A Beginner’s Guide To The Singapore Hawker Center

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit’s 2014 Worldwide Cost of Living survey, the island city of Singapore has been named the world’s most expensive city to live in. Singapore is the most expensive place in the world to buy clothes, relies heavily on imported goods and has an increasingly strong currency.

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How about the food? Here I’m going to surprise you by telling you that as long as you dine out in Hawker Centers, food expenses will be your smallest spendings.

Hawker Center, Singapore
Hawker Center, Singapore

 

What is the Hawker Center?

Hawker centers are open-air complexes housing many stalls that sell a variety of inexpensive food.

Maxwell Road Hawker Center
A typical Hawker Center – Maxwell Road, Singapore

 

Where can you find it?

They can be usually found near public housing estates or transport hubs (such as bus interchanges or train stations) all over Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. If you are not sure where to find it, follow the local map, it will show you the right way.

Hawker Center at Maxwell Road, Singapore
Hawker Center at Maxwell Road, Singapore

 

Top 3 Best Hawker Centers in Singapore

#1 Maxwell Road.

Hawker Center at Maxwell Road, Singapore

When in Singapore, you just have to make it to Maxwell Hawker Center. It is located at the edge of Chinatown and if has more than 100  different stalls so there is a great of variety of Chinese as well as Western food to choose from. Both, locals and tourists, alike flock here for the variety of cuisines and local specialties. The quality is also great!

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Address:1 Kadayanallur St Singapore 069184.

Open time: Daily 8am – 10pm.

Your daily budget: $10-$30.

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Hawker Center at Maxwell Road, Singapore
A typical food stall

 

#2 Newton Circus. 

Hawker Center at Maxwell Road, Singapore

This is one of Singapore’s most historical hawker centers. Make sure you go to Newton if you want a primer on local food, or if you like people-watching in a lively atmosphere. It’s a perfect place for vegetarians – several stalls now cook their dishes without any meat.

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Address: 500 Clemenceau Ave NorthSingapore 229495.

Open time: Daily 12pm – 2am.

Your daily budget: $10-$25.

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Hawker Center at Maxwell Road, Singapore

#3 Lau Pa Sat.

Hawker Center at Maxwell Road, Singapore

Lau Pa Sat is located in the heart of the CBD. Once you get there, you will notice that the place is always packed with businessmen at lunchtime. However, when night falls, the atmosphere changes completely as satay stalls and beer vendors come out and set up an alfresco dining area. Seriously, you won’t find a better night in Singapore than enjoying sticks of chicken, beef, and prawn satay while knocking back cheap pints at Lau Pa Sat!

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Address: 8 Raffles Quay, Singapore 048582.

Open time: 24/7

Your daily budget: $10-$35

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Food and Drinks served in Hawker Centers

Typical Indian dish - Indian pancakes with curry sauce
Indian dish – Indian roti prata
Grilled fish with quinoa salad
Grilled fish with quinoa salad

 

Hawker Centers in Singapore offer a great variety of local dishes and foreign cuisines- from Chinese grilled pork, dumplings, stir-fried Chinese noodles, dim sum to South Indian banana-leaf restaurants serving delectable treats on a banana leaf and Indian breads with chicken, fish and mutton curry.

Take away sandwich
Take away sandwiches
Stir-fried noodles
Stir-fried noodles

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Everyone can find something for themselves. No matter where you end up, you’ll have a vibrant Singaporean experience. All hawker centers serve excellent seafood and delicious dessert (sticky rice with mango or sweet dumplings).

Congee - a typical rice porridge
Congee – a typical rice porridge

Hawker Center Maxwell Road, Singapore

As for the drink, each row of hawker stalls will have one or two stalls that sell drinks. Heavily sweetened, and nutty barley tea (pronounced bah-lee) is the popular choice, and usually goes for a song ($1). You can also have freshly squeezed fruit juices, Chinese tea and coffees as well as cold beers!

Drinks Hawker Center Longan
Some unique drinks

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Things to remember

#1 Seating.

It is common in Singapore to quickly snag a table for your group before taking turns to order dishes. Be the first to order and sneak a peek at what others have ordered while on your way to your stall of choice, or volunteer to be the last (if your stomach can take it) so you can observe the crowds of people that arrive.

Hawker Center Maxwell Road, Singapore

Keep an eye out for the busy lunch crowds, happy family gatherings, and inebriated youngsters starving for some post-clubbing grub. It’s also common to see vendors touting all kinds of food, so walk right on by without making eye contact if you don’t want to be accosted.

A boy eating an Indian dish

Hawker center seating is first come, first serve, no reservations and no pretension. Therefore, Before you place your order, find a free seat.

#2 Reserving seats. 

