A visit to one of the world’s most expensive cities doesn’t mean you’ll spend a fortune dining out. Singapore’s lively, no-frills hawker centers are where the best food is found, and you can enjoy a full meal for less than $5.
Don’t just take our word for it: Singapore’s hawker culture is so distinctive that it was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2020. Around the city, there are more than 100 of these open-air food courts, all offering a wide variety of cuisine (Chinese, Malay, Indian), reflective of the city-state’s multi-ethnic makeup. Expect to see halal and Chinese hawkers cooking side-by-side, casual seating arrangements—it’s not unusual for people to share tables—and a cash-based, self-service ordering system. Because the food is freshly prepared, most hawkers have sporadic opening hours, closing shop once they’re sold out, so go by lunchtime or risk being disappointed.
While the choices can prove overwhelming, the good news is you rarely get a bad hawker meal. When in doubt, join the stall with the longest queue and replicate the order of the patron in front of you. Looking for a little more guidance? These are among the best hawker centers in Singapore—most patronized by locals for decades—and what we recommend you order.
Small in size and known for its halal-certified eats, this hawker center is located opposite the Singapore Botanical Gardens (Bukit Timah Gate). After exploring the lush tropical grounds of the UNESCO World Heritage site, tuck into some hawker favorites: mee soto (spicy chicken noodle dish), Hokkien mee (stir-fried noodles with prawns), and mee goreng (Indonesian style stir-fried noodles). Organized in a simple U-shape and framed by five angsana trees, there are approximately 40 stalls helmed by stallholders who’ve been doing brisk business for decades.
Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak#01-02 Adam Road Hawker Centre, 2 Adam Rd., S289877. Open Saturday and Sunday 7 a.m.–3 p.m.; Monday–Thursday 7 a.m.–5 p.m.
This plate of nasi lemak (coconut rice) is fit for royalty—literally. (It is a favorite of the Sultan of Brunei, according to the Straits Times.) There’s always a queue for the Royal Rumble, a combination plate of fluffy aromatic basmati rice served with an assortment of sides: deep-fried potato pancake, flash-fried chicken, otah (spiced fish cake), crispy peanuts and fried anchovies, accompanied by a generous dollop of sambal chili.
Bahrakath Mutton Soup King#01-10 Adam Road Hawker Centre, 2 Adam Rd., S289877. Open daily 1 p.m.–3 a.m.
There aren’t many places to still get a warm bowl of mutton soup, but this longtime favorite has been deemed sedap (delicious) by those in the know. Hours of boiling mutton bones result in this rich, robust, spiced soup with chunks of tender mutton topped by crispy scallion and onions.
Located in the central business district, this busy food center has a mix of heritage hawkers, Michelin Bib Gourmand awardees (selected by the French tire company for serving “great food at reasonable prices”), and new-generation owners serving modernized hawker staples like A Fishball Story’s Singapore-style ramen with handmade fishballs. There’s a wide selection of eats, including sliced fish soup, vadai (fried Indian snacks), mee goreng, and rice dumplings to sample. Avoid lunchtime, as it gets crowded when the surrounding office crowds gather for their favorite hawker meal.
Hoo Kee Rice Dumplings#01-18, Amoy Street Food Centre, 7 Maxwell Rd., S069111. Open Tuesday–Friday 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
This traditional bak zhang (rice dumpling) seller has been in business for more than 50 years. A Bib Gourmand awardee, Hoo Kee is the gold standard for many locals, who flock here morning, noon, and night. Prepared daily at dawn by hand, the glutinous rice is studded with nuggets of pork and chestnuts and flavored with five-spice powder and soya sauce.
Amoy Street Fried Kway Teow
#01-01, Amoy Street Food Centre, 7 Maxwell Rd., S069111. Open Monday–Saturday 9:30 a.m.–2.30 p.m.
What started as a traveling pushcart in the 1960s has become one of the best plates of char kway teow (stir-fried rice noodles) on the island. It is favored by many for its healthy amount of wok hei (wok aroma, for that inimitable smoky flavor) and use of fresh cockles coated with just the right amount of dark soy sauce.
