the heartbeat of the Telok Ayer district. Some 80-plus hawkers are present here, with local Singaporean tastes and a host of other pan-Asian flavours on show. It’s also one of the most civilised hawkers experiences, with outdoor and indoor tables available.
Lau Pa Sat Hawkers Center is typically packed with businessmen at lunchtime, but the scene changes completely at night, when it becomes incredibly lively and beer is served along with satay of chicken, beef and shrimps. This hawkers center definitely has some of the best Singapore street food. Hence why it’s worth mentioning as one of the best hawkers center in Singapore.
Maxwell Road Hawkers Center
For a more ‘lively’ Singapore hawkers center experience, head into Chinatown to discover Maxwell Road hawkers center, which is popular with commuters, locals and tourists alike. It’s more ‘gritty’ and basic in terms of its surroundings, but many of the hawkers here have been serving up food for several generations.
The quality of food at this hawkers center, which houses around 100 stalls, is top notch, with some of the best chicken rice and fish bee hoon in Singapore. Thanks to the great food, it’s a great hawkers center in Singapore.
Chinatown Hawkers Center
Chinatown Hawkers Center is the largest Singapore hawkers center, with a whopping 260 food stalls. Here, foodies can find an incredible range of dishes that go from chilli crab to black pepper crab; bbq chicken wings to satay, chicken rice and prawn boodles; to finish with deserts such as carrot cake, soya beancurd and ice kachang.
Since there are so many stalls selling similar food, the prices of food at Chinatown Hawkers Center are more than reasonable, making it one of the best hawker center in Singapore.
Old Airport Road Hawkers Center
This may well be the best hawker center in Singapore, so much so that it is worth getting outside of the center of the city for a meal. It is where to eat in Singapore if looking for a truly local experience, and the price of the food is unbeatable – not to mention, chances are that this hawkers center has the best chilli crab in Singapore for prices that are much cheaper than those to the best restaurants in Singapore.
As far as hawker food goes, Old Airport is the best hawker center in Singapore for the famous soya beancurd stalls. These include Lao Ban Soya Beancurd and 51 Soya Beancurd. They are easy to find: there’s always a line in front of them!
Tiong Bahru Market Hawkers Center
Tiong Bahru Market is where to eat in Singapore if looking for a recently renovated, clean and spacious hawkers center. The food center has an incredible exhaust system for each food stall so that the air remains clean and the atmosphere relaxing and comfortable.
This hawkers center is located above one of the nicest wet markets in Singapore, Tiong Bahru Market, which sells fresh produce. In other words it is possible to enjoy two experiences when visiting: eating some of the top Singapore street food, and visiting one of the nicest markets in the city.
Chomp Chomp Hawkers Center
What differentiates Chomp Chomp Hawkers Center from the rest in Singapore is that while others typically open in the morning until eventing, this starts serving food from 6:00 pm. It’s the hawkers center in Singapore to look for, for those who want a bite in the late hours. But there’s more: what makes this one of the best hawker center in Singapore is that it literally is a satay mecca, with pork, beef, chicken and even mutton satay being sold.
Newton Circus Hawkers Center
This is one of Singapore’s most historical hawkers centers, having opened in 1971. It’s quite touristy, so prices aren’t that convenient if compared with the food quality. Nevertheless, it is one of the places to eat in Singapore to get introduced to the local food culture and to soak on the lively vibes.
One of the reasons Newton Circus is so popular is that, in order to cater to tourists with dietary restrictions, most stalls there cook without pork or lard. This is where to eat in Singapore if wanting a taste of dishes such as carrot cake or char kway teow which are normally prepared with pork or lard.
Smith Street Hawkers Center
This isn’t a typical Singapore hawkers center: it’s more an open-air food street in the center of Chinatown, and one of the top places to eat in Singapore. At night, the roads are closed to traffic and hawkers set out their tables and chairs, open their food stalls like in the old days, when they were allowed to roam the city, and start serving food.
What makes Smith Street one of the best area for Singapore street food is that it is a relaxing place, with a nice, friendly vibe.
Butik Timah Market and Hawkers Center
This is one of the smallest hawkers center in Singapore, with only 84 stalls. It’s far from the main tourist attractions in the city, located as it is in Clementi, and the nearest MRT station a good 15 minutes walk away.
Yet, it is worth the effort of going all the way there, as it is one of the places where it is possible to find the best food in Singapore. The best stalls can be easily identified as they are those with the longest lines. The nearby Butiik Timah Plaza and Butik Timah Shopping Center, located nearby, are also worth visiting.
Makasuntra Gluttons Bay Hawkers Center
Makasuntra Gluttons Bay includes some of the oldest hawker names as well some of the newest ones. Located in the Marina Bay District, it is perfect for those who are staying in the area – which is quite touristy – yet want to get a real local experience.
The view there is amazing, and so is the food – it is some of the best food in Singapore. This Singapore hawkers center can seat about 500 guests and serves food such as satay, grilled squid, and the yummy banana kaya dessert.
East Coast Lagoon Hawkers Center
Located on Singapore’s southeast coast, there’s only 63 stalls at East Coast Lagoon, a hawkers center with views of the sea. It’s the kind of place where locals go after working out in the park, to enjoy the nice food in Singapore such as chicken wings or wonton noodle soup. It is located closer to the airport than to the city center, but it’s where to eat in Singapore for a great (and budget) al fresco dining experience.
Have you ever been to Singapore and visited a hawkers center? What’s your favorite hawkers center in Singapore?
Make sure to check out my post 17 Best Places To Visit In Malaysia.