Whether you consider yourself an adventurous eater or not, a visit to one of Singapore’s Hawker Centers is a must. Contrary to some travelers’ beliefs, hawker centers are not as chocked full of weird eats as you might think. Hawker center just means “cooked food center” and was the name given to open-air eateries in Singapore and other spots like Malaysia and Hong Kong.
In Singapore, hawker centers gained popularity in the 1950’s after vendors sought to fight against unhygienic food preparation by unlicensed food vendors. Today, you are likely to find more indoor, air-conditioned versions of the traditional open-air centers that were popular then.
At first glance, hawker centers may seem a bit overwhelming, but they are quite similar to food courts and food markets you’ve experienced elsewhere. Wondering how to dine at a Singapore hawker center? Here are some tips to make you look like a pro:
- Pick your Hawker Center
- Wander past the stalls and check out the offerings, looking for longer lines which are typically an indication of the best eats.
- Stake out a seat. If you are dining alone, a package of tissues is usually recognized as a placeholder. If you are dining in a group, you can leave someone to hold spots.
- Memorize your table number!
- Once you order food from the stalls, tell them the table number and vendors will deliver food right to you, unless the stall is denoted as “self-service.”
- Drinks are typically sold in separate stalls and, during peak times, many vendors will come around selling drinks right at the table.
- Leave trays and plates right at the table when you are finished.
One of the most important tips in regards to dining at a hawker center is respecting Halal vendors. Many vendors are expressly certified, Halal, which is serious business in Singapore. If you are ordering food at other non-Halal stalls, the plates, trays, utensils, etc., can never touch. There are usually reminders posted, but it’s important to always keep that in mind.
Some of Singapore’s hawker centers are legendary and have received notable press. Here’s a couple to include in your Singapore travel itinerary.
- Maxwell Food Centre: One of the most popular hawker centers with locals, this is one market where you might discover more adventurous eats like fish porridge or unfamiliar cuts of meat, or Singapore’s beloved fish head curry. Maxwell Food Centre is also a popular option for breakfast.
- Chinatown Night Market: As the sun goes down, the Chinatown Night Market is the place to be. Lots of traditional Chinese and other Asian specialties can be found here.
- Tekka Market: If you are interested in Indian cuisine, check out Tekka Market. Tekka has fewer stalls, but the Indian cuisine offered here is among the best.
- Newton Circus Food Centre: Newton Circus is one of the most popular hawker centers with international visitors, but the prices also reflect that. Newton is known for sambal stingray, wherein the fish is cooked in a mixture of chilies, shrimp paste, and limes.