Some of our favourites.
To outsiders Singapore is one sprawling city, but to its residents there are two distinct divisions: town and the heartlands. Often the only part of Singapore that visitors experience is Orchard Road, Raffles Place to Marina Bay and other central areas where you find five-star hotels and people queuing to shop at Louis Vuitton. A sharp contrast, the heartlands are largely residential areas with HDB housing flats, public schools and, of course, the most authentic Singaporean food. The hawker centres in the heartlands may be well outside the usual sightseeing areas, but are worth the trip for their cheap and tasty eats.
Old Airport Road Food Centre: A bit east of the city centre, this hawker centre is highly regarded by local street foodies for its classic hawker fare with recipes (and sometimes cooks) that haven’t changed for decades. Must-tries include the rojak (sweet, spicy fruit salad) from Stall #01-108, char kway teow (fried noodles with prawns and Chinese sausage) from #01-12, yong tau foo (pick-and-mix soup -- can be a vegetarian dish) from #01-125, and chilli crab from Mattar Road BBQ Seafood at stall #01-63. With their “famous hawker” reputation comes the long queues; be prepared to wait 30 minutes or more for the best dishes.
Blk 51 Old Airport Road, most stalls open 10:00–21:00, or until sold out.
Suggested pairing: Check out the Singapore Art Museum beside Bras Basah MRT station, then take the subway five stops to Mountbatten MRT station; Old Airport Road Food Centre is a short walk from here.
Changi Village: This long-running hawker centre is so far east it’s practically on the beach. Slurp up a plate of beef kway teow from stall #01-19, grilled satay with addictive peanut sauce from stall #01-52, or the classic Malay dish of nasi lemak (coconut rice with sides like fried chicken and curry) from any of the competing stalls – #01-54 #01-57, #01-64. If you’re tired of Tiger Beer, check out Charlie’s Corner (#01-08) for a huge selection of imported beer and hawker interpretations of Western food like burgers or fish and chips.
2 Changi Village Road, hours vary by stall from 07:00–00:00.
Suggested pairing: Changi Village is right beside the ferry terminal to the eco-paradise of Pulau Ubin, so fill up before or after your island trip. Alternatively, get your favourite hawker food packaged to-go and enjoy an impromptu picnic at Changi Beach Park.
Tiong Bahru Market: Tiong Bahru is one of Singapore’s oldest housing estates and the second floor of the market is the perfect place to sample hawker dishes with distinctively Chinese roots like or lak (fried oyster omelet), bak kut teh (herbal pork rib soup), and kwap chap (braised intestines with noodles). If you’re not feeling that adventurous, you can’t go wrong with the boneless chicken rice (stall #02-82), roasted pork (stall #02-67/68), or the homemade noodles with juicy prawns from stall #02-50 – it's been a bestseller for 50 years.
30 Seng Poh Road, hours vary by stall from 06:00–23:00.
Suggested pairing: The Tiong Bahru Market is a 10-minute walk from Tiong Bahru MRT station. Make a stop for a meal before taking the MRT further west to attractions like Jurong Bird Park or the Chinese and Japanese Gardens.
You can also get away from the city centre to explore the residential areas of Singapore and taste the fantastic hawker food -- the money you’ll save on meals will cover the MRT fare to get here!
Chomp Chomp Food Centre: Bright and boisterous, Chomp Chomp is one of the few heartland hawker centres that does most of its business after dark. Reserve a table Singapore-style with a packet of tissues, then join the queue for the famous barbecue stingray from Chomp Chomp Seafood (Stall #1) – if you like it spicy, ask for extra sambal. Also worth the wait are the S$1 chicken wings from Stall #3, Hokkien-style prawn noodles from Stall #27, and popiah (similar to a fresh springroll) from Stall #19. Tiger beer with ice cubes is the drink of choice.
20 Kensington Park Road, most stalls open from 17:00 – 00:00
Suggested pairing: Chomp Chomp is a five-minute taxi ride from Ang Mo Kio MRT station. Come for a laid-back meal and a few beers after spending the day at the Singapore Zoo.
Pasir Panjang Food Centre: This west coast hawker centre is just as famous as Newton Circus for its seafood, but you won’t find any touts or tour buses here. Hua Kee (Stall #10/11/12) has the biggest selection with grilled stingray, prawns, fish and cockles, but neighbouring Stall #14 has better prices for Sri Lankan crab in your choice of sauce. If you’re not in the mood for seafood, there’s satay, fried carrot cake, roti prata, and good Thai food. The seafood stalls stay open later than the others.
121 Pasir Panjang Road, hours vary by stall from 10:00 – 00:00.
Suggested pairing: With the opening of the Pasir Panjang MRT station on October 8, getting to Pasir Panjang Food Centre is a breeze. From here it’s just one stop to bizarre (and free!) Haw Par Villa for a crash course in Chinese mythology.
Adam Road Food Centre: The curries, briyani and other spicy dishes from Adam Road Food Centre rival anything you find in Little India, but most diners come for the famous nasi lemak. Stall #2 sells many consider the best nasi lemak in all of Singapore and this meal of coconut rice, fried chicken, fish cake, anchovies and spicy sambal packs enough calories to get you through the day. If the queue seems absurdly long try the nasi lemak from the copycat stalls (it’s almost as good) or the Indian-style rojak (Stall #5), mutton soup (Stall #10), or one of the many fried noodle stalls. Wash it down with a steaming cup of teh halia (gingermilk tea) from Stall #15 – they’re open 24 hours.
2 Adam Road, some stalls open 24 hours.
Suggested pairing: Explore the lush Botanic Gardens in the coolness