Singapore’s hawker centers (collections of independently owned and operated food stalls) are justifiably famous. It is practically a cliché for visitors to tout these cheap, abundant, vibrant, and eclectic assemblages of eateries as some of the very best phenomena that the region has to offer. Whether it’s a cliché or not, it’s certainly true. While Singapore is one of the most expensive travel destinations in Southeast Asia, the high cost of goods and services can be offset considerably by treating yourself to a steady diet of Chinese-influenced and other pan-Asian dishes featuring: grilled, roasted, barbecued, and steamed meats, chilies, fermented shrimp paste and other exotic condiments, and mountains of noodles. The majority of these dishes are available around the city for as little five dollars.
Most hawker centers are self-service, but it’s advisable in some of the busier locations to reserve a spot at one of the cafeteria-style tables before proceeding with the happy business of procuring your meal. The etiquette is casual, if a little chaotic. After a little experimentation you’ll soon discover that the more aggressive restaurateurs (calling and barking in the hope of attracting customers) are often best avoided in lieu of their quieter (and more popular) neighboring establishments. Almost all the food available at the hawker centers is good, but the best of the best don’t need (or have time) to invest much energy in attracting diners.
It’s perfectly fine to identify the hawker center nearest your hotel and stick primarily to it, but if you want to sample the best establishments in the city, request directions to the Old Airport Road Food Centre, the Chinatown Smith Street Food Centre, and the East Coast Lagoon Food Village.