A Beginner’s Guide to Singapore’s Hawker Centre Scene

A Beginner’s Guide to Singapore’s Hawker Centre Scene

Here's to start your gastronomic adventure in Singapore!

What makes Singapore quite so unique and appealing as a vacation destination is its colourful and multicultural atmosphere. The Lion City has so much history as a former British colony and, when you combine the Malaysian, Chinese and Muslim communities within the city, there is so much tradition to be explored when you pay a visit to the island.

Also read: 5 Unusual Hawker Stalls to Visit in Singapore

Too many people view Singapore as a stopover destination rather than a vacation destination in its own right. This article is designed to shine a light on one significant reason why fanatical foodies should at least consider a few days in the city-state to discover the authentic foods and flavours from its traditional Hawker Centres.

What is a Hawker Centre?

singapore hawker centre

Singapore – Maxwell Food Hawker Centre | Image credit: chriskay

A Hawker Centre is an open-air complex housing dozens of independent food stalls, each cooking up fresh Asian fare at affordable prices. It’s a gritty, humble dining experience; one which will often see you sitting amongst the locals who enjoy nothing more than watching the tourists over a nice cold Tiger beer, as explained in a Deliveroo article. If you’re travelling to Singapore and Southeast Asia on a tight budget, or you want to sample some humble authentic cuisines, a visit to a Singaporean Hawker Centre should be at the top of your to-do list.

Recommended Hawker Centre etiquette

Visiting a Hawker Centre for the very first time can be a somewhat daunting experience. There’s often lots of noise, some of the stall vendors are a little pushy but if you heed our advice you will ensure that you get the most out of your Hawker Centre visit.

As you enter your first open-air food centre, feel free to walk around and check out the plethora of stalls and cuisines available. After all, this is the only way to get what you’re looking for. Be careful not to get drawn in by pushy vendors who try and tout for business; those are generally not the best stalls and are only still in business because they pinpoint naïve tourists on a daily basis!

Once you know what and where you’re ordering from, go and find a table and a seat. It’s best to go up and order one by one so as not to lose your table. Some vendors will happily deliver food to your table, although others will ask you to wait by their stall while they cook it freshly.

After your meal, you are responsible for clearing away your plates, cutlery and glasses. Bins can be found with regularity in all Hawker Centres, so don’t even think about leaving your rubbish behind as this will go down like a lead balloon with the locals!

Three of our favourite Hawker Centres to get you started

Lau Pa Sat | Image credit: Kobetsai

Lau Pa Sat

A real feast for the eyes, as well as the stomach, Lau Pa Sat is certainly the most impressive of the city’s Hawker Centres. Situated a stone’s throw from Telok Ayer, this colonial-themed building originates from the 19th century and has a distinctive octagonal roof, cast iron columns and a beautiful clock tower that is great to watch whilst enjoying your meal. There are more than 80 different food vendors here, ranging from local Singaporean fare to other pan-Asian tastes such as Korean and Indonesian food as well as fresh seafood and sweet treats.

Newton Food Centre

This is a tourist favourite! We have a separate article just about what to eat at Newton Food Centre!

Maxwell Road Hawker Centre

You’ll find the Maxwell Road Hawker Centre in the heart of Singapore’s vibrant Chinatown. It gets particularly busy here during the lunchtime rush, as many of the city’s office workers are just a short walk from here and wanting to grab a quick bite to eat. If you’re visiting Maxwell Road for your first Hawker Centre experience, we’d suggest popping in later in the afternoon once the commuter crowds have dispersed.

East Coast Lagoon Village

Probably the most laid-back way to sample your first Hawker Centre would be to pay a visit to East Coast Lagoon Village, with its beachfront location overlooking the Straits of Singapore. As this particular Hawker Centre is on the beach, you’ll notice it specializes heavily in seafood dishes, which is great if you’re that way inclined!

Also read: 16 Local Foods You Must Try in Singapore

One thing to remember about Singapore is that food isn’t just a means to an end, it’s a form of love and friendship. These charming Hawker Centres will help to keep you grounded on your travels and demonstrate the true meaning of dining in Southeast Asia.

Brought to you by ICS‑digital LLP.

About Author

Sharon Goodes

Sharon is a freelance travel writer with over a decade of experience in the industry. Sharon has visited some of the most exotic places on the planet from Bali to Macau.