How to enjoy a Hawker

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.

maxwell

Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice

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.

A typical hawker
A typical hawker
Bee Hoon
Bee Hoon

PISANG3

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.

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Food can be taken from the vendor to an empty table or bench
Food can be taken from the vendor to an empty table or bench

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!

The newly-refurbished Lau Pa Sat hawker is targeted at tourists
The newly-refurbished Lau Pa Sat hawker is targeted at tourists

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.

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12 thoughts on “How to enjoy a Hawker

  1. I highly recommend these hawker centres if you are visiting Singapore (I’m Singaporea and I frequent these places all the time):
    Old Airport Road Food Centre — the Albert Road (the name of food stall) prawn noodles are the BEST
    Maxwell Food Centre
    Lau Pa Sat (recently renovated so it looks cleaner and nicer)
    Food in Singapore is cheap and fantastic! I hope you guys enjoy the food in Singapore whenever you visit 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Very good advice there! 🙂 Maxwell is a personal favourite of mine, but what do you think of the more upmarket hawkers like Rasapura Masters at MBS or Insadong Korea Town and Malaysian Food Street at RWS? Do Singaporeans eat there, or are they more for the tourists like me? 😉

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      1. The ones at MBS and RWS are too overpriced for locals, and the food is usually subpar compared to the way cheaper (and more authentic) alternatives you get can get hawker centres. But I do think it’s a good way for tourists to try out local food in the comfort of air-conditioning. 🙂 I actually haven’t tried Insadong Korea Town, I should probably check it out soon!

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  2. This is very helpful. We will be in Singapore in January as well as hawker centre I would like some information on accommodation available is it best to book ahead? or turn up in Singapore’s China Town? thanks for any further details you can provide!

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    1. What kind of accommodation are you looking for? If it’s a hostel, then I really recommend http://thepod.sg/ which is located in Bugis. Not too far from Chinatown and one of the best hostels I have stayed in. I would always recommend booking ahead, rather than just turning up on the day, but I don’t know what your budget is.

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      1. The Pod Looks great our budget is about half of this though. We are going to be in SEA for the following 6 months on as close to a £6000 budget this give us a about 30 pound a day for two TBH we could book this ahead to ensure a smooth start will ask my partner. any cheaper alternatives that you know of?

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        1. The cheapest I can find on AGODA is Urban Hostel in Geylang…for £7 per night, although I don’t think it’s very recommendable. I would recommend for your budget The Hive in Little India or BUNC@Radius Clarke Quay.. 🙂

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