The Astronomer, June, and I exclusively ate at Singapore’s famed hawker centers during our four-day stay in the city-state this past summer. The superb quality of the cooking, affordability of the prices, and incredible variety of the offerings made these multi-storied, open-air communal cafeterias the perfect place to dine at any time of day — we couldn’t get enough of them.
All in all, we hit up seven hawker centers of different sizes and scopes spread across the island. Singapore’s world-class (and spotless) metro system made it easy to travel from one to another while fitting in the requisite sights, like Gardens By The Bay (meh), National Library (under renovation), Singapore City Gallery (amazing), Botanical Gardens (badass), Marina Bay Sands Hotel (like Vegas), and the Raffles Hotel (lovely in a colonial way).
While we initially sought out “famous” food stalls at the start of our stay, we soon got the hang of hawker food culture and understood that it was nearly impossible to have a bad meal anywhere. From there, we let our bellies or geographic convenience lead the way, and we were never led astray. Singapore is truly a wonderland of culinary treasures.
Here’s everything we ate at Singapore’s hawker centers…
Amoy Street Food Centre
Ordered alongside the kopi was an egg-battered kaya toast…
…along with runny, sunny eggs drizzled with soy sauce and sprinkled with white pepper.
June’s choice was a warm bowl of squid congee from a stall (#02-118) selling several varieties of the morning staple including pork, fish, and chicken.
The Astronomer chose two incredibly flakey pastries from J2 Famous Crispy Curry Puff (#01-21). One was filled with curried potatoes, while the other was stuffed with spicy sardines. The latter was my favorite.
Maxwell Food Centre
For lunch we bopped over to the Maxwell Food Centre where The Astronomer and I downed a plate of rojak from Rojak, Popiah & Cockle (#01-56). Full of snappy mangoes, jicama, cucumbers, Chinese doughnuts, and more, the rojak came dressed in a spicy fermented shrimp sauce with crushed peanuts on top.
We also shared an order of the popiah, a mini-burrito of sorts filled with vegetables (carrots, jicama, cabbage) with hoisin sauce. Vietnamese bò bía is a riff on popiah, so I was very excited to finally taste the dish at its source — delightful.
June sampled the delectable chicken rice at Ah Tai Hainanese Chicken Rice (#01-07) as the super-famous stall Tian Tian was closed the day we visited. According to the local rumor mill, the chef-owner of Ah Tai was formerly the cook at Tian Tian but left after a fall out with the owner’s daughter. He opened his chicken rice business two stalls down from his old employer’s. Spicy!
Hong Lim Market & Food Centre
Another day, another glorious hawker center to explore.
A small mug of local kopi and some kaya toast is the greatest way to start the day. Fortunately, coffee and kaya are often sold together at hawker centers in the mornings. While at the oldest hawker center in Chinatown, we stopped by Qi Xiang Cha Shi to get our fix.
While kaya toast served with eggs is most traditional, my go-to order is a bit simpler. All I need is thinly sliced and toasted bread smeared with coconut jam and a bit of salted butter.
It was easy to spot the two most popular stalls at Hong Lim Market & Food Centre — both boasted lines snaking down the aisles. First up, a flame-licked plate of char kway teow at Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee (#02-17).
Second up, a bowl of bak chor mee from Tai Wah Pork Noodle (#02-16). The crispy fish skin garnish and the supple wonton dumplings made this pork noodle soup one to remember.
June was a fan of Granny’s Pancake (#02-39), a local chain specializing in stuffed pancakes that we encountered at several hawker centers. The fluffy wedge came filled with crushed peanuts.
Newton Food Centre
We came to Newton Food Centre seeking Singapore chile crab at Alliance Seafood but were bummed to find the stall closed. I quickly pivoted to the kway chap at Kwee Heng Duck Rice (#01-13) and thoroughly enjoyed the noodle soup made with flat, broad rice sheets (kway) and the accompanying plate of piggy offals, tofu, and a braised hard-boiled egg.
The Astronomer selected a halal fish plate from Sarah Nadia Muslim Food stall (#01-07).
We returned to Newton Food Centre the following day to make our chile crab dreams come true. Alliance Seafood came through with a wickedly great crustacean smothered in a viscous, sweetish, and just-spicy-enough sauce.
We got an order of fried mantou to sop up all the saucy goodness. The chile crab was awesomely messy to eat, but thankfully the hawker center had plenty of sinks for us to clean ourselves up.
June noshed on satay from a nearby stall, TKR Yummy Chicken Wing & Satay (#01-33).
For dessert, June and I shared a serving of cendol from 88 San Ren Cold and Hot Dessert.
Tekka Center in Little India was one of my favorite hawker centers. The large complex included a great variety of food stalls, along with a wet market and shops.
“Carrot cake” was on my list of local foods to try and we secured some at the Handmade Carrot Cake stall. Local carrot cake is made of cubed radish and comes in “white” (see below) and “black” versions. The black version gets its name from the thick and sweet black sauce that coats every crevice.
June got another one of Granny’s pancakes: this one had Nutella along with crushed peanuts.
Tekka Center has an entire section dedicated to South Asian food stalls. I took a break from kopi this morning and had a sweet and strong mug of chai tea from Mubarak Ali Kopitiam instead.
From Prata Saga Sambal Berlada (#01-258), we ordered the prata and mutton murtabek. The Astronomer and I wished that we could start every day this deliciously.
Jalan Berseh Food Centre
We arrived at Jalan Berseh Food Centre in the late morning and kicked things off with kopi and kaya from Coffee Hut (#02-43). I am pretty sure that I could eat and drink this combination daily and never tire of it.
We checked out the Fu Zhou Poh Hwa Oyster Cake stall (#02-349) for crispy oyster cakes that I heard were very popular but not widely available. The traditional Fuzhou snack is made from a light batter filled with oysters, peanuts, and Chinese parsley.
Also terrific at Jalan Berseh Food Centre were the curry noodles at Sheng Kee Curry Chicken Noodle (#02-45). Every bit of broth was slurped with gusto.
A gratuitous photo of the glowing Supertrees at Gardens By The Bay.
Albert Food Centre
We spent our final hours in Singapore at Albert Food Centre. We dined at Tong Fong Fatt Hainanese Boneless Chicken Rice (multiple locations) for one last chicken rice. The gently boiled chicken was moist, super silky, and paired with a savory soy-based sauce.
The Astronomer picked up one last curry puff at a random stall we passed by while walking from the center’s shops toward the food stalls.
I was in the mood for more popiah and scored a very tasty version at Fu Cheng Shi Pin. The stall makes the wheat wrappers from scratch.
I was intrigued by the kuih pie tee, which was sold at the same stall as the popiah.
The kuih pie tee’s thin and crispy tart shells came filled with similar ingredients to popiah but with the addition of a bit of sambal on top. I’ve since learned that the same stall also sells peanut-dusted mochi and am regretting not getting some.
A bowl of congee with pork and preserved egg was procured at Li Fang Congee (#01-78) and split between June and me.
The Astronomer tried the white version of carrot cake, which is a bit like an omelet dotted with radishes.
And finally, a warming dessert of peanut- and black sesame-filled tapioca balls in a ginger syrup from Dessert Station (#01-41).
We came, we marveled, we ate. Thank you, Singapore.