If you want to reserve a seat at any Hawker center, you have to purchase a pack of tissues being sold by local ladies. Once you’ve acquired a tissue packet and staked your claim, it would be an unthinkable crime for anyone to disturb your plot. An umbrella can also be used to reserve a seat.

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#3 Cleaning up. 

You don’t need to worry about cleaning up your plate. Just go ahead and leave your plates behind. Every hawker center has staff on hand to bus tables. If you need to wash your hand, you can always use the free toilet.

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To sum up, if you want to experience the authentic local cuisine in Singapore on the cheap, add one of these Hawker Centers to your travel bucket list and enjoy your meal!

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Have you ever visited a hawker center? If so, what was your food experience?

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88 Comments

    • We wanted to go to all of them, but there was no idea. We’ve heard that Newton was one of the best there!

  • I am totally ashamed to say that I did not eat in or even visit a hawker centre the two times have been to Singapore. I can;t really explain why either, I knew they existed before travelling there I just didn’t go. With your tips Agness, I am definitely adding it to my list of things to do for next time soon.

  • When we visited Singapore we were eating at those hawker center almost every day, the food was so cheap and delicious too! This is a great tip for budget travellers going to Singapore, good food doesn’t always have to be expensive! :)

    • I know Franca! We were afraid of not finding anything cheap, but once we found these hawker centers we were in a food heaven!

  • Agness, I really loved those hawker centers when visiting Singapore! They were definitely the best place in town to sample cheap food and do some people watching. While the variety of food was great, sometimes it took me a very long time of walking from one stall to the next, before I could finally make a decision. There was just too much on offer… :)

    • I am not vegetarian, my I don’t eat much meat either. I love veggies and fruits and there were plenty of them in Singapore!

  • Whilst I don’t remember which one it was I went to one of these centres on recent business trip to Singapore. I agree the prices are reasonable and the food is very tasty. I’m not a big fan of Singaporean food because I dislike noodles. However I was spoilt for choice here.

    Also look out for the food hygiene signs at the stalls. If it has a high ranking with smiling faces you can feel comfortable that the food will be well prepared in good conditions.

    • There is a great variety of dishes there so there is no way someone can’t find something cheap and yummy!

  • I so love hawker centres! I personally love the ones near housings in Singapore. A personal favourite is at Tiong Bahru market where there is a really great hawker centre with amazing food. Oh, can’t wait to be back in Singapore!

  • I have one thing to add here: try the ‘Chicken Rice’. It’s sort of the national dish of Singapore, and while it sounds extremely plain (and even looks very plain) it is phenomenal. The chicken goes through a lengthy multi-stage cooking process that makes it extremely tender and juicy. Singaporeans have very strong held beliefs about which vendor makes the best one!

    • We loved the food, but it was not the only one thing we enjoyed here. Singapore has so much to offer when it comes to sightseeing!

  • Oh my gosh you know your food posts always drive me nuts, Agness. The Centers sound terrific and I wish we had these in all cities in the States. We have food trucks and food courts. Kinda similar but near the variety and far more expensive here. Is that literally how that fish is served? Just on the plate like that ha, ha? I really like that you emphasized making sure you get a seat first – smart girl you always are! :)

    • I know Mike, I know. It’s same here. Your food posts always make me so hungry, way too hungry. I’ve read a lot about American food trucks and food courts. Hope to make it there in the future and try some traditional meals on the cheap!

  • Hawker centres are the best! As you highlighted, they are incredibly affordable and tasty for a city (and country) that is otherwise very expensive. You highlighted some of my favourite dishes: Congee, roti prata and fish and quinoa! Char kway teow is another favourite too. Mmmm I’m so hungry now grrrrr why doesn’t teleportation exist yet?!!

  • Great post, I have been worried about cost of food since planning my trip to Singapore in the summer. Can’t wait to try it! Looks like there are healthy options too!

  • Thanks for this list! Singapore looks like foodie’s paradise of sorts. Although I am not much of a non-veg lover, I like exploring different food options.

    • Singapore is indeed a food paradise for many. Although the city is so expensive to travel around, the food compensate it all!

  • I have never heard of hawkers before but that really seems like a great opportunity for eating local food. I will definitely check some out when being in Malaysia, Hong Kong or Singapore.

    • Great! Are you going to Malaysia any time soon? Hope to read about your Hawker center experience there!

      • I don’t have specific plans yet. I probably head to Ecuador in September but I have no idea where my life guides me after, so we’ll see. I definitely plan on travelling to Malaysia at some point. When I flew to Australia, I stopped in Kuala Lumpur and flew with Malaysia Airlines. The video they showed of the country flashed me and made me want to go there one day :)

      • Ecuador? That’s so amazing! I start my Master’s Degree in September, so I will be moving to Europe soon. I might be going back to Asia once again to work in KL. It’s been my dream to come true. Happy travels Stef!

