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Hawker Centres : A truly Singaporean dining experience

 

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What are hawker centres?

What are 'food courts' ?

How does it work ? How to order ?

Singapore's best hawker centres (including recommended stalls)

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What are 'hawker centres' ?

Singapore is one of Asia's culinary capitals and while it accommodates many of the continent's swankiest restaurants, it also boasts more than a few cheap eateries, where you can indulge on a plethora of local and regional delicacies at almost no cost…

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Many of these lovely, cheap eateries can be found in the so-called hawker centres.  Hawker Centres are one of the best things Singapore has to offer to its shoestring travelers (although you will always see there more than a few white collar expats and well-to-do locals), and visiting Singapore without eating at one of them is as unthinkable as visiting Paris without dining in a "Bistro", or visiting Istanbul without having a Döner Kebab in a small bazaar stall...

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Satay is a popular Southeast Asian street food that can be enjoyed in many of Singapore Hawker Ventres and Food Centres

Chicken Satay

These 'institutions' came to the world a few decades ago, when spanking clean Singapore decided to move its food hawkers from the streets and regulate them a bit… The concept here is fairly simple : A group of different food stalls under one roof, and with a common seating area, which works out great for a group, as each one can fetch his food from a different stall and share it with the others...

 

Hawker Centres are also reasonably maintained and clean, and are frequently visited by health inspectors, so eating in them should not be a problem, whatsoever... The ambience, obviously, is unpretentious and there is nothing much in the way of glitzy décor or perfect table settings... On the other hand, you are in Singapore, which means you are not likely to find a place that is too messy or rowdy... (Not to mention filthy), and you do have a chance to get to know some locals, who can also give you some advice about the food...

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As already mentioned, they are also very reasonable on prices and make a great evening-out for most Singaporeans, who normally prefer to have their dinner-out-of-home in those centres. (In some cases, SG$ 10 will be enough to buy you a meal you can't even finish...)

 

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How does it work ? How to order food ?

Many Hawker centers are busy, so if there's a group of you, ask one of the friends to seat at the table and "secure" it for the rest of you (to "chope" in local jargon), then take a walk around the whole centre and see what the different stalls have on offer (and which one of them has the most appetizing aroma), before placing your order...

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In many Hawker centers, food will be first served to your table (you will have to tell them your table number when placing the order) and you will pay only after you've been served. However, in an increasing number of Hawker centres you are expected to pay as you order and carry your food to the table.

 

Just how popular can a good food stall be ? Take a look at one of Singapore's most popular hawker centres during lunch time...

 

Tip: Avoid the lunchtime rush ! You don't have to get back to your office, so what's the point of wasting your precious holiday time in the queue?

 

 

 

What are 'food courts' ?

Unlike Hawker Centres (which are sometimes also referred to as Food Centres), Food courts are usually housed within modern shopping malls (mostly on the lower floors) and are pretty much similar to what is known as 'Food Courts' in Europe and North America (although you can find a wider range of authentic food options here... Mainly thanks to those successful Hawker-Centre folks who decided to stretch their wings...).

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Food Courts are usually more expensive and less authentic than Hawker Centres, and their main advantage is their location within the city's large shopping malls, which means they make a good lunch break option for shoppers (and they are air conditioned).

 

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Singapore's best hawker centres (including recommended stalls)

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Of the numerous Hawker Centers and Food Courts across Singapore, here is a list of some of the best (particular stall recommendations can be found here, as well as under the "Authentic eateries" style/category, within the search box):

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Bak kut teh is a popular Singapore dish that can be found in Hawker Centres as well as in many of Singapore's authentic eateries

Bak kut teh

1. Chinatown Complex Food Centre on Smith Street (off New Bridge), a short walking distance from MRT-Chinatown, was renovated just a few years ago... Together with the street-side eateries on Smith Street (Which is commonly known as Chinatown's food street), it boasts an excellent selection of Chinese food-stalls and eateries.

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Five minutes' walk from MRT-Chinatown.  Open daily until late.

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Recommended stalls include: China La Mian Steamed Buns (#02-135), Teochew St. Mushroom Minced Meat Noodle (#02-23), Hai Seng Ah Balling (#02-59) and Xiu Ji Ikan Bilis Yong Tau Fu (#02-87/88)

 

Something worth reading: Here is a great mini-guide of CNNGo, called "10 cheap eats in Chinatown", where you can find a few recommendations about popular food stalls in Chinatown Complex Food Centre... Click here to read.

