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Everything you need to know about Hawker Centres

Eating at one of Singapore’s Hawker Centres is a gastronomic experience that no traveller that visits this country should miss. Singapore’s cuisine is one of the most diverse in the world because it is influenced by several Asian countries such as China, India or Malaysia and also from European and Arabic cuisine. Singapore is the most expensive country in Southeast Asia, but it’s not impossible to travel or eat on a budget, Hawker Centres are a paradise for low-budget foodies. In this post we will share exactly what Hawker Centres are, where to find them and which are our favourites:

The origin of Hawker Centres

Street food stands are still very common all over Asia,  because in this part of the world it isn’t very common to have fixed meal times, so you’ll see people eating at any hour during the day at restaurants or in the streets.  Back in the day, Singapore was very similar to its neighboring countries, but because it is such a modern nation, it decided to house all street food vendors under the same roof. This way they were able to run their businesses in the same place so that sanitary inspections could be frequently carried out. 

What are Hawker Centers?

Hawker Centers are housed in large open spaces where you will find many food and drink stalls. The stalls are set up on every wall side of the open space and in the middle you can find lots of tables where you can sit and eat. Although these are usually very sparse spaces, the food is excellent.

People eating at the Telok Ayer Hawker Centre - Singpore

What do you need to know before going to a Hawker Centre?

Although it may seem chaotic because there are a lot of stalls and a lot of people, the way the Hawker Centres work is quite simple. Here are some tips and “unwritten” rules that apply to these centres:

  • You’ll have to go through all the stalls to decide what to eat. Please note that this is not an easy decision because there is a great variety of food from different countries.
  • No matter from what stall you buy your food, you can sit at any table that is free, even if it’s not in front of the stall. In Europe it’s true that the tables of each restaurant are right in front of it and it’s seen badly if you sit at other tables. In Singapore the space is common and what is important is not where you sit but to enjoy the food.
  • At Hawker Centres it’s very common to leave a personal item on a chair so that no one can take it until you have ordered the food, people often leave tissues or a business card. If you see any of these items on the table or the chair, don’t take them off because someone has reserved the seat.
  • There are no tables for 2, all of them are big and can hold from 4 up to 10 people. Anyone looking for a free place can sit at your table. We think this is good because this way you can start a conversation with people and make friends from all over the world.
  • At peak hours, when all the workers from the surrounding building go for lunch, the centres are usually overcrowded and it can be difficult to find a place to sit.
  • Don’t worry if you’re not very good at eating with chopsticks. All centres provide spoons and forks too. The bad thing is they are made of plastic, so we recommend you bring your own re-usable cutlery.
  • When you have finished eating, collect all the plates and cutlery and place the tray in one of the tray carriers that you will see next to each stall.
  • Hawker Centres are usually pretty traditional and very few stalls accept credit cards. Be sure to bring cash when you go to eat at one of these centres.
  • Most Hawker Centres are open all day and there are also a few which never close.

How much does it cost to eat at a Hawker Center?

At the beginning of this post we said that Singapore is an expensive country, but that it is possible to travel and eat on a budget. Hawker Centres are the cheapest places to eat in Singapore. A complete meal usually costs somewhere between 3 to 6 SGD (Singapore Dollars) and the drinks cost around 1-2 SGD. One of the best things was that we never spent more than 15 SGD ( approx. €10) for the both of us.

Where to find Hawker Centres?

There are Hawker Centres all over Singapore. Downtown (the financial area of Singapore) and Chinatown are the areas where you can find most of them, but you can also find some in other areas farther away from the city centre. Our favourites are:

Lau Pa Sat or Telok Ayer Market

This is one of the oldest Hawker Centres in Singapore. We found it by chance walking down the street. It was later that we realised that this is one of the most famous centres that everyone goes to. This centre is located in 18 Raffles Quay and the nearest metro stations are Telok Ayer and Downtown.

Young travel couple We Collect Postcards at Telok Ayer Hawker Centre - Singapur

Market Street Interim

Just like Lau Pa Sat we found this centre as we wandered around the streets of Singapore. After researching we had created a preferred list of places we “had to go to” but we didn’t go to any of them because we found the others strolling the streets. The centre is located Downtown, two blocks away from Lau Pa Sat and near the Telok Ayer metro station.

Chinatown Food Street

As the name says, this is a street full of food stands. It can be considered a Hawker Centre because it works in the same way. There are a lot of stalls in the middle and on both sides of the street and between them you can find a lot of tables where you can sit to eat. This particular place is located in Chinatown, on Smith St.

These are 3 of our favourites but there are some others which are well-known amongst travellers, that they would also recommend:

  • Maxwell Food Centre – also in Downtown (1 Kadayanallur St)
  • Gluttons Bay – overlooking the Marina Bay Sands hotel (#01, 8 Raffles Ave)
  • Old Airport Road Food Centre – one of the oldest Hawker Centres in Singapore – (Block 51 Old Airport Road)
  • Tiong Bahru Market Hawker Centre – one of the most famous centres (30 Seng Poh Rd)

What kind of food do they serve?

So you’re probably wondering …okay, but what do I eat there?

As we mentioned at the beginning of this post, in Hawker Centres you can find all kinds of food. You will find traditional dishes from Singapore, China, Malaysia, India, Indonesia and also some European and American dishes. From rice, noodles or satay to fried chicken,  you can also find a variety of food and it is impossible to starve.

Asian food at Telok Ayer Hawker Centre - Singapur

Now that you know everything about Hawker Centres, all you need to do is go, find one them and enjoy the flavours of Singapore. Of course, there are also many restaurants in Singapore, but if you travel on a budget or want to meet local people, there’s no better place to go than a Hawker Centre.

Enjoy!

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