I don’t know about you but I find hawker centers pretty intimidating and I’ve been visiting them for years! I married into a Singaporean family so I was blessed with helpful local guides to order for me and introduce each dish to me. If it weren’t for them, I would have been completely lost. I’ve been visiting Singapore regularly for the last twelve years but, it wasn’t until I moved here last year that I started ordering food for myself. I was pretty intimidated those first few times. Thankfully, most hawkers are pretty understanding in their own matter-of-fact way.
If you are hawker center first-timer or new to Singapore, you can treat this as an intro list to Singapore’s hawker centers. I’ve chosen places based on my own experiences and surveyed fellow expats about their experiences. These are the places that came up over and over again. They are easy to get to, used to tourists and expats but still serve authentic local food.
Lau Pa Sat
Even if you have no interest in food (insert an expression of shock), Lau Pa Sat is worth a stop as one of the oldest Victorian structures in Southeast Asia. It was built as the first wet market in Singapore, dating back to the time of Sir Stamford Raffles, founder of modern Singapore and has been considered a national monument since 1973.
Lau Pa Sat was recently renovated and features a focus on local brands albeit with a slightly sanitized experience compared to other food centers. With it’s location in the heart of the Central Business District, it’s easy to get to and highlights the juxtaposition that Singapore does best, history surrounded by the ultra-modern.
Personally, I love heading down in the evenings for the satay street every night from 7:00 PM to 1:00 AM.
18 Raffles Quay, Singapore 048582
Maxwell Food Centre
One of the most famous food centers in Singapore, it has the distinction of being featured in Anthony Bourdain’s, “No Reservations” show. Even before, it was consistently written up as a place to visit wherever Singapore was featured and Maxwell Food Centre continues to be popular with the local population. It’s location in just a short distance from Singapore’s famous Buddha Tooth Relic Temple making it incredibly easy to get to.
Unlike Lau Pa Sat, Maxwell Food Centre will give you a more authentic hawker experience – big fans, open air and plenty of traditional local dishes. The hawkers may be somewhat brusque if things are busy but otherwise they are happy to help steer you in the right direction.
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice is particularly popular as is Maxwell Fuzhou Oyster Cake.
1 Kadayanallur St, Singapore 069184
It really doesn’t get more convenient than this hawker center located just across from the Great World City shopping center. Zion Riverside was renovated recently and is more airy than some of the older centers. Also, who wouldn’t love sitting next to the Singapore River, watching pedestrians and the odd bum boat go by.
The neighborhood is very popular with expats so you’ll have plenty of company if this is your first time in a hawker center. Despite the expat friendly neighborhood, you still get authentic dishes. Some of the most popular dishes here are Chai Tow Kway or white carrot (radish) cake, wanton noodles, or even a popular “Western” food stall.
70 Zion Rd, Singapore 247792
Lagoon at East Coast Beach
This hawker center has long been one of my favorites. There are so many wonderful foods to try here including some of my favorite laksa, duck rice, rojak, satay (ok, I’ll stop now). What makes this hawker center especially fun is that it’s located right next to the beach and a popular cycling path. I always feel like I’m on vacation here with the gentle sea breeze. Yes, Singapore really is a tropical island and this is one of the few places that reminds you of that.
1220 ECP, Singapore 468960
Tanjong Pagar Plaza
Another super convenient food center located on the second floor of Tajong Pagar Plaza Block 6. It’s just a 5 minute walk from the Tajong Pagar MRT stop and convenient if you are working or staying in the Central Business District (CBD).
Tajong Pagar Plaza is known for delicious curry puffs, which are like empanadas or meat pies but with curry inside. If you aren’t in the mood for curry puffs, the wanton noodles and fishball noodles are also very good here.
6 Tanjong Pagar Plaza, Singapore 081006
Old Airport Road Food Centre
There is so much good food to be had at this hawker center. It’s one of the older hawker centers on this list, I’m sure it will be renovated at some point but you should go before just to get the old school feel. I will admit that this hawker center is a bit overwhelming for the uninitiated but the overall quality of the food you get here is excellent. There are several Michelin-rated hawkers here but they often have long lines and are more expensive so if it’s your first time, expect to wait or sample some food at another less popular stall.
I recommend visiting this place off-peak around 11:30 AM or after 1:00 so you can avoid the rush. There are so many great options here, it’s hard to go wrong food-wise. I like the rojak, curry puff or bak chor mee (or minced meat noodles). There are also some good Western food options here as well.
51 Old Airport Rd, Singapore 390051
- Newton Food Centre – this food center gets a lot of press and is featured in the opening scene of Crazy, Rich Asians. I don’t find the food to be of the same quality as some of the other places but if you are close by, it’s worth a visit.
- Yishun Park Hawker Centre – This is a little further afield but it’s worth mentioning because the hawkers here are younger and trying a lot of new things. It’s big, open and a fun place to try new things.
Let me know if you find this helpful or if there are any updates I need to make. Happy eating!