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2. Maxwell Road Food Centre is another extremely popular Hawker centre in Chinatown.  Located along Maxwell Road, between URA building and South Bridge Street (a short walk from Tanjong Pagar, as well as from MRT-Chinatown).  This centre is particularly famous for its wide choice of traditional snacks and finger foods (although there are more than a few 'serious dishes' to choose from)

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Recommended stalls include: Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice (#10), Hup Kee Ngoh Hiang (#97) and China Street Fritters (#64). 

 

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 3. Makansutra Gluttons Bay is an initiative of Makansutra, Singapore's most reputable publisher of street-food guidebooks, where the city's 12 most highly-rated hawkers have been given an exclusive space, just by the Esplanade Theatres (the "Durian") in Marina Bay.  Open daily, 6 pm till 3 am

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To get there: Direct link from Esplanade MRT Station, as well as from City Hall MRT Station (The stalls operate from the open space, near the waterfront)

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Char Kway Teow is one of Singapore's most popular hawker-centre delicacies

Char kway teow

4. Tiong Bahru Market is a newly reopened complex, relatively more spacious and pleasant than the ordinary Hawker Centre, and with a wider selection of excellent stalls (almost one hundred...) and some nice 'alfresco' and indoors seats.  Although it is not on the ordinary visitor's track, it houses some of Singapore's most popular stalls and is, therefore, worth knowing about...  Open daily until late.

Getting to Tiong Bahru Market is not too difficult : A 10 – 15 minutes' walk from MRT-Tiong Bahru (Take a cab, it will cost you peanuts…)

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5. Lau pa sat Festival Market Originally built in 1894 as a fish market, Telok Ayer Market (as it is better known) is one of the best and most popular Hawker/Food centres around this side of Chinatown.

 

The imposing cast-iron structure of the market was prefabbed in Glasgow, Scotland, more than a century ago and shipped to Singapore in pieces, before being erected on site.

 

Open daily: from 12 noon till the wee hours of the night.  (Some stalls, like the Kopi-Tiams, are open from morning...)

 

During the evening, neighboring Boon Tat Street is closed to give way for an open air hawkers, who set their BBQ Satay stalls…

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Getting there: From MRT Raffles Place Station: Take exit F to Cecil Street, turn back as soon as you come out of the station and walk a few steps to the corner, where you turn right to Robinson Road.  After a few minutes' walk you will see the market on your right.

 

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6. Chomp Chomp Food Centre has been around since 1972 and although it was renovated, it still maintains its old days charm… The food here is great, and so is the ambience, and you are likely to be one of the only tourists (although there are more than a few expats who come here for dinner…)

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Popiah is a Singapore-style crepe that can be enjoyed in many of Singapore's hawker centres and food centres

Popiah

 

Recommended stalls include: Ang Sa Lee Fried Oyster (#33), Lucy BBQ Seafood (# 6) and Boon Tat Street BBQ Seafood (#8) are both famous for their Grilled stingray, Ah Hock Hokkien Fried Noodles (#27) specializes in Hokkien Mee, and Carrot Cake (#36) has been serving its splendid carrot cake since the 1970s… To complement the meal, grab a cold sugarcane juice at "Ralli" (#2, #7, #22)

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To get here: Chomp Chomp is located at 20 Kensington Park Road (next to Serangoon Gardens Circus): Take bus nos. 315, or 317 from MRT-Serangoon, No. 73 (from MRT-Toa Payoh, or MRT-Ang Mo Kio) and No. 136 (from MRT-Ang Mo Kio)

 

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7. Golden Mile Food Centre on 505 Beach Road, near Arab Street and Kampong Glam (just a few steps away from Hajjah Fatimah Mosque), is where you can find many stalls that specialize in fabulous Muslim foods, both Malay and Indian, alongside a decent variety of other southeast Asian delicacies.

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Open daily, until fairly late.

