Singapore Hawker Centers for beginners
Singapore is known for many different things – being a small island nation, incredibly warm and friendly people, economic prowess and, oh yeah, hot (dare we say, damn hot) and humid weather, year round.
Let us say, first and foremost, the best part of visiting Singapore is the incredible food. In Singapore there’s so much variety across the Chinese, Indian, and Malaysian cuisines; along with most any western style dish served up with a truly unique Singaporean flair. While we certainly enjoyed dining in some unbelievable, high end restaurants, our true love affair with Singapore was born through our dining at local hawker centers.
For novices to Asian street food, eating at a hawker center can seem a little intimidating. The stands are insanely busy – regardless of the time, day or night. Most centers stay open 24 hours a day. Which is magnificent for those late nights, where you’ve had one – make that three – drinks too many. Not that we can even relate to that type of behavior. 😉
And yes, for novices, the stands can seem a little dirty. However, let us put any fears you have regarding this to rest. The food is delightful and it is so incredibly inexpensive. From our perspective, the sanitary practices of the hawker centers are on par with any fast food restaurant you frequent in the US, probably better. The stands are even required to proudly display their most recent sanitary report, rated from A to D.
Most all of the hawker centers offer a lot of variety. Don’t be shocked to see very unusual dishes highlighted on the placards. Our favorite was a stand that sported a dish called “Pig Organ Soup.” If you want to start safe and simple, try a classic hawker style food called Chicken Rice. As the name suggests, the entrée is simply a poached whole chicken, that’s been cut into bit size pieces via a cleaver, served over white rice. There are a number of different sauces you can add to the dish to “jazz” it up a bit. And, given the method used to prepare the previously whole chicken, you will need to navigate your way around a few bones.
There are hawker centers all over the island. Here are a few dishes we can recommend – Chicken Biryani, Laksa, Chai Tow Kuay (one of Jeanne’s favorites made of daikon), Indian Mee Goreng, Wanton Mee, Fried Hokkien Mee, curry puffs for snacks, and Nasi Lemak or Congee – for breakfast.
Here are few things to remember regarding eating at a Hawker center.
Look for the longest lines, those can either lead you to the most delicious food or some of the strangest things you’ll ever love to eat.
Ensure you’re properly dressed for the occasion. The hawker centers, for the most part, will be al fresco dinning. There might be a large fan or two blowing a warm breeze over your already sweaty body.
Bring your own tissues. Napkins aren’t usually offered at the hawker centers. These will also come in handy in the restrooms, which don’t provide toilet paper.
Enjoy! Be adventurous. You would be surprised how delicious a fish eyeball or pig face can taste when prepared properly.
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Sid and Jeanne Lasley love to travel and enjoy learning about new cultures. They have been lucky enough to have traveled to over thirty countries and have lived in Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Singapore and Bangalore, India. Sid travels extensively as part of his current role at a software company and Jeanne often accompanies Sid on his trips. Jeanne has a culinary background and enjoys exploring new lands, while Sid is stuck in an office.