When planning a trip to Singapore, there’s one thing on many travellers’ minds more than anything: food. And, oh, how spot on you’d be in setting your main goal of visiting the Lion City as eating to your heart’s content.
After visiting dozens of cities on the continent, I can say with grand and unshakeable certainty that Singapore is one of the best food cities in Asia. Nay. The world. And nowhere in this fine city-state is there a better way to experience complete food bliss than in one of the best hawker centres in Singapore.
For the uninitiated, hawker centres are a massive part of the Singaporean food culture. Although they sound a little dubious, they’re best described as a food court taken to its most logical extreme. On its own, visiting a hawker centre is a must-have cultural experience in Singapore. Of course, the real treat isn’t to just walk around aimlessly, but to partake in the gastronomical nirvana that awaits!
Not sure how to get started exploring the scene? Here’s a quick guide to some of the top Singapore hawker centres to suss out on your next trip to the Lion City…
Chinatown Complex Food Centre
There’s hardly a better place to get acquainted with Singapore’s food culture than the massive and central Chinatown Complex Food Centre. Situated in the heart of, you guessed it, Chinatown, this hawker centre offers a wealth of top-notch food options that can keep your tastebuds exploring for hours, if not days. (This is, after all, the largest hawker centre in food-obsessed Singapore!)
Unsurprisingly, the Chinatown Complex Food Centre is heavy on Chinese-inspired dishes like wonton noodles, char kway teow, Hokkien mee, chicken rice, dim sum, lor mee and bak kut teh. You’ll also have no problem finding other more “local” popular Singaporean foods like satay, laksa, and chill crab here.
Nearest MRT station: Chinatown MRT (NE4), Exit B
Hong Lim Market & Food Centre
Although its just steps away from the popular Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Hong Lim Market & Food Centre doesn’t get the recognition it deserves among travellers. Certainly, that’s less a reflection on the quality of the food here than the fact that it’s slightly tucked away from the main streets of Chinatown.
If you manage to snake your way into Hong Lim, you’re instantly treated to a sprawling two-storey food extravaganza chock-loaded with some of the Singapore’s most famous food stalls (including a couple Michelin-starred gems).
While there’s no end to the joy you’ll discover here, keep on the look out for Famous Sungei Road Trishaw Laksa, serving up a delicious and aromatic laksa that’s among the city’s best; and Ah Hong Curry, home to some seriously mind-blowing curry noodles.
Nearest MRT station: Chinatown MRT (NE4), Exit G
Maxwell Food Centre
Completing the trifecta of stellar hawker centres in the Chinatown area, Maxwell Food Centre offers a superb variety of local dishes to suit all tastes. Much of its fame these days was no doubt sparked by a visit from the late Anthony Bourdain who dubbed the signature dish at Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice as one of his favourites in Singapore. (Truthfully, the chicken rice found elsewhere in Maxwell Food Centre is often just as good—and without the perpetual long queue!)
Even if you’ve already exhausted the chicken rice contingent, there’s a handful of other dishes worth seeking out here including pork congee from Zhen Zhen Porridge, char kway teow from Marina South Delicious Food, and wonton noodles from Guangdong Wan Ton Mee.
Nearest MRT station: Chinatown MRT (NE4), Exit B
Old Airport Road Food Centre
A little further afoot than other popular hawker centres, Old Airport Road Food Centre gets high praise from local gourmands as one of the best places to eat in Singapore. This iconic food court isn’t just one of the city’s largest but one of the first. Some of the food stalls here have operated for generations. To put it mildly: You’re gonna get to experience some pretty legendary food when digging in here.
As you’d expect, all the Singaporean favourites are found here from char kway teow and Hokkien mee to rojak and kway chap. The most famous dish at Old Airport Road Food Centre, however, is undoubtedly soya beancurd. Plop yourself into the long queue at Lao Ban Soya Beancurd or 51 Soya Beancurd to see what the fuss is all about.
Nearest MRT station: Dakota MRT (CC8), Exit A
Tiong Bahru Market
Located in the historical neighbourhood of the same name, Tiong Bahru Market is a pleasant surprise for travellers used to Singapore’s older hawker centres. Thanks to a recent renovation, this food market is one of the airiest, cleanest, and most comfortable in the city. It’s a particularly good introduction to Singaporean hawker fare if the thought of eating from informal food stalls leaves you a tad bit squeamish.
Tiong Bahru Market is unique in that it offers both a wet market on the first floor along with a sizeable food court on the second floor. There is, of course, an endless multitude of dishes to try here. Some of the most famous stalls at Tiong Bahru Market include 178 Lor Mee, Lee Hong Kee Cantonese Roasted (for roasted duck rice), and Min Nan Prawn Noodles.
Nearest MRT station: Tiong Bahru (EW17), Exit B