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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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{ 90 comments… add one }
  • Bennett - The Further Adventures of Bennett March 25, 2014, 7:56 am

    I went to Newton with Sarah P and loved it!!! Such good food and so much variety :D Sugar cane juice was a must.
    There’s also a small hawker centre in the Gardens By The Bay which was cool too.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:19 am

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

      Reply
  • Jen March 25, 2014, 8:53 am

    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.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:18 am

      Oh Jen! Shame on you!!! LOL :) Maybe next time… :)x

      Reply
  • Franca March 25, 2014, 9:00 am

    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! :)

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:18 am

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

      Reply
  • Jason Henry March 25, 2014, 9:20 am

    Did you try their famous chili crab? It’s awesome!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:16 am

      We had a crab soup. Does it count?

      Reply
  • Dennis Kopp March 25, 2014, 9:59 am

    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… :)

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:16 am

      Dennis, I’m glad to hear that. We took the food away to the airport!!

      Reply
  • J in Beijing March 25, 2014, 11:16 am

    Great info Agnes. I’m particularly glad of the mention of vegetarian food. Glad you enjoyed the food in Singapore more than your Philippines experience!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:15 am

      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!

      Reply
  • The Guy March 25, 2014, 11:24 am

    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.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:14 am

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

      Reply
  • Aggy March 25, 2014, 12:25 pm

    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!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:13 am

      Great to hear that Aggy! I’m also a big fan of hawker centers. There are some more in Malaysia!

      Reply
  • santafetraveler March 25, 2014, 2:33 pm

    I didn’t know Singapore was so expensive. The hawkers centers seem like a great solution for inexpensive food and the variety looks interesting.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:10 am

      The food is cheap, but the rest is expensive.

      Reply
  • Escape Hunter March 25, 2014, 3:43 pm

    Great tips! Lau Pa Sat was my favourite when I was there…
    Singapore is also a scenic place to eat :)

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:09 am

      Yep, especially at night!

      Reply
      • Escape Hunter April 1, 2014, 6:40 am

        True: the entire place extends to the streets around… what an atmosphere!
        Everyone munches and brunches and one can barely reject all those invitations they make :)

      • Agness Walewinder April 2, 2014, 12:44 am

        Yes, I agree!

  • Corinne March 25, 2014, 3:51 pm

    Agness, I love Hawker Centers…wish they had them more places…so cheap and delicious!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:09 am

      True! I could spend there all day long!

      Reply
  • Rachel of Hippie in Heels March 25, 2014, 4:43 pm

    Lau Pa Sat was closed while I was there last month :( I love all the dumplings !!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:08 am

      Same here, my favourite ones are Baozi and jiaozi!

      Reply
  • Marek Indietraveller March 25, 2014, 7:52 pm

    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!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:07 am

      I know Marek. It sounds so simple, but its taste can simply knock you down!

      Reply
  • Pedro @ Travel with Pedro March 25, 2014, 9:05 pm

    Oh, that’s pretty much the only thing I like in Singapore! I love the variety and quality of food you find at hawker centres. And as you put it, it won’t break the bank! :-)

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:06 am

      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!

      Reply
  • Mike March 26, 2014, 2:13 am

    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! :)

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:05 am

      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!

      Reply
  • Jess @UsedYorkCity March 26, 2014, 2:39 am

    Oh, I wish I had researched this before I went to Singapore! Sad to say, we basically ate overpriced westernized food in our hotel, but this sounds much more authentic and budget friendly!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:03 am

      Maybe you can make it to Singapore once again and visit some of the Hawker Centers!

      Reply
  • Shing March 26, 2014, 8:09 am

    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?!!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:22 am

      Someone said roti prata????? OMG that was just phenomenal!

      Reply
  • Agness Walewinder March 26, 2014, 8:15 am

    Great to hear that, thanks for stopping by!

    Reply
  • Jen March 26, 2014, 1:20 pm

    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!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 27, 2014, 3:09 am

      Don’t worry about the food cost when in Singapore as long as you dine out in Hawker Centers.

      Reply
  • Renuka March 26, 2014, 2:22 pm

    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.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 27, 2014, 3:08 am

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

      Reply
  • stef March 26, 2014, 5:56 pm

    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.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 27, 2014, 3:07 am

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

      Reply
      • Stef March 28, 2014, 12:49 pm

        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 :)

      • Agness Walewinder March 29, 2014, 5:03 am

        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!

