It's been five years since I last visited Singapore, so I was excited to experience some more of this richly diverse and vibrant island when I visited in November.
Singapore is famous for its hawker stalls. In fact, the Michelin Guide has awarded two hawker stalls with a Michelin star, and 28 out of the 50 restaurants listed in the Bib Gourmand section of the guide ("good quality, good value restaurants").
More recently, hawker stalls made an appearance in the movie Crazy Rich Asians, where main character Rachel and her fiancé Nick meet up with some friends at Newton Food Centre soon after they get off the plane from the US.
I have hardly tried all of the Singapore hawker centres (that would take a lifetime). However, below are some pretty famous and popular ones that have great food.
Unspoken Rules of Hawker Stalls
First, claim seating by putting down a small tissue pack on the table. It’s an odd Singaporean tradition, but everyone does it. If you see a table with a tissue pack on it, you know that it’s already “taken.” It’s also useful to have tissue packs because there are no napkins to be found. Once you start eating some of these dishes, you’ll understand very quickly why it’s really, really nice to have tissues!
Once your seat is claimed, you can start walking to the stalls to order your food. Typically we would just wait for the food at the stall and bring it to our tables ourselves.
Newton Food Centre
One of the most well-known hawker centers in Singapore has got to be Newton Food Centre. Newton Food Centre is a huge hawker stall area conveniently located close to city center. Because of its central location, it’s a popular spot for both locals and tourists.
This past trip I visited Newton briefly (by myself) during mid-day to get some refreshing fresh young coconut juice. In a past trip, this was the first place our local friends brought us. We enjoyed a fantastic feast of local dishes (pictured above). If you want to read about that whole experience in detail, you can check out that post.
Maxwell Food Centre
This past trip, I stopped by Maxwell Food Centre on my last night in Singapore and dined there alone. I had to be judicious about my choices, since I had no one with whom to share any of the food. I ended up choosing to eat a popiah (comfort food for me) and rojak, a very interesting and very local Singaporean salad consisting of chopped fruit and vegetables (apples, cucumbers, pineapples), dough fritters (油條), ground peanuts, and a dark, sticky sauce made of fermented prawn paste, sugar, lime, and chilli paste.
It might sounds weird, but it is a surprising, unusual, and unexpectedly tasty combination of all sorts of flavors and textures.
I did find it a bit sweet to finish the whole thing myself, but it's a great thing to share!
Zion Riverside Food Centre
I went to a food centre "less traveled" called Zion Riverside Food Centre with my local friends (the ones who took me to the famous Newton Food Centre during my first trip). A must-try Singaporean favorite is laksa, a flavorful spicy noodle soup based on coconut milk, curry, chicken or shrimp, and fresh herbs. We also enjoyed delicious dumplings, a beautiful roast duck, and traditional Singaporean "kopi", black coffee with condensed milk and sugar.
Lau Pa Sat Festival Market
Lau Pa Sat Festival Market is another popular market that is frequented by tourists because of its convenient location and its famous alley of grilled skewers. It is also covered and is a bit prettier inside than many of the other ones. The ambiance is actually quite pleasant.
Singapore, being in a tropical location, has tons of fresh fruits and vegetables. Juice shops are everywhere, and it's easy to enjoy different types of fresh fruit or vegetable drinks. At Lau Pa Sat, the first thing I ordered was a bittermelon juice.
I loved this Hakka dish called Thunder Tea rice. You pour a bowl of green tea over rice and all sorts of flavorful "toppings", such as chopped green beans, cabbage, carrots, pork sung, blanched green vegetables, fried anchovies, and peanuts.
It was refreshing, nutritious, nourishing, and delicious. I wish we had something like this in Hong Kong.
Still So Much to Try . . .
Despite having visited four very famous food centres in Singapore, I feel like I have barely scratched the surface of really understanding street food in Singapore. There are so many other excellent hawker stalls I have yet to try, many of which might not be housed inside of a food centre.
However, if you visit even just one of these, you'll get a glimpse of the richness and diversity of food in Singapore.