The Best 6 Hawker Centers to Eat Singapore

Have you heard of Hawker Centers?

If you are traveling to Singapore, you will hear about them, see them and smell them.

So, what is a Hawker Center? It is an open-air building that houses a variety of local food stalls. The food stalls sell local dishes and specialties from the city. You will find them typically near large housing complexes where people live.

You will not only find your next best meal but you might also find your next best friend! This is where locals eat and congregate. Moreover, they are easy venues to strike up conversations with food stall owners or locals eating on open tables.

The food at hawker centers is pretty affordable and similar in price to its neighboring countries. Meals typically cost under  $5USD and the quality is really good. There are many famous vendors hawker centers, some of which are Michelin rated.

Although you might think hawker centers are similar to food courts, in Singapore, they are more than that. They are an institution.

Why do they matter so much to Singapore?

They are the lifeblood of Singapore. In such a racially and religiously diverse country, Singapore’s multiple cultures come together at hawker centers. 

A visit to any hawker center will help you understand how the diverse communities co-exist. They are the place to eat Singapore and all of its diversity

This quote by authors Peter Farb and George Armelagos summarizes what food and hawker centers are to Singapore:

“Food to a large extent is what holds a society together”

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Hawker Centers in Singapore: How It All Began

To better understand this unique aspect of the Singaporean food culture, let’s go back in time where it all started.

Street hawking in Singapore was common practice in the 1800s and it continued after World War II,  as a result of high unemployment and the need for cheap and affordable food. Hawking provided families jobs with low investment and skills.

However, Singapore as an island, with no natural resources, suffered from shortages of water, lack of proper food conservation and disposal. The conditions in which the food was prepared were not ideal, leading to spread of germs and consequently, diseases like cholera and typhoid.

At the same time, the operation of street hawkers was disorganized and would obstruct traffic. Bribing the police to avoid fines became common practice.

In the 1950’s, Singapore’s government decided to address this growing problem and by the 1960’s hawker centers, were born!

Old hawker centers SIngapore 1980 by Doi Kuro Authentic Food QuestSingapore Hawker Centers in the 1980's (Photo Credit: Doi Kuro)

Today, you’ll find hawker centers in all the different neighborhoods in the city. To taste Singapore’s cultural mesh, here are 6 Best Hawker Centers to experience Singapore like a local.

1 – Maxwell Food Center & Hong Lim Food Center – Chinatown 

Maxwell Food Center

Located in the heart of Chinatown, Maxwell Hawker Center is a very popular center with both locals and tourists. Maxwell food center is always crowded, but despite the over 100 food stalls, there are only a couple of stalls that have the longest lines. These are stalls that have received glowing endorsements from Anthony Bourdain and the Michelin Guide.

Picture of MaxwellFoodCenter_Outside_Singaporefood_Hawkercenter_AuthenticFoodQuestEntrance to the famous Hawker Center - Maxwell Food Center

Cuisine To Try

There are many stalls and vendors with delicious dishes worth experiencing. From chicken rice, Singapore’s favorite dish to Chinese porridge, fried noodles and more. Everything you can think of, you’ll find.

In addition to the food, you’ll also find traditional drinks like Teh Tarik which is tea with condensed milk or Yuenyeung, a blend of coffee and drinks. Fruit juices, desserts, and snacks are plentiful at the center.

Maxwell Food Center Singapore Food Authentic Food QuestInside Maxwell Hawker Center in Singapore

What’s Around

Strategically located next to Chinatown and not far from the business district, the location is ideal for exploring. Further down from Maxwell Food Center is the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum.  

This ornate temple and colorful temple holds the repository of the sacred Buddha tooth in the Sacred Buddha Tooth Relic Chamber. This is a great place to start your exploration of the neighborhood.

Picture of Buddha Temple Relic_HawkerCenter_Singapore_AuthenticFoodQuestBeautiful hidden garden at the top of the Buddha Tooth Relic Temple

How To Get There

Take the MRT and exit Chinatown. Take the Pagoda Exit and walk

Address:1 Kadayanallur St S069184

Hours: Everyday, 8:00 am – 11:00 pm

Hong Lim Food Center

This Food Center is located a few blocks from the Chinatown Heritage Center. It is housed in a local Chinese neighborhood with a local vibe and not many tourists.

