Singapore’s best street food and hawker centres

Hawker centres are a great way to treat your taste buds to Singapore’s culinary delights. Find out how you can get the most out of these cheap eats.

Hainanese chicken rice being prepared on a bench
  • Jetstar
  • March 2018

You’ve gotta love a place where friends will greet each other with ‘Have you eaten?’ instead of ‘Hi, how are you?’ Food is a major obsession in Singapore and this delightful greeting just gets straight down to the tasty business of sharing a meal.

The quickest way to dive into Singapore’s famed food scene and those classic local dishes that riff on Singapore’s Chinese, Indian and Malay heritage is by making a beeline to one of the many hawker centres in town.

What exactly is a hawker centre?

Hawker centres are hubs of hawker stalls – small stands selling street food. They ain’t fancy – they’re basically a no-frills, undercover dining area surrounded by stalls of sizzling, sensational Singaporean food. They’re rarely air conditioned – they’re just simple food courts where you can order some ultra cheap, good quality local food, find a seat and get eating.

What can you get there?

For just a few bucks, you can get some great local dishes, sweet drinks, the occasional, increasing hipster fusion versions and even a Michelin-starred meal. There are traditional family dishes like Hainanese chicken rice (Tian Tian opens in new window at Maxwell Food Centre is most famed for this dish), spicy, soupy laksa, fat char kway teow noodles, and crisp but chewy roti prata flatbread, as well as Thai, Korean, Turkish and Japanese food.

For the cheapest Michelin-starred meals you might have on your trip, queue up (and yes, you will need to queue so wear comfy shoes and bring a good book) for a serve of chef Chan Hon Meng’s famous soya sauce chicken and rice at Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle opens in new window or chef Tang Chay Seng’s Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle opens in new window.

Grilling skewers of meat in Thailand.
Skewers being grilled in a hawker centre, Singapore

What are some top tips for eating at a hawker centre?

The biggest issue is seating. Tables and chairs are communal and do not belong to allocated stalls so it’s a first in, best dressed scenario. If there’s a spare seat at a table, ‘chope’ (reserve) it by putting a pack of tissues down before going to order your meal. If you see a pack, don’t move it and don’t take the seat. (You can buy packs of tissues from convenience stores or street sellers.) This habit has attracted some recent controversy so don’t be surprised if you see signs up forbidding it.

Bring cash – dishes are so cheap that stalls might not accept a credit card for a $3 bowl of noodles. And return your tray to the collection points like a good citizen. (Make sure not to mix halal and non-halal trays and crockery.)

There are hand-washing stations so you can rid your mitts of greasy residue, but BYO those handy packs of tissues to dry them.

If stalls say ‘self service’, you’ll need to wait and collect your meal rather than have it delivered to your table. If you want your meal to go, there’s a small fee for takeaway packaging.