Buzzing with activity from dawn till the late afternoon, this popular eating spot in the west is hidden from most tourists. Attracting a mix of students, nearby residents, and active hikers refueling while traversing the nearby 15-mile Green Corridor nature trail, it offers a selection of timeless hawker treats: boneless braised duck, appam (fermented rice pancakes), fried prawn mee, and peanut pancakes. It’s also an excellent place to catch new-generation hawkers carrying on their family’s legacy.
Li Lao San Ghim Moh Chwee Kueh #01-54 Ghim Moh Road Market & Food Centre, 20 Ghim Moh Rd., S270020. Open daily 6:15 a.m.–6:30 p.m.
The springy steamed rice cakes topped with a savory-sweet chai poh (preserved turnip) have been handmade by the same family since the 1960s. Li Lao San Ghim Moh Chwee Kueh remains a favorite of locals for its use of pork lard, which gives each cake a fuller flavor.
Jiu Jiang Shao La#01-17 Ghim Moh Road Market & Food Centre, 20 Ghim Moh Rd., S270020. Open Thursday–Sunday 10 a.m.–2 p.m.
Brave the snaking queues for a plate of their roasted goodies: char siew (barbecue pork), roast duck, and roast pork. Choose the fattier cut of barbecued pork that’s charred beautifully—it’ll still be juicy with every bite.
Heaven’s Indian Curry#01-26 Ghim Moh Road Market & Food Centre, 20 Ghim Moh Rd., S270020. Open Tuesday–Sunday 6 a.m.–1 p.m.
Hit up this stall for a taste of Indian breakfast staples like thosai (savory thin pancake made from fermented lentil and rice batter), appam (fermented rice flour pancake), and putu mayam (rice flour string hoppers). If you only have stomach space to sample one item, order the bowl-shaped appam, which is handmade fresh in an iron mini wok to achieve a crisp texture. The subtle sour flavor? That’s from the rice flour and coconut milk batter, which is left to ferment for eight hours before hitting the pan.
A plate of chicken rice from Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
Photo by Kapi Ng/Shutterstock
Located in the heart of Chinatown, this single-story hawker center offers a wide range of Singapore-style Chinese food. Once a wet market in the 1950s, it remains popular with residents, office workers, and tourists as a one-stop location to try everything from oyster cake to fish soup.
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice#01-10/11 Maxwell Food Centre, 1 Kadayanallur St., S069184. Open Tuesday–Sunday 10 a.m.–8 p.m.
No visit to Singapore is complete without a plate of chicken rice, and Tian Tian arguably serves the best version. Its flavorful poached chicken is drizzled with house-made soya sauce-based dressing and served with a mound of chicken stock-infused rice.
Fu Shun Roasted Meat Specialist #01-71 Maxwell Food Center, 1 Kadayanallur St., S069184. Open Monday–Saturday 11:30 a.m.–7:30 p.m.
Hungry office workers make a beeline here for their fix of this Cantonese stall’s crispy sio bak (roast pork belly) and charcoal roasted char siew (barbecued pork), served either with noodles or rice. Regulars love this stall for its generous portions and high-quality ingredients.
A short drive (or walk) from Orchard Road, this bustling hawker center will look familiar thanks to its cameo in Crazy Rich Asians. (Credit to the scriptwriters who didn’t embellish the experience.) Here, the seafood stalls are plentiful (and most are excellent) and there’s a dizzying array of food to try, from laksa (spicy coconut noodle soup) to satay (spiced skewers served with a peanut sauce), ice kachang (shaved ice), and fresh-off-the-griddle oyster omelette. Top it all off with a glass of cold sugarcane juice.
Hup Kee Fried Oyster Omelette#01-73 Newton Food Centre, 500 Clemenceau Ave. N., S229495. Open Tuesday–Saturday 6 p.m.–midnight.
Hup Kee’s fans are steadfastly loyal to this hawker icon, who has been plying his trade since the 1960s. Expect a generous plate of crispy-edged, juicy oyster omelette accompanied by a dipping sauce of garlic-accented chili.
Guan Kee Seafood#01-53 Newton Food Centre, 500 Clemenceau Ave. N., S229495. Open daily 11 a.m.–midnight.
There are many seafood stalls at Newton Food Centre, but Guan Kee’s halal certification makes it a safe choice for all travelers. If you order only one dish here, make it the sambal stingray, which is grilled fresh and moist to the bite, brushed with a rich shallot and dried shrimp sambal sauce. Ask for the sauce on the side if you prefer an unspicy meal.
