Singapore Hawker Markets
For a true local experience in Singapore, you have to head to one of the city’s 114 hawker centres. Built by the government during the 1970s to house those who sold their food along the streets, these hubs of national fare are set to increase to 127 by 2027.
In fact, hawkers centres are so integral to Singaporean culture that this year a nomination was submitted to inscribe hawker culture into the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Even Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who has described hawker centres as “our community dining rooms” has been spotted patiently queuing for fried chicken wings at the Redhill Food Centre.
While it would take many meals to eat your way through all 114 hawker centres, these standouts are great places to start.
NEWTON CIRCUS FOOD CENTRE
500 Clemenceau Avenue, S229495
This famous foodie must serves up a multi-sensory preview of the culinary extravaganza that is Singapore. Not to be missed are two Michelin Bib Gourmand winners. Alliance Seafood (#01-27) is a crowd-pleaser, with its menu of chili crab, black pepper crab, cereal prawns and sambal stingray. Heng (#01-28) garners a loyal following for chunks of white radish cakes with small prawns in egg batter to golden crispiness. Smaller appetites can check out Bee Heng Popiah (#01-12). Its local take on the wrap features shredded turnip, eggs, prawns, bean sprouts, lettuce, with sambal chili and sweet black sauces. Many stalls open from noon to 2am, so get ready to indulge in some late-night feasting.
HONG LIM MARKET & FOOD CENTRE
531A Upper Cross Street, S051531
Many stalls have been here for years, with some now run by the second generation. Thronging with residents from the Chinatown estate in the morning, it is packed with office workers from the nearby Central Business District during lunch hour. Arrive early and get in line at Bib Gourmand winner Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa (#02-66) for a bowl of its signature dish. Thick white noodles, along with fishcake, prawns, cockles, dried bean curd and chicken, are dunked into a spicy soup made with coconut, scallops, oysters and prawns. Ah Heng Duck Rice (#02-64) serves traditional Teochew-style braised duck, which you can eat on its own or with white rice and sides like braised egg, pig skin, pork belly, pork intestines and preserved vegetables. For a snack, there’s Granny’s Pancake (#02-39). Known as min jiang kueh, its warm fluffy pancakes come with different fillings such as crushed peanuts, shredded coconut, and red bean paste.
FENGSHAN MARKET & FOOD CENTRE
85 Bedok North Street 4, S460085
Ask someone from Singapore’s eastern side for recommendations and you’ll likely be directed here. Nestled in a quiet residential estate, it’s relatively modest with just over 50 stalls. As night falls and the dinner crowd descends, it transforms into a bustling enclave spilling over with revellers both young and old. It is noted for not just one, but two stalls that sell bak chor mee, or minced pork noodles; Seng Hiang (#01-08) is richer in taste while Xing Ji (#01-07) is lighter. Otherwise, Michelin Bib Gourmand recipient Shi Wei Da Satay Beehoon (#01-41) throws thin rice noodles, pork, prawns, cuttlefish, cockles, fried bean curd and kangkong together, topped with dollops of fragrant satay sauce.
ABC BRICKWORKS MARKET & FOOD CENTRE
Blk 6 Jalan Bukit Merah, S150006
Originally named for the Archipelago Brewery Company sited down the road when it was completed in 1970, ABC Brickworks Market & Food Centre enjoys a piping hot reputation. Meat lovers, scurry over to Fatty Cheong Roast (#01-120) for generous chunks of its bu jian tian (translated literally as ‘don’t see sky’ in Mandarin) char siew. Cut from the pig’s armpit, it’s topped with a translucent layer of fat for an unforgettably juicy taste. One of the longest lines can be found at Wow Wow West (#01-133) – everyone walks away happily with a huge portion of Western classics such as Fish and Chips or Grilled Chicken Chop. Prepare to wait at least 30 minutes at Tiong Bahru Yi Sheng Hokkien Mee (#01-13), where the goggles-wearing Uncle Toh whips up plates of Michelin Gourmand Bib-winning Hokkien noodles, topped with prawns, squid and pork belly. Make sure you squeeze some lime over the noodles for that extra oomph.
MAXWELL FOOD CENTRE
1 Kadayanallur Street, 069184
Four words: Tian Tian Chicken Rice (#01-10 & 11). Arguably Singapore’s favourite – Anthony Bourdain and Gordan Ramsay writing for the Michelin Guide, thought so too – this Hainanese chicken rice specialist serves ice-cold, melt-in-the-mouth chicken atop aromatic white rice accompanied by shredded ginger and chili and soy sauces. While waiting, consider a quick bite or two, like the delicious deep-fried snacks from Lim Kee (Orchard) Banana Fritters (#01-61) or Maxwell Fuzhou Oyster Cake (#01-05). Maxwell Food Centre, which was known as Kim Hua Market in 1935, was where fishmongers and butchers peddled their fare until 1986.
CHOMP CHOMP FOOD CENTRE
20 Kensington Park Road, 557269
Char kway teow, or fried noodles, the way Singaporeans love them are moist, slightly sweet, and loaded with cockles and bean sprouts. Turns out, that’s how Chomp Chomp Fried Kway Teow Mee (#01-35) does it too! Venture a little down the aisle to Chong Pang Huat (#01-26), and order yourself a pair of BBQ chicken wings and drumstick. Smoky in aroma and juicy in taste, these glowing goodies will have you returning for seconds. Many stalls at Chomp Chomp open from late afternoon to midnight.
OLD AIRPORT ROAD FOOD CENTRE
51 Old Airport Road, 390051
Toa Payoh Rojak (#01-108), run by an elderly gentleman and his son, is well-loved for the local salad. Ingredients usually include fried dough sticks, pineapple, dried bean curd puff, cucumber, bean sprouts, water spinach and Chinese turnip, but customers can choose according to preference. These are mixed together with a sauce made of fermented prawn paste, sugar, lime and chili paste for a sweet-sour-spicy flavour. Freshly Made Chee Cheong Fun (#01-155) does hand-made velvety smooth rice sheets with fillings like prawns and roast pork, drizzled over with a salty-sweet sauce and a sprinkling of yummy fried shallots. Don’t leave without tucking into soothing bean curd dessert – get it from Lao Ban (#01-127).
How To Make The Most Of Your Trip
#1. Arrive early. If you’re visiting on a weekday, 11.30am is best, before the lunch crowd descends. That also gives you enough time to check out the stalls, decide what to order, and get in line. On weekends, however, food centres fill up as early as during breakfast.
#2. Bring along a packet of tissues and leave it on the table you wish to occupy. It’s an unspoken code to indicate that the seat is taken. And it’s terribly rude to remove a packet of tissues (or an umbrella or even an office pass) that’s not yours.
#3. Get yourself a seat before getting your food (see #2). Otherwise, you can politely ask if you can share a table – or wait quietly behind someone who looks as if he or she is finishing a meal and pray that he or she is really finishing a meal.
#4. Be mindful about mixing cutlery. Food served to Muslims in Singapore must be halal, that is, prepared according to Islamic dietary laws. As a form of respect for the community, never use the same (non-disposable) spoon to eat halal and non-halal food.
#5. Return crockery and cutlery after your meal. Tray return remains a contentious topic for various reasons among locals, although it is generally agreed this is a gracious act. At the very least, it will earn you a smile from the centres’ elderly cleaners.
Selector would like to thank Asian Inspirations, Mary Lim and June Teh for sharing their Singapore with us.