While it is not as famous as Maxwell Food Center, it is must stop for all the food lovers. You want to go at the busiest time which is during the week, at lunch time when office workers come eat. Hong Lim Food Center is said to be one of the best hawker centers in Singapore.

HongLimFoodCenter_HawkerCenterSingapore_AuthenticFoodQuestOutside Hong Lim Food Center

Cuisine To Try

Hong Lim Food Center has a fantastic array of local foods to choose from.

This is the place to try the Chinese heritage food as well as the Malay food. You will find curry chicken noodles, Braised duck or Kway Chap as well as Char Kway Teow and  Bak Chor Mee.

You cannot leave Singapore without trying the famous Char Kway Teow. This is a stir-fried dish made of flat rice noodles, with prawns, eggs, slices of Chinese sausages, bean sprouts, Chinese chives, shrimp-paste. It is stir-fried over very high heat with a light and dark chili soy sauce.

If you’re adventurous and you like pork liver, go with Bak Chor Mee soup. This is a full-flavored broth with noodles, pork liver, pork meatballs, minced pork, pork dumplings, seaweed and sun-dried sole fish.

HongLimFoodCenterStall_HawkerCenterSingapore_AuthenticFoodQuestGet your Bar Chor Mee at Tai Wai Pork Noodle

What’s Around

The center is located a few blocks away from the Chinatown Heritage Center on Pagoda Street. Stop by the center and discover the early history of the Chinese immigrants and the early pioneers. The Center offers walking tours where you can visit the wet markets, sample local delights and explore the back alleys of Chinatown.

How To Get There

Located within walking distance of the Chinatown MRT stop

Address: 531A Upper Cross Street, Singapore

Hours: Everyday, 7:00am – 9:00 pm

2 – Tekka Center – Little India

This gem is one one of the most iconic centers and landmarks of Singapore. Housed in a colorful yellow and pink warehouse style building, this center is very local and culturally rich.

Walking through the market you hear English, Tamil, Hokkien, Mandarin and see all the different ethnicities congregating together. What’s surprising is to hear Chinese vendors speak fluent Tamil or vice versa. At this center, you get a real local picture of the unique diversity that makes up Singapore.

Tekka Center is also the largest wet market in Singapore. Everyone comes here to buy their fresh meats, poultry, fish, seafood and produce. Within the center is a food court on the ground floor and shopping areas on the upper floors.  

TekkaCenter_HawkerCenterSingapore_AuthenticFoodQuestOutside the colorful Tekka Center

Cuisine To Try

Muslim and Indian stalls dominate the food choices in the food court. While you will find a variety of dishes, biryani is one of the most famous in the center.

Biryani dishes are mixed rice dishes (chicken, mutton, fish) popular among Muslims of South Indian descent. This is an aromatic one meal dish, with perfectly cooked chicken or mutton with fragrant rice

Biryani_TekkaCenter_HawkerCenterSingapore_AuthenticFoodQuestTry Biryani from the popular Allauddin’s Briyani food stall

What’s Around

Little India is one of the most colorful and vibrant parts of Singapore. There is plenty to see and do. One of the most notable temples to see is the Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple. This temple is visually stunning with intricate carvings of Hindu deities on the top of the gate tower.

It is the oldest Hindu temple in Singapore and dedicated to the  Goddess, Kali. See more here about this ferocious Goddess and Destroyer of Evil.

TempleLittleIndia_SingaporeFood_AuthenticFoodQuestThe striking Sri Veeramakaliamman Temple

How To Get There

Take the MRT and exit at Little India

Address:665 Buffalo & Serangoon Roads, Little India, Singapore

Hours: Everyday, 6:30 am – 11:00 pm

3- Changi Village Hawker Center – Changi Airport

Located on the east coast of Singapore is the popular hawker center. The center was recently refurbished and it is now one of the most spacious hawker centers in Singapore. You’ll find many famous food stalls and all the must try local dishes at really affordable prices (under $5 USD).

Cuisine To Try

While you’ll find a number of food stalls and different dishes, though Malay cuisine dominates.

Changi Village is popular amongst locals for one particular dish: Nasi Lemak, a fragrant coconut rice topped with fried chicken or fish, anchovies and sambal chili.

One of the most famous stalls for nasi lemak is International Muslim Nasi Lemak. Look for the long lines take your place in the queue.

