Explore Singapore

Singapore Must-Eats: A Hawker Center How-To

Food, Things to Do, Travel Tips, What's New — By Natalie Lennox on June 30, 2010 at 5:21 pm
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Image: williamcho

In Singapore, the food is just as eclectic and fun as the city. Some of the best eats can be found in what they call Hawker Center also known as “food courts”. These are basically a glorified (and more structured) form of street food strategically placed throughout any populated area. The best hawkers will be bustling with locals during any meal time. If you are touring quickly through Singapore, it can be overwhelming and a bit intimidating trying to figure out what to order and how to do it.

When walking up to a Hawker Center, it’s always nice to take your time and look around the different stands. If you have a bag with you, find a seat or table first and set your things down. It will be there when you get back. If you see a seat with tissues on it, that is the locals version of the seat save. Most stands will have pictures, and owners who will do anything to have you order from them. Once you have picked something out, point out where you’re seat is, and go grab a Tiger beer or cane sugar juice at one of the drink stands. They will come bring out your food when it’s ready, at which point you will also pay (some stands may have a sign that says “queue up” or “self service” in which case you must wait in line for your food). Don’t try to barter the price down; hawker food tends to be the cheap anyway, and it’s not in the culture to cheat anyone, even tourists.

If you are overwhelmed with the choices, it’s usually a good idea to see what everyone else is eating (the longer the line, the better the food, is what we hear), or look for some of our Singapore favorites:

Wonton Noodles

Wanton Noodles

These noodles are thin, round and stringy. Try eating them with chop sticks and don’t be afraid to slurp them up. If you like it spicy, ask for them “hot” (asking for “spicy” will probably not get the point across). They come with pieces of pork on top, but if you don’t want them, it’s okay to ask for your noodles without. The wonton is a small dumpling, usually filled with shrimp that is most often found in a warm broth. It is a gift from the Asian gods. They should be plump and delicious. A bowl of this should be served as a side to your noodles.

Chili Crab

Image: VirtualErn

Singapore is well known for its seafood. It’s most famous dish is the Chili or Pepper Crab. It is one of the more expensive items, but definitely worth trying at least once. It can take up to 15 minutes to prepare, and should definitely be shared with at least one other person.

Chicken Rice

image: avlxyz

This dish is a Singapore staple. If you ask 10 local where to get the best chicken rice, you will get 10 different answers. You can choose steamed or roasted chicken on a delicious pile of white rice that has been simmered slowly in chicken stock. There are some dipping sauces that accompany the chicken, but our favorite is the chili sauce.

Kaya Toast

Image: goosmurf

The best way to start any Singapore morning. Select Hawker centers will have a coffee, breakfast stand. When you find this, add it your daily routine. Kaya is a jam made from coconut and eggs, looks a lot like butter , but is intensely sweet. They will toast the bread and spread the melting kaya across while its still warm. Traditionally this process was done over charcoal, but now they use toasters. Before taking off, don’t forget your kopi (coffee) made with condensed milk and very strong beans. Iced or regular,  you can get it to go and take it in a baggie with you!

BBQ Sting Ray

BBQ Sting Ray

Although it may sound really unappetizing, BBQ sting ray is a different kind of delicious. You may never go anywhere else in the world before you get to try this one again, so definitely go for it. When you walk up to this hawker stand, they will have a mix of many fish and seafood laying on ice right upfront. Pick out which one you want, and choose half or full (half is plenty for two people). If you take your chop sticks and lightly scape the meat off the top, it’s relatively easy to eat. It is tender, juicy, and the BBQ sauce is like nothing you have tasted before. If it is fresh, it shouldn’t have a fishy taste.

Fried Carrot Cake

White Carrot Cake

Fried Carrot Cake, also know as “Chai Tow Kway” (菜頭粿) looks of like a pile of mush, but tastes like heaven. You can get it either white of black. Black is made with a sweet sauce, while white is a little more savory. It is made with white radish, which is also referred to as “white carrot” in Singapore, which is how it got its name. It is mixed with rice flour, then fried. The carrot cake is cut into pieces and stir fried with eggs, diced garlic, spring onion, and preserved radish. It can be eaten at any meal, but we prefer to have it in the evening because it is pretty heavy. If you like it spicy, it usually comes with a dollop of spicy sauce on the side.

Tags: "Chicken Rice", "Hawker Centre", "Local Cuisine", "Singapore food", Singapore

    4 Comments

  • Clement says:

    looks great! its interesting to see all this fascinating food from a visitor’s POV. Singaporeans quirks and idiosyncrasies shine through here. awesome post!

  • Corinne says:

    Very interesting and informative. A unique cultural experience just reading this!

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