A Beginner’s Guide To The Singapore Hawker Center

Note from Editors: In view of the current situation, please avoid all unnecessary travel and try to stay home. Don’t worry, like all things, it will end at some point and you’ll be able to travel again. In the meantime, check out what you can do while staying at home.

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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.

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!

Hawker Center at Maxwell Road, Singapore

Address:1 Kadayanallur St Singapore 069184.

Open time: Daily 8am – 10pm.

Your daily budget: $10-$30.

Hawker Center at Maxwell Road, Singapore
A typical food stall

#2 Newton Circus. 

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.

Hawker Center at Maxwell Road, Singapore

Address: 500 Clemenceau Ave NorthSingapore 229495.

Open time: Daily 12pm – 2am.

Your daily budget: $10-$25.

Hawker Center at Maxwell Road, Singapore

#3 Lau Pa Sat.

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!

Hawker Center at Maxwell Road, Singapore

Address: 8 Raffles Quay, Singapore 048582.

Open time: 24/7

Your daily budget: $10-$35

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.

#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.

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!

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

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Agness Walewinder
Agness Walewinder
Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
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88 thoughts on “A Beginner’s Guide To The Singapore Hawker Center”

  1. Bennett - The Further Adventures of Bennett

    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.

    1. Agness Walewinder

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

  2. 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.

  3. 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! :)

    1. Agness Walewinder

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

  4. 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… :)

  5. 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!

    1. Agness Walewinder

      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!

  6. 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.

    1. Agness Walewinder

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

  7. 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!

    1. Agness Walewinder

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

  8. santafetraveler

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

  9. Escape Hunter

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

      1. Escape Hunter

        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 :)

  10. Marek Indietraveller

    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!

  11. Pedro @ Travel with Pedro

    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! :-)

    1. Agness Walewinder

      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!

  12. 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! :)

    1. Agness Walewinder

      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!

  13. Jess @UsedYorkCity

    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!

  14. 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?!!

  15. 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!

    1. Agness Walewinder

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

  16. 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.

    1. Agness Walewinder

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

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