Home to several famous Singapore hawkers, Old Airport Road Food Centre has been one of the island’s best-loved hawker haunts for over 40 years. The queues for popular dishes—lor mee (Hokkien-style noodles in gravy), rojak (fruit and vegetable salad with palm sugar dressing), satay, char kway teow—can get long, but there are excellent people-watching opportunities to bide the time.
Dong Ji Fried Kway Teow #01-138 Old Airport Road Food Centre, 51 Old Airport Rd., S390051. Open Friday and Saturday, Monday–Wednesday 11 a.m.–2 p.m, 6–8 p.m.
Different from the sweet, dark, and wet Singapore-style fried kway teow, this Penang-style version is drier with charred bits of noodle and fried with a generous amount of cockles, fishcake, and prawns. The elderly uncle manning the one-man operation meticulously fries each order individually, which is reason enough to join the line.
Toa Payoh Rojak#01-108 Old Airport Road Food Centre, 51 Old Airport Rd., S390051. Monday–Saturday 10 a.m.–7 p.m.
Arguably one of the better versions of Chinese-style rojak in Singapore, the secret to Toa Payoh’s success lies in the piquant prawn-paste sauce that coats the chunks of pineapple, jicama, and kang kong (water spinach) that make up this sweet-salty fruit and vegetable salad. Expect it served with crushed peanuts and freshly toasted dough sticks.
Spring for the prawn fritters at Temasek Indian Rojak.
Photo by ZDL/Shutterstock
Located at the entrance of Singapore’s vibrant Little India enclave, this multi-use building houses a wet market, food center, and retail shops in a single complex. This is where to go to sample the island’s best Indian food: The sprawling complex has more than 100 hawkers to sample, but the section on the first level (facing Bukit Timah Road) has a concentration of stalls serving favorites like biryani (aka briyani), thosai, and murtabak.
Allauddin’s Briyani#01-232 Tekka Market Food Centre, 666 Buffalo Rd., S210665. Open daily 8 a.m.–8 p.m.
If you love a good biryani (spiced Indian rice dish with slow-cooked meats), Tekka Market is biryani central. Amid all the stalls hawking their version of this comfort dish, Allauddin’s Briyani is known for its quality basmati rice and fall-apart mutton, which has been cooked low and slow separately from the rice. In operation since 1968, Allauddin’s also serves a chicken and fish option.
Temasek Indian Rojak #01-254 Tekka Market Food Centre, 666 Buffalo Rd., S210665. Open daily Tuesday–Thursday 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Friday–Sunday 24 hrs.
There are many versions of rojak (translates as “mixture” in Malay) but this stall serving the Indian version of deep-fried fritters (prawn, cuttlefish, tofu, fish cake) is celebrated for its crisp batter and sweet, homemade dipping sauce that has just a hint of heat. Order with your eyes, but definitely include its three types of prawn fritters, and eat them with a touch of sauce and fresh onions.
This curved, two-story hawker center looks perfect in the art deco, hipster enclave of Tiong Bahru. As one of the oldest public housing estates in Singapore, it’s home to a few heritage hawkers and some Michelin Guide’s Bib Gourmand awardees. With a wet market on the ground floor and more than 80 stalls on the upper level serving hawker classics like chwee kueh (steamed rice flour cakes topped with preserved turnip), sweet mung bean soup, Hokkien prawn mee, and lor mee, there’s something for everyone.
Tiong Bahru Lor Mee #02-80 Tiong Bahru Food Centre, 30 Seng Poh Rd., S168898. Tuesday–Sunday 5:30 a.m.–2 p.m.
The crowds gather early for a bowl of tummy-warming noodles bathed in velvety gravy with mild herbaceous notes. Topped with braised pork belly, fish cake, fried wonton (aka wanton), hard-boiled egg and ngoh hiang (five-spiced pork rolls), the bowl is full enough—but customize yours by adding black vinegar, red chile, and garlic.
Zhong Yu Yuan Wei Wanton Mee#02-30 Tiong Bahru Market, 30 Seng Poh Rd., S168898. Open Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday 7 a.m.–1 p.m.
Residents of Tiong Bahru swear by this bowl of wonton noodles, which continually wins favor for its slices of beautifully marbled char siew that are lightly charred and tender to the bite. Don’t forget to top it all off with a smidge of chile jam.
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