Our latest guest blogger is Edna Zhou of travel blog Expat Edna. She’s a self-confessed serial expat who first moved abroad at 18. Since then she has lived worked in China, Singapore, and Australia. Currently based in Paris, she writes about her travels on her blog, while you can also follow her on twitter or like her on facebook
A trip to a hawker center is an absolute must when visiting Singapore. In these open-air food courts, you can take part in an experience near and dear to every Singaporean – eating. For Singaporeans don’t just love to eat…they live to eat – and with a cultural diversity like theirs, who can blame them? In these hawker centers you can easily find dishes influenced by a variety of cuisines, from fish noodles and roti prata to nasi goreng and pad thai. A walk through a hawker center can feel like a culinary tour through Asia, just with a Singaporean twist.
In a country known for its high cost of living, hawker centers are also delightfully cheap and unassuming. There’s no need to dress up here, and all you need to do to reserve a seat is place a pack of tissues on it. Most dishes will run you about S$4. Throw down another dollar or two for a freshly squeezed fruit juice (tip: watermelon and fresh mint is especially refreshing) and there you have it – a cheap, delicious, and authentic local meal.
If you’re overwhelmed by choice and unsure which stall to choose in a hawker center, here’s a good rule of thumb: The longer the line, the better the food. Singaporeans know their food, and aren’t afraid to queue for the best.
Here are my top 5 five hawker centers to visit in Singapore:
1. Maxwell Road
If you can only go to one hawker center in Singapore, make it Maxwell. Located at the edge of Chinatown, this hawker center is home to over 100 stalls, and both locals and tourists alike flock here for the variety of cuisines and local specialties. The quality is also unbeatable — here you’ll also find some of the best chicken rice and fish bee hoon on the island.
2. Newton Circus
One of Singapore’s most historical hawker centers, Newton Food Center (commonly referred to as Newton Circus) has been serving customers since 1971. Over the years it has become more touristy; consequently prices have gone up while food quality has not. Go to Newton if you want a primer on local food, or if you like people-watching in a lively atmosphere.
There is one upside to its popularity: To cater to the large number of tourists, several stalls now cook their dishes without pork or lard — making Newton the perfect place for those with dietary restrictions to try famous Singaporean pork/lard-based dishes like carrot cake and char kway teow.
3. Smith Street
Not your typical hawker center, Smith Street is an open-air food street located in the center of Chinatown. Each night, when the road is closed for pedestrian use, shop owners set out tables and open their food stalls for business — a throwback to the days when actual hawkers roamed the city, selling their foods from nomadic stalls. Smith Street is a relaxing place to be at night and best enjoyed with friends and beers.
4. Old Airport Road
Arguably the best hawker center in Singapore, it’s worth trekking out to the Singaporean heartlands just for a meal at Old Airport Road. Here the dishes will be even cheaper and the food even tastier, and your dining companions will most likely all be locals. Best of all, Old Airport Road is where you’ll find some of the best chilli crab in Singapore — and for less than half the price of the big name seafood restaurants.
5. Lau Pa Sat
Another historical hawker center, Lau Pa Sat is considered a national monument and has been in operation since the 1800s. Located in the heart of the CBD, Lau Pa Sat is often packed with businessmen at lunchtime — but when night falls, the atmosphere changes completely as satay stalls and beer vendors come out and set up an alfresco dining area. Forget the bars; you won’t find a better night in Singapore than enjoying sticks of chicken, beef, and prawn satay while knocking back cheap pints at Lau Pa Sat.
Have you been to Singapore? What was your favourite hawker centre?