ChangiVillage_HawkerCenterSingapore_AuthenticFoodQuestThe popular International Nasi Lemak food stall at the Changi Village Hawker Center

What’s Around

Beyond the food, Changi Village is an important historical spot for Singapore. This is where you’ll find the Changi Museum and Chapel. The museum explores Singapore’s wartime history during the Japanese occupation between 1942 – 1945. The Chapel is where prisoners of war of different faiths found comfort in religious expression during this dark period.

ChangiChapelMuseum_HawkerCenterSingapore_AuthenticFoodQuestChangi Chapel Museum (Photo Credit: Changi Chapel Museum)

How To Get There

Take the MRT to the Tanah Merah Station

Address: 2 Changi Village Road, Singapore 500002

Hours: Everyday, 6:00 am – 2:00 am, 24 hours on Saturday and Sunday

4 – East Coast Lagoon Food Village – East Coast Park

The East Coast Lagoon food village is located by the beach in East Coast Park. Opened in 1977, it is one of best outdoor dining experiences by the water. You find a variety of regional dishes including rice, noodles, seafood, shellfish and more, each one prepared with a secret family recipe.

East Coast Lagoon Food Village (Photo Credit: PrettyKateMachine)East Coast Lagoon Food Village (Photo Credit: PrettyKateMachine)

Cuisine To Try

With its location by the water, seafood and satay (grilled meats on skewers) are extremely popular. On the weekends, locals travel from all over Singapore to get their fill, while dining al fresco.

Haron Satay is one of the most popular for their marinated skewers. The chicken, beef, and mutton skewers are accompanied by sliced cucumbers and onions and served with a thick peanut sauce. They are grilled to perfection and you can also try the Ketupat (rice dumplings) to go along with your skewers.

SataybyEastCostFoodVillage_HawkerCenterSingapore_AuthenticFoodQuestGrilling the famous skewers to perfection (Photo Credit: Haron Satay)

What’s Around

East Coast Park is the largest park in Singapore and popular with couples and families or hanging out with groups of friends. There is a promenade with white sands and palm streets to walk and digest all the delicious food from the hawker center.

PromenadeEastCoastPark_HawkerCenterSingapore_AuthenticFoodQuestStroll along the promenade and enjoy the views

How To Get There

Take public transportation to Marine Parade Road, walk to the hawker center via the underpass

Address: 1220 East Coast Park Service Road.

Hours: Everyday, 10:30 am – 2:00 am

5 – Old Airport Road CenterGeylang

This is one of the largest hawker centers in Singapore with 168 hawker stalls. Here you will find the largest number of famous food stalls in comparison to any other food center in Singapore.

Old Airport Road is a great introduction to the Singapore hawker food scene with its variety of food. It has a local vibe and not frequented by tourists.

OldAirport_HawkerCenterSingapore_AuthenticFoodQuestOld Airport Road Center (Photo Credit: linkway88)

Cuisine To Try

There is no shortage of cuisine to try at Old Airport Road Center. You will find all different types of Chinese and Malay foods. The Hokkien Mee, a rice vermicelli and noodle dish with pork, prawns, and chili is great dish to have. And, you also find the famous Char Kway Teow as well as Nasi Lemak, Fried oysters and more.

HokkienMee_HawkerCenterSingapore_AuthenticFoodQuestDelicious Hokkien Mee

What’s Around

Old Airport Road Center is located in the Geylang district, known as the red-light district of Singapore. However, the red-light district is only a small part of Geylang.

This district is quite vibrant at night and you will find numerous eateries along Geylang Road which divides the district North/South. Nearby the eateries, you also find many fruit shops selling durian.

How To Get There

The closest MRT station is Dakota at 5 min walking distance.

Address: 51 Old Airport Rd, Singapore

Hours: Everyday from 5:00 am – 8:00 am and 11:00 am – 3:00 am.

For more information about stalls to visit and foods to try, check out this great detailed blog about Old Airport Road Center JaymoyLovesFood.com

6 – Eunos Hawker CenterJoo Chiat & Katong

Right in the neighborhood where we stayed in Singapore is Eunos Hawker Center. This center is not as popular or widely known as some of the others listed above, but it is known for great quality food.

Conveniently located at the base of the MRT (subway) station, this was the perfect location for great food and easy access to transportation.

EunosCenter_HawkerCenterSingapore_AuthenticFoodQuestEunos Food Center

Cuisine To Try

The cuisine is varied, though there is a heavy Malay focus. There are several popular and well-known vendors that serve Halal food, Hainanese chicken rice, South Indian Roti dishes and more.

