Hawker Centers. Those two little words make my mouth salivate just hearing it. I have a theory that when it comes to food there are only two types of people in this world. Those who know the miraculous wonders of the Singapore Hawker Center concept and those who do not. If you aren’t salivating right now, I’ll take it that you are in the do not category.
But don’t worry, this post is going to let out all of the dirty little secrets of this amazing eating concept for food in Singapore. If you aren’t booking your accommodation Singapore now, you surely will be by the time I get through with you as the hawker centers are surely one of the best Singapore attractions out there.
These food centers are, after all, the whole reason I went to Singapore in the first place.
What is a Hawker Center?
To put it simply, Singapore hawker centers are a foodies mecca. A hawker center is not your traditional street food, nor is it what you would consider to be a formal sit down restaurant. Instead, the hawker blends these two eating concepts into one where multiple street food stalls come together in one giant complex with common seating areas. Ranging from a dozen stalls all the way up to several hundred, Singapore hawker centers come in all shapes, sizes, and cuisine times.
Each stand may only make one to a half dozen dishes, but with multiple stalls to choose from, you will never say you went hungry. Want a meal from hawker stand #37, a snack from #105, and a drink from #85? Go right ahead. That flexibility is what makes these establishments so wonderful.
But what are some of the best hawker centers? The following are our top 4 favorites from our time spent in Singapore.
Maxwell Road Hawker Center
In what is quite possibly the most famous hawker center in Singapore, the Maxwell Road center boasts over 100 food stalls. This center is reflective of a traditional hawker experience and is a perfect introduction to the establishment type. While popular with locals and tourists alike, Maxwell Road’s smaller size is a better way to sift through the options and make a good decision on the food to try without being overwhelmed by quantity. But when you are ready, there are much larger and specialized centers eager for your attention if you want to branch out further in the hawker center concept.
Newton Street Hawker Center
Seafood lovers rejoice! Newton Street hawker center is the place for you. This hawker center is a bit smaller than the others featured in this post, but packs one of the biggest punches as far as we’re concerned. You see, the Newton hawker center does not need an incredibly large footprint to bring in visitors. No, there are two other amazing words that make Newton the highlight of many traveler’s vacations to Singapore. Those words, my friends, are chili crab. As the specialty dish of Singapore, there is little more to be said about the beautiful combination of crab and chili sauce. Take a few friends and get several sides of the famous dipping bread plus a few rounds of beers and you have the makings for a wonderful evening.
But wait, Newton has another surprise for the seafood fanatic – the world’s largest shrimp! As if chili crab wasn’t enough, all foodies should jump at the chance to eat these colossal shrimp weighing over 1 pound each! Just be sure to bring a full wallet, as your meal at Newton will definitely be a budget buster, and yet worth every dollar.
Smith Street Hawker Center
While Newton Street hawker center does not use quantity to bring in the crowds, Smith Street thrives in it. You see, Smith Street is not your standard food court. It is more like a food mall. With several hundred stalls worth your effort, this center in Chinatown will have you spending more time perusing the options than you will spend eating! As this center occupies the entire footprint of the building, it is a bit easy to get lost between all the corridors and side areas that the stalls are crammed into. Do yourself a favor and walk around not once, but twice, before placing an order and use our five eating tips outlined at the end of this post to make your decision!
Visitors Note – Smith Street hawker center is located primarily on the second floor of the building it resides in. So while wandering the main section of Smith Street, be sure to look up! The entrance to the eating area is accessible via a number of stair cases and elevators in the center of the lower level.
Tekka Centre in Little India
As if loading yourself up on Chinese and Malay style dishes at the previous hawker centers wasn’t enough, in comes Little India to round out the must eat list of our Singaporean food tour. As you may have guessed by the name, this center is specialized in all things Indian with hints of Malay influence throughout the stalls. This makes for a great combination as there is an option for everyone – vegetarians and meat eaters alike, plus loads of mango lassi to go around for the whole table. When your tastes for traditional Singaporean food dries up, if it ever does, a trip to Tekka Centre will get your taste buds thriving again. Since this center has such a strong Malay influence travelers from Malaysia often stop here to compare the cuisine. Many tourists have noted that some of the good food served here closely matches the food often served at famous Kuala Lumpur hotels. The best part is that the food can be just as nice as fancy hotels but without the black tie feel. Visiting Singapore and stopping at these vendors is certainly a must. Trying out each destinations food is half the fun of traveling. When you leave Tekka Centre in Little India you will have felt like you visited three countries in one yummy stop!
Top 5 Tips for Eating at a Hawker Center
So how do you best tackle these amazing food halls? Well, follow these 5 tips and you will not be disappointed!
1) Look for the crowds – As with all street food and local restaurants, finding the best stall in a hawker is as simple as finding the ones with the biggest crowds and waiting in line. If the locals are there, you should be too!
2) Try the local dishes – It is all too easy to go to a hawker center in Singapore and settle on your favorite noodle dish every single time. But the hawker centers are so much more than your common bowl of noodles. Try all the local delicacies just for the sake of doing it! Want some inspiration of dishes to try? How about popiah, kueh pie tee (our favorite), chili crabs, soup tulang, rojak, sugar cane juice with lemon, chicken rice, and even the noodle dish char kway teow to start!
3) Go with friends and share – To be honest, there are way too many dishes to try when visiting Singapore, so you may have better luck at tackling them all by going with friends and sharing the wonderful bounty this country has to offer!
4) Go often – Because going with friends still wont get you close to trying it all, you really should go to every hawker center at least twice.
5) Eat, Eat, Eat! – If you are not bursting at the seams by the time you leave Singapore, you should have ate more! Don’t worry about the probable weight gain, you can always diet when you get back home.
If you follow these tips, your taste buds and stomach will be happier than they ever have before. Singapore, your hawker centers did not disappoint.
Looking for a great hostel during your visit to Singapore? Check out Rucksack Inn where we stayed! After you’ve finished eating, be sure to also head over to the Singapore Botanic Gardens for a leisurely day exploring the beauty of the great outdoors!
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