  • I have been to a hawker center in Singapore (in little India), but it was so unhygenic that I actually didn’t try the food, which is a shame because it was damn cheap compared to the restaurants. My stomach got much tougher by living in Cambodia for two years, but if I see too many flies around I usually give the street food stand a miss. :-)

    • I know. Some food stalls are not clean and everyone should be careful especially when ordering egg and meat based meals. I was ok this time, but my stomach is extremely sensitive.

    • My pleasure. I miss the food there a lot these days, but since I’ve been back in China, I can still dig into some Chinese meals I had when in Singapore. Lucky me!

  • I’ll be visiting Singapore on my upcoming trip and haven’t had much time to do research about Singapore. This information definitely helps me. I want to be able to get some good cheap food while there, seeing as it is expensive.

  • This has gone straight in the bulging Evernote file of things I have to remember while on the road. I’ve be told many times that Singapore is super expensive so will be checking these places out.

  • That is great to hear that you can experience the fantastic Singapore cuisine at reasonable prices! We really want to go to Singapore without blowing our budget!

    • Hi Catherine. Add them to your list when in Singapore. The food is not only delicious (even more than it seems in the picture) and very affordable.

  • I lived in Singapore for two years while I earned my graduate degree there from Tisch Asia. It was an experience that I will never forget, nor do I regret. I would not recommend eating at hawker stands everyday though. Sure you can get fish and vegetables and fruit but the oil that some of that food is cooked in isn’t what I’d call the healthiest. The food is cheap which makes it very student-friendly when you don’t have much money to take care of yourself, or have much time to cook, but nothing beats fresh produce and fruits and veggies that you can buy from any Singaporean grocery store. Sike. There isn’t much fresh food in SG lol, milk is imported from Australia, and nothing lasts for long because of the heat, and the ants.

    SG all in all is a nice, stress-free, very expensive place and you need some nice coinage to live comfortably. Hawker stall food is good every once in a while but I wouldn’t live off of it completely. Toss in some cheap fruits and semi-fresh produce and you’ll be fine. No shade, just keeping it real. I’d love to visit SG and when I get my money up I will.

    • Hi April,

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us. Yes, it’s true. It’s a budget friendly place, but some of the fishes were deep fried and the oil is not the healthiest one. However, it’s good to try some food there in moderation. In the name of research :).

  • That looks amazing! Did you guys eat a specific meal or just sort of graze over the options? I usually like to slowly nibble my way through things.

  • What a lovely set of places. These hawker centers are really something. The food looks really yummy. Great to know that food is still cheap in these places. Mind you, the food would also be authentic in these places.

  • Hey Agness, thanks for sharing this, I’m sure I’m not gonna miss hawker center when I visit Singapore next month. My tummy would be delighted and my pocket would be smiling as well. lol

  • Great intro of Singapore Hawker centers although there are better and cheaper ones around. The ones that you have mentioned are actually more touristy (especially Newton and Lau Pa Sat)and therefore more expensive than the rest. Btw, Lau Pa Sat is still under renovation (if I am not mistaken). At Maxwell Hawker Center, please do not miss out on Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice. One of the popular Singapore food and the best one in town. Around SGD$3 to $3.50 for one plate of chicken rice. Enjoy!

    • Are you in Croatia now? I might be heading there this summer. Still thinking of a nice place to travel around with my mom.

  • I never knew there could be such power in a pack of tissues. Reeally? And an umbrella too? The only time I’d carry that would be if it were raining. I’ve heard the food in Singapore was one of the big things about the country. Thanks for sharing this interesting fact- seems like a lot of options for me, unlike some other places I’ve traveled to.

  • Hey I’m from Singapore and I really recommend you to try out chili crabs and black pepper crabs. Old Airport Road is a great place to visit too and it has a famous fried kway teow store that is simply amazing.

  • I wish I had read this article before I went to Singapore in June 2014! I did visit a one Hawker Centre when I was staying in Bugis and that was Alfred Centre. Lots of great food stalls and kept going back for dinner.
    Will have to try your suggested Hawker Centres next time I am in Singapore!

  • Hey Agness!

    I’m a teenager from Singapore, and while the list of must-try Singaporean food is inexhaustible, I must say your post is pretty good and I especially enjoyed the quirky ‘chope’-ing (Singlish) of seats using tissue packets that you’d included. :)

    Come back here and try the other things like chicken rice, laksa, nasi lemak and much much more! (Now I’m off to read your whole blog, dropped here by accident haha)

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