  • tammyonthemove March 27, 2014, 7:26 pm

    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. :-)

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 28, 2014, 2:09 am

      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.

      Reply
  • Noelfy March 27, 2014, 9:17 pm

    Nice post!
    I am addicted to the hawker centers!!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 28, 2014, 2:07 am

      Me too :D!!

      Reply
  • Henry | @fotoeins March 28, 2014, 12:27 am

    So very hungry right now, and memories of going around Singapore from one hawker centre to the next …

    Thanks for helping me to relive those memories, Agness!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 28, 2014, 2:08 am

      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!

      Reply
  • Agness Walewinder March 28, 2014, 2:09 am

    And it tasted delicious as well!

    Reply
  • Taylor March 28, 2014, 3:40 am

    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.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 29, 2014, 5:08 am

      Great to hear that Taylor. If you have some questions regarding cheap accommodation or more food, don’t hesitate to email me! I’m always happy to help!

      Reply
    • Paulo Tan-Travel Bugs April 9, 2014, 2:26 pm

      Welcome to Singapore! It is not so expensive as everybody thought. Relax and have a great time here!

      Reply
      • Agness Walewinder April 10, 2014, 8:45 am

        TRUE! TRUE! TRUE!

  • Charlie March 29, 2014, 9:45 am

    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.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 30, 2014, 3:48 am

      The accommodation prices are high, but not the food.

      Reply
  • Heather March 29, 2014, 11:35 pm

    Love Singapore’s Hawker Centers! We went to three different ones and everything we ate was so good!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 30, 2014, 3:47 am

      I went to only one, but I wanted to visit more!

      Reply
  • Emily March 30, 2014, 1:15 am

    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!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 30, 2014, 3:46 am

      Don’t worry Emily about your food spendings. Singapore is cheap as long as you find Hawker centers.

      Reply
  • ben March 30, 2014, 2:20 am

    I haven’t visited Hawker Center yet, but would love to go there! :D

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 30, 2014, 3:45 am

      You definitely should. The best and cheapest local food is sold there.

      Reply
  • Jennifer March 30, 2014, 7:12 pm

    Oh my gosh Hawker food is soooo good. I went on Airport road and loved it!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 31, 2014, 1:35 am

      It is, indeed. Missed out the Airport road though, but Maxwell Hawker Center was amazing!

      Reply
  • Catherine March 30, 2014, 9:24 pm

    Hadn’t heard of these hawker centers before, but they sound amazing! All of the food looks delicious too :)

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder March 31, 2014, 1:33 am

      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.

      Reply
  • Lauren April 4, 2014, 3:44 pm

    This looks like a great experience – I’m happy to hear that there are so many vegetarian stalls, too! I’d love to give it a try!

    Reply
  • April April 6, 2014, 11:32 pm

    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.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder April 7, 2014, 3:33 am

      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 :).

      Reply
  • Rebekah April 7, 2014, 3:16 pm

    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.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder April 8, 2014, 12:44 am

      We mostly grazed over the options. We shared a couple of meals together.

      Reply
  • Shalu Sharma April 7, 2014, 4:13 pm

    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.

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder April 8, 2014, 12:43 am

      It’s not only affordable, but all of these dishes were nicely served and tasted good.

      Reply
  • Jasmine Brown April 8, 2014, 3:34 am

    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

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder April 8, 2014, 9:05 am

      It would, that’s for sure! Thanks Jasmine for stopping by.

      Reply
  • Paulo Tan-Travel Bugs April 8, 2014, 3:20 pm

    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!

    Reply
  • Jonathan Look, Jr. April 8, 2014, 4:05 pm

    I am impressed that you can even think about being in Singapore on your budget. Very well done!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder April 10, 2014, 8:50 am

      Cheers mate!

      Reply
  • SJ @ Chasing the Donkey April 10, 2014, 9:36 pm

    I’ll take…. um, hmmm, lemme think ONE OF EVERYTHING. I miss Asian food so much here in Croatia. YUMMMY!

    Reply
    • Agness Walewinder April 11, 2014, 1:03 am

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

      Reply

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