One of our favorite meals was a variation of the Hainanese chicken rice, that serves duck instead of chicken. Incredibly delicious with a unique twist on the famous Singapore chicken dish.

Roasted Hainanese duck with riceRoasted Hainanese duck with rice

What’s Around

We didn’t know it at the time when we booked our Airbnb in the Eunos area that we would be in Singapore’s best foodie destination.

Around Eunos is Joo Chiat/Katong is a well-loved neighborhood. Singaporeans come here for the hip and colorful atmosphere, culinary choices, cool cafes and old world coffee shops selling many local delicacies.

JooChiat_HawkerCenterSingapore_AuthenticFoodQuestColorful historical Peranakan homes in Joo Chiat

How To Get There

Take the MRT to Eunos Station

Address: Eunos Crescent Hawker Center, Singapore 402004

Hours: Everyday, 6:00am – 10:00 pm

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In Summary

When you say you visited Singapore, it means that you ate at its hawker centers. Indeed a visit to Singapore no matter the length of stay is not complete without tasting the local flavors and connecting with locals at the neighborhood hawker centers.

They are many hawker food centers to choose from and you may not get the chance to visit every single one. With this list of six Singapore hawker centers, you have a diverse a range that will immerse you into the cultural diversity of the country.

Make the most of your visit to Singapore and eat the Singapore culture.  At the hawker centers, taste the local flavors that bind the country together!

Have you eaten at Singapore Hawker Centers? In the comments below, please tell us your favorite one?

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24 comments

  1. How painful it must have been to research all of these hawker centers! Haha!! I hadn’t heard of these before, but they really do sound like a great way to get to know the real side of a neighborhood. I’m hoping to travel back to Asia soon, so Singapore and hawker centers are now high on my priority list!

    Reply
    • The painful part of the research was all the eating and working with the finite capacity of the stomach 🙂 The pain continued as we were looking over pictures and recalling the delightful flavors. Yes, do get back to Asia and hit Singapore. Well worth the trip 🙂 Thanks, Vicki!

      Reply
  2. Oh man. I’m currently jet lagged, wide awake in the middle of the night and with no food in the house since I was away for a week. This made me so hungry! Now I want fried oysters, satay and Char Kway Teow.

    I’d never heard of hawker centers but I also really didn’t know anything about Singapore cuisine. This is a great guide to have for when we go.

    Reply
  3. This is a very informative post! I must agree, it is at the hawkers that you get to see how diverse Singapore is. Though if you search for good Laksa at the hawker, it might take you some time. LOL

    Reply
  4. All these places look like so much fun Claire. Because each offers the best of both worlds; cheap food that is delicious. Oh yeah, being indoors and with prying eyes checking out the dishes I know each place is sanitary too, or else stalls will close if they get a bad rap from the locals and ex-pats, and tourists too. Reviews reverberate far and wide I would think. Cool post.

    Reply
    • Awesome Ryan, so glad you enjoyed the article. If you haven’t been to Singapore yet, you are missing out especially for the food. You can’t beat the prices and peace of mind on the hygiene stands. Well worth the experience. 🙂

      Reply
  5. Definitely the the lifeblood of Singapore! We visited Singapore last year and the hawker centers were a highlight – definitely a great way to connect with locals, find authentic food and feel like you’re immersing yourself – we loved the opportunity to people watch 🙂

    Reply
  6. Isn’t street food in Singapore the best? My favourite is the Maxwell one. Noodles and curries all the way. This is a great list to check out other ones when I’m there next.

    Reply
  7. I haven’t been to this area of the world but the hawker centres look amazing. It’s great that you have recommended places to go though as I wouldn’t be sure which would be the best, and also which are hygienic

    Reply
    • Hawker centers in Singapore are an institution. It’s where you can find the best and most delicious food. In Singapore, unlike many other countries, each food stall is graded “A” to “D” That will guide your food decisions 🙂 Don’t hesitate to reach out for tips when you eventually make it to Singapore. Appreciate you stopping by.

      Reply
  8. The foodie in me is going crazy right now! Singapore is so high up on our bucket list as we heard so many incredible stories about it. Furthermore, we are both foodies so the food taste and availability (and price) will either make or break a destination for us. Having read your story, I think Singapore is the next best place after Tokyo 😛 Brb, buying a plane ticket 😀

    Reply

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