Eating out in Singapore can be daunting but a trip to local hawker centre to experience some local street food can be enjoyable in more ways than one.
There is a real sense of community within the famous hawker centres of Singapore. Most people do not just go there to eat, but to enjoy a jolly old chinwag with friends and colleagues from the neighbourhood. Of course, as times have changed, the relevance of hawker centres have perhaps taken a back seat to fast food chains and takeaway meals, yet there is a sense of history that is associated with the hawkers, and in fact many of the local fast food chains even began their life in hawker centres. Street food in Singapore is always best when enjoyed with the locals in their domain.
Much like a self-service restaurant, you go to the stall or vendor that you want to eat from and order your food. Then you take a seat in the large communal seating area. When your food is cooked it will be brought over to you. Sometimes, you may be able to collect the food yourself, but in Singapore generally you will have it brought to your table. As you can imagine, the smells here are amazing, and sometimes overpowering! There can be a concoction of smells from all angles providing you with a sensory overload! One of the ways I like to enjoy myself in a hawker (apart from eating the delectable food, naturally) is to have a walk around the various stalls and vendors to see what is on offer. Sometimes, you can strike up a rapport with the people behind the stall, especially if you are a regular. But even if it’s your first time, they will always be happy to explain to you what they are selling. I find Mandarin and English are the main languages of hawker centres.
You cannot bring in food from outside into a hawker centre. Only food purchased from the local vendors here can be consumed in a hawker. While you are waiting for your purchased food to be brought over to you, it is a great opportunity to discuss local life and enjoy a bit of a gossip. Hawkers centres usually are filled with working class locals (and tourists like me!), rather than your businesspeople, expats, or students, who would prefer to take lunch in restaurants or fast food chains. This makes the atmosphere in a hawker centre very interesting, resembling something like a community, and is certainly a good way of seeing how the regular Singaporeans live!
As part of Singapore’s heritage, the hawker centre can be found all over the island, with major locations being at Maxwell Food Centre, and of course the very touristy Lau Pa Sat, which has just been refurbished and was subsequently reopened in the summer of 2014. There are many food courts in Singapore, and they are usually modelled on the old hawker style, but they are not traditional and do not have the history of the real hawker centres.