As with so many Asian countries I love to travel to, the best food that can be found in Singapore also happens to be the cheapest. Singaporean food is an atraction to this amazing travel destination all by itself, and it’s definitely not to be missed while you’re out there.
When I think of Singapore, the one thing that’s constantly on my mind
is how good the Hawker food is and the locals agree.
There is a buzzing and lively tradition of street food and hawker markets in Singapore.
Wander around exciting food markets, be a bit adventurous and just try things out that take your eye.
What makes Singaporean hawker food so great in my opinion is the fusion of diverse cultures you can find in the dishes.
Singaporean food has influences from the Malyasian, Indian, Chinese and other expat communities that all live as one in Singapore, making the food a big melting pot for all these amazing food traditions.
I’ve spent a lot of time in Singapore, and I’ve found it’s possibly the best country in the world to experience fusion food, and the hawker market is a great place to start enjoying these flavours and experience a slice of local life.
Hawker centres or hawker markets are basically what Singaporeans call food courts. You can encounter a wealth of local food traders all serving up some really high quality food for affordable prices.
It’s a vibrant tradition that says a lot about the attitude to food and social togetherness in this part of the world.
Did you know that you can even find Michelin star rated hawker stands? Singapore’s Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle is home to the world’s cheapest Michelin-star meal starting at S$2 ($1.42) for the popular chicken rice dish.
But heed my warning, expect long lines for a plate as this place has become incredibly popular after it’s rise to fame. It really is amazing how a simple dish such as chicken and rice can rock the food world.
What’s the difference between a hawker market and a food court?
The big difference between a hawker market and a food court is that the latter are normally found inside a shopping mall space, they have air conditioning, and they are usually a bit more modern and upmarket.
Hawker centers/markets are often found outside under a sheltered roof, and have traditional air fans for cooling the visitors down.
Hawker markets have been around the longest in Singapore, and are a vibrant part of social life and culture here.
Many of the traditional stands used by hawker food traders years and years ago are still standing and in use today, telling you a lot about the history of food and trade in Singapore over the years.
Rules to be aware of whilst at a Hawker center
These are some handy rules to be aware of so you fit in with the locals, and have the best eating experience at a hawker market.
It’s always good to do as the locals too, but sometimes as travellers we also have to take extra hygiene precautions to protect ourselves.
– Bring a packet of tissues, you can use them to claim your seat while you’re waiting for your food.
– All food court hawkers have hygiene ratings (Standard A,B,C), so make sure you learn how to recognize the rating system and avoid anywhere that has been flagged up with a low rating.
– Hawker centres are cash only, so make sure you visit the ATM before you arrive. You pay for your food once you’ve ordered.
– Remember your table number as some dishes might take some time to cook.
– You can get food to take away but still eat on the stools and enjoy the hawker market atmosphere. It also cuts down on waste.
– Often Singaporeans call vendors “Auntie” or “Uncle”.
– It’s OK to leave your plate on the table once you’ve finished.
– It’s more than OK to buy multiple dishes from different vendors from the same food court, and mix and match different dishes.
– If you see a line, join it, normally it’s a good dish worth waiting for.
Go on a hawker Singapore food tour with a local to find your way around
If all the rules and ways of the hawker market above seem a bit overwhelming, why not hire a local for the day to take you on a Singapore food tour of the hawker markets?
When dishes cost as little as between $2-6 Singaporean dollars, it really is not much of an extra expense to hire a local food guide who will show you all the best places to eat, and give you the insider lowdown of where the best centres are and where you are likely to get the best food.
It’s like when you visit a city and your friends who lives there know all the hottest restaurants!
Sometimes a little insier knowledge and local gossip can show you to the best dishes from different stands to share and jazz up your hawker market experience.
Must try hawker dishes in Singapore
Here are some of the most popular and must-try dishes you can find in Singapore Hawker markets:
– Carrot Cake (Picture above)
– Roti Prata – an Indian-influenced flatbread dish
– BBQ Pork and Rice
– Laksa – a delicious spicy noodle soup
– Chicken and Rice
– Pork Noodle
– Chili Crab
– Nasi Lamak – a Malay fragrant rice dish cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaf
– Stingray Sambal – also known as Spicy Banana Leaf Stingray. Barbecued and served with sambal paste
– Bak Chor Mee – minced pork Chinese noodle dish
– Char Kway Teow – stir-fried ricecake strips. A favourite dish in Malaysia and Singapore.
– Satay – seasoned skewered meat served in sauce. Originally from Indonesia.
– Curry puff.
For refreshing drinks, be sure to try the huge variety of tasty fresh juices. Each hawker market location normally has a drink stand.
Make sure you try the sugar cane juice or the lime juice. They both go down really well after a hot day. For something hot, try the the Singaporean classic Kopi – a coffee with condensed milk to add a sweet taste. Or teh tarik which is a spiced tea.
For dessert, you can try a mixture of fresh fruit, local jelly or shaved iced cendol is the local favourite.
Popular hawker spots around Singapore worth checking out
Now you know the dishes, where should you go?
Newton Circus Food Centre
A lively food market near Newton MRT station with an amazing selection of seafood.
East Coast Lagoon Food Village
Head to the east coast for delicious satay or chili crab by the coast. This food centre is known for its beachfront location meaning you can enjoy some sea air while you get your hawker market dishes.
Clementi Food Centre
This place is pretty famous for it’s carrot cake. There are a few stalls serving it, so maybe take a wander around and see which one looks the best for the price. It’s located in the west of Singapore right next to the Clementi Mall.
Maxwell Road Hawker Centre
This famous food court in the Chinatown district is well known for it’s Chicken Rice, so be sure to seek out this speciality dish when you are there.
Tiong Bahru Market Hawker Centre
This popular food centre was one of the first modern hawker centres to open, and is pretty much the classic spot for the Singaporean food court experience. You can buy produce, meat and fresh fish there too.
Lau Pa Sat – Telok Ayer Market
A perfect spot for late night satay. At night-time the streets are lined up with satay grills serving up peanut sauce and rice.
Changi Village Hawker Centre
My personal favourite. It’s a bit of a journey out of town, but works out perfectly with a combination trip to Pulau Ubin – it’s located next to the boat port to get to the island.
Thank you for reading and enjoy all the incredible food
Singapore is heaven for food lovers, so be sure to arrive with an empty stomach and a desire to try a wide variety of local dishes and interesting foods. You definitely won’t leave disappointed.
Normally every time I go to Singapore I have all my meals for each day planned out, and I still don’t have time or space to fit it all in. So I hope this guide is useful, and you can make some choose food choices and try everything you want to. Have a wonderful trip to the food paradise!