Singapore is widely known to be a melting pot of cultures. As diverse as the people living in it is the food. Eating is a way of life for the Singaporeans. And what better way to sample authentic local cuisines than in hawker centres. These open-air buildings are lined with food stalls serving tasty street food enjoyed by Singaporeans on a daily basis.
In a land where the cost of living is high, hawker centres are a more budget-friendly alternative to dining and has a rather down-to-earth atmosphere. There is no dress code and seats are on a first come, first serve basis. It is a common practice to place a packet of tissues or an umbrella on the table to indicate that it’s taken. But don’t let this be a turn-off. Cheap definitely doesn’t mean sub-standard. Walking into a hawker centre is like going on a gastronomic tour of Asian specialties that have been mastered over generations.
Diners wanting to embark on this journey are usually confronted with two dilemmas: which hawker centre to go to and which food stall to patronize. The choices of food ranging from Chinese, Middle Eastern, Malay, and Indian among others can get quite overwhelming. But as the locals take their food seriously, take your cue from them and go with the stalls that have long lines. As for the food courts, here are some that are worth checking out:
Makansutra Glutton’s Bay, named after the famous food guide of Singapore, is very accessible and a good place to start your street food adventure. They have nasi lemak (mixed rice), luat (oyster omelette), satay (skewered meat barbecued to perfection and served with a peanut sauce), and roti prata (Indian pancakes eaten with curry). Customers also get to enjoy alfresco dining beside the Esplanade.
Maxwell Food Centre in Chinatown has over 100 stalls. Their specialties include rice porridge from Zhen Zhen Porridge, oyster cake from Mdm Hoon Delicacy’s Foochow, chicken rice from Tian Tian Chicken Rice, and fish bee hoon from Jin Hua Sliced Fish Bee Hoon.
Lau Pa Sat, or Telok Ayer Market, in Raffles Place has a very rich history. It was the country’s first wet market, hence the name which means ‘old market’ in Hokkien. The structure is tailored after Victorian architecture and is considered an icon of Singapore. It has gone far from its roots and is now a food haven famous for their satay.
Newton Food Centre, or Newton Circus, in Newton is popular for their seafood selection such as fish porridge and barbecued stingray. The sought-after chilli crabs can be sampled here at a much cheaper price than in restaurants.
East Coast Lagoon Food Village have what other hawker centres serve, like laksa (spicy seafood noodles with a curry-base soup) and claypot pig’s trotters. But what sets it apart is that it’s by the beach.
Old Airport Road Market is a favorite of locals. It’s farther to get to but the food is much cheaper and better-tasting. Matter Rd Seafood, Xin Mei Xiang Lor Mee, Toa Payoh Rojak, and Nam Sing Hokkien Mee are some of the popular stalls here.