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8. East Coast Lagoon Food Village and East Coast Seafood Centre: Along East Coast Parkway, on Singapore's East-Coast, are probably the city's best places for seafood.  Singaporean "culinary icons" like Chilli Crab and Black Pepper Crab are the must-tries around here, but the menus present plenty of other local delicacies... East Coast Lagoon Food Centre, for example, houses numerous satay stalls, as well as some that sell cold sugar cane juice... The ambience here is really lovely and you can have your food 'alfresco', under the swaying coconut palms...

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Open daily, from late afternoon until fairly late. (both centres can get extremely busy on weekends).  Recommended stalls include: Leng Heng BBQ Seafood & Claypot Deluxe (Stall #6 East Coast Lagoon Food Village), Meng Kee Satay Bee Hoon (Stall #17 East Coast Lagoon Food Village)

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Getting there:

Singapore Chilli Crab is one of the city-state's most iconic dishes, and "East Coast Seafood Centre" is one of the best places in town to enjoy it... Watch this short video to boost your appetite...

From Katong: Walk down to the bottom of Joo Chiat Road, turn left to Marine Parade Road and board any of the following routes: 31, 43, 48, 196, 196-e, 197 or 853-c.  Alight at a bus stop called 'Opposite Laguna Park' (also on Marine Parade Road) and walk back a few steps, to the corner, where you turn left to Siglap Link and after 2 – 3 minutes left again, to East Coast. Almost immediately you will see an entrance to an underpass on your left, through which you cross under the road and into the park.

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From the City: Travel to MRT - Bedok Station. From the adjacent bus Interchange (next to exit B), take No. 197 to Laguna Park and proceed by foot (see instructions above)

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On Saturdays, Sundays and Public Holidays, you can take line 401 from Bedok Bus Interchange directly to the lagoon and the food centre.

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You can also take a taxi from Bedok.

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Visiting Singapore? Click here to go to our Singapore Hop-on, Hop-off Guide, where you will be shown how to explore this lovely city in a fun way.

 

9. Geylang Serai Market, one of Singapore's most popular and authentic markets, has reopened in its new location just a few years ago and is one of the main draws for travellers around this part of Geylang.

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Laksa is one of Singapore's most popular dishes, especially the "Katong Laksa" which can be enjoyed in traditional eateries in Katong

Laksa

Being the main market for Singapore's Muslim-Malay community, it boasts many spice shops, as well as small boutiques where traditional clothes are sold, alongside cheap jewelleries and a wide choice of stalls selling scrumptious street foods and snacks…

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Recommended stalls include: Hajjah Mona Nasi Padang (#02-166) and Geylang Beryani Stall (#01-327)

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10. Tekka Centre : The relatively large complex of Tekka Centre houses a wet market, a food centre and some authentic shops.

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The huge wet market, on the ground floor, specializes mainly in fresh seafood and vegetables, while the hawker centre boasts a good selection of vegetarian food stalls serving different Indian cuisines, as well as vegetarian Malay and Chinese delicacies.

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In the shops, you can find a wide range of stuff, from Indian fashion and inexpensive casual clothes to Taoist and Buddhist paraphernalia, and from tailor shops to henna salons...

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11. Marina South Hawker Centre is popular for its seafood and steamboat (hot pot) stalls. Open from around 12 noon till after midnight.

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To get there: take the MRT to Marina Bay Station and transfer to SBS bus no. 400

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12. Al Jilani - 24 hours roti prata: This extremely popular food-court-style eatery/Kopitiam has long become a culinary institution, serving some of the best Roti-pratas in Singapore, 24 hours a day... Roti Prata is a Muslim-Indian dish of pan-fried dough (looks like pancake), served with either curry or sweet stuffings (chocolate, durian and even ice cream). A plethora of variations are available and it is extremely popular for both breakfast and late night meals.  Other than Roti-prata, you can get some lovely fried rice and noodle dishes. Located on 127 Bencoolen St., between Sim Lim Square and Fortune Centre

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13. Takashimaya Food Court is an excellent option for those Orchard Road shoppers who want to have a delicious meal at a relatively low price.  With more than thirty outlets, you'll probably find something to your liking.  Located at Takashimaya (Ngee Ann City), just a short walk from MRT Orchard.

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Another fantastic food court in Orchard Road (probably even better than the one in Takashimaya) is Food Republic on Level 4 of neighboring Wisma Atria (directly linked to MRT-Orchard, as well as to Ngee Ann City and ION Orchard)

 

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