When it comes to food, Singapore is in a league of its own. Singaporeans don't eat to live, they live to eat. As one of the most culturally diverse countries in Asia, home to a fusion of cultures from Chinese and Peranakan to Indian and Malay, the local food scene is like a culinary tour through Asia.
One of the best ways to truly get lost and experience the real Singapore is to bypass the western-style restaurants (I'm looking at you McDonalds) and dine where the locals do - hawker centres. You can find everything from hokkien mee and pad thai to chicken rice and thalis under the one roof.
What is a hawker centre?
Hawker centres are essentially open air food courts where you can find a huge range of cuisines. The food is cheap, but doesn't lack in quality and flavour. There are over 120 centres scattered throughout Singapore, with most of them located close to housing estates or public transport. Each centre can house anywhere from 50 to 100 plus food stalls, with a melting pot of dishes on offer. If you're unsure of what to try first, just join the longest queue and you won’t be disappointed.
Being so cheap, you could be forgiven for assuming the food might be poor quality. Not true. There are very strict rules and regulations to ensure kitchens are hygienic. If a stallholder drops their game, they run the risk of having the stall taken off them. That’s their livelihood, so it's in their best interest to keep standards up. Look out for the green cleanliness signs posted at the front of each stall - A and B ratings are your best options.
Top 5 hawker centresMaxwell Road Food Centre -
This hawker centre on the edge of Chinatown offers one of the best selections of food. Be sure to try Tian Tian Chicken Rice and Zhen Zhen Porridge’s traditional congee with pork and century egg.Makansutra Gluttons Bay -
Situated on beautiful Marina Bay, Makansutra is an absolute must. Be sure to try the Makansutra Gluttons Bay Sampler. Served on a banana leaf, it features up to ten of the centre’s best dishes.Tiong Bahru Market -
Tiong Bahru is one of the best markets in Singapore. The market is divided into different sections - e.g. meats, fish and flowers - and offers a great insight into day-to-day life. Be sure to try dishes such as kong bak (marinated pork in a bun) and abacus seed balls (similar to gnocchi) in the hawker centre upstairs.East Coast Lagoon Village -
Located right near the beach, East Coast Lagoon Food Village is a great place to enjoy authentic food such as BBQ seafood, chicken wings, satay and beef noodles.Lau Pa Sat -
The oldest food market in Singapore, Lau Pa Sat is famous for is its wide selection of local food and delicacies, touting famous dishes such as satay and barbecued seafood.
How to order and pay at a hawker centre
1. Find your table before you order. Communal sharing of the tables is the norm here. You could have someone from the group mind the table while you go to order. Take note of the table number before you head to a food stall.
2. Do a scout of the stalls to see what takes your fancy as far as menu and price – but by all means order from more than one stall. It's not a bad idea to check out the cleanliness rating on the front of each stall when making your final selection.
3. To place your order, join a queue (the longer the queue, the better the food) and wait for the cook's assistant to call you.
4. If the stall has a 'self-service' sign it means you need to take you plate to your table yourself, other stalls will ask for the number of your table and deliver the food.5. If it is being delivered, you pay when your food arrives.