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Hawker centres 101: The best places to eat, what food to order and more

Ask any self-proclaimed Singaporean foodie where to get the best food in town, and the answer will be the same – “hawker centres”. Here you’ll find a wide assortment of food choices – from Chinese and Malay to Indian and uniquely Singaporean cuisine – all at inexpensive prices.

Did You Know?

There are over 100 hawker centres of all sizes dotted on this tiny island. Each year, the National Environment Agency (NEA) grades every stall on a system from A to D based on the hygiene practices and cleanliness of the stall’s premises. However, don’t make the mistake of only patronising A-graded stalls. From experience, the best food nearly always comes from the lower graded (but acceptably clean) stalls!

Share tables. No small talk needed; just enjoy your food. 

In the Beginning

In the 1950s and early 1960s after Singapore had gained its independence, many people started hawking food on the streets in order to make a living. It wasn’t long before poor sanitation became a problem. So, the government decided to group the hawkers together and relocate them into small stalls within purpose-built facilities. Thus, “hawker centres” were born.  

“Rules” of Engagement

  • “Chope” (reserve) your table with a packet of tissue paper before you buy your food. (Likewise, don’t take tables that have a tissue packet on it.) Why tissues? These double up as napkins since hawker centres don’t tend to offer any for free.
  • Share tables. Don’t be alarmed if someone asks to take the unoccupied seat next to you. No small talk needed; just enjoy your food.
  • Use small notes and change. Stallholders might not appreciate your $100 note for a $3.20 plate of noodles.
  • Take note of your table number. Generally, food will be served to you if you provide your table number (or at least point in the general direction of where you are sitting).


Top 5 Must-Visit Hawker Centres

Old Airport Road Food Centre

Chinatown Complex Market

East Coast Lagoon Food Village

Newton Food Centre

Maxwell Food Centre

…. And, of course, the food.

Char Kway Teow

With so many stalls, where to start? Grab a friend – you’ll need someone to share with – and follow this guide.

On your first visit:
Starters: satay (skewered meat on a stick, usually comes with a thick peanut sauce for dipping and rice wrapped in palm leaves)
Mains: Chicken rice and chilli crabs (Singapore’s unofficial national dishes)
Dessert: tang yuan (glutinous rice balls served in peanut or ginger soup, Singapore’s version of mochi)

On your second visit:
Starters: popiah (finely-grated steamed turnip, jicama and other ingredients wrapped inside a thin, paper-like crepe)
Main: char kway teow (rice noodles fried in a wok with prawns, cockles, bean sprouts and sweet black soya sauce) and laksa (spicy noodle soup with shrimp and cockles)
Dessert: cendol (green noodles made from green pea flour with coconut cream, shaved ice and palm sugar)

On your third visit:
Starters: rojak (Asia’s version of a salad)
Mains: bak chor mee (minced meat noodles cooked al dente) and roti prata (Indian flatbread served with curry sauce)
Dessert: bubur cha-cha (sweet potatoes, yam, sago and tapioca jelly-like squares cooked in sweet coconut milk)

Want more information? Visit www.myhawkers.sg.