Singapore Food – A Guide to Singapore’s Best Hawker Centers

Posted By Jeremy in Asia


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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?

Hawker Center directory

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

Popiah at a 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

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

Tekka Centre

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.

Hawker Centers in Singapore

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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6 Comments

  1. I lived in Singapore in 1998. I cannot tell you how much I miss the hawkers centers. The food is delicious and the price is right. Newton was always considered a bit of a tourist trap. The shrimp are Hugh but remember they are sold by the gram so be prepared to do math if you are American.

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    • Great advice regarding the seafood at Newton hawker center. I recall just pointing to the biggest one I found and going with it, and didn’t worry about the price haha.

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  2. Just found this, but the hawker centres in Chinatown and Little India I went to on my trip through Singapore in March were amazing! I just can’t stop thinking about them, and in December I have an overnight stopover back in the city and come hell or high water I will have some hawker food again!

    At Little India three chicken biryanis with naans and some other kind of bread (I forget the name), two tiger beers and a lime juice cost $25 (£15) It was a-ma-zing.

    Chris

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  3. @Jo – Oh wow, sounds like you definitely got suckered in to the wrong types of food! Everything I tried there was soooo delicious and parts that I actually recognized!

    @Dyanne – You are going to love the food! The hawker concept is not nearly as bad as what you would think from the hawkers of Egypt, everyone I met was so incredibly nice.

    I think my meal at Newton for a chili crab and shrimp + beer was around $40 which fed two people. I realized that I had a picture of the shrimp I got, which was purposefully the biggest one in the place, and it was about 1 pound. I think I mistyped on the 2 pound note.. so I changed the post 🙂

    Let me know what you think!

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  4. EXCELLENT! Indeed, fabulous post even if I WASN’T headed to Singapore in 2 weeks. BUT…

    That said, I must admit – when I first spied the post title, I was a bit leery ‘cuz in my experience the term “hawker” conjures up anything but good (i.e. think: tiresome Cairo Giza hawkers that resemble more pesky GNATS than anything else).

    So I guess you could say I started out this post in your “do not” category. Good thing I persevered, ‘cuz those “Street Hawks” in Singapore sound wondrous (esp. “Newton Street” as I’m a total sucker for anything de la Mer). I’ve had fairly humungous shrimp at the Night Market on Phu Quoc Island here in Vietnam, but *2 pound* shrimp??? Surely you’ve got to be kidding!

    The Hawker system you describe for Singapore sounds a bit like the Djamaa El Fna food orgy in Marrakech (which likewise has a bazillion numbered booths). But in any case, you can bet that I now have a new appreciation for “Hawkers”, and… I only wish I’d scheduled more time in Singapore on my to/fro layovers to Sydney.

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  5. That food looks very appetising, our experience with street food in Singapore was back in the 90’s. We were taken to a ‘friends’ restaurant by our driver and served noodles, pigs intestines, dried pigs blood washed down by a carlsberg beer…all after a big night! Just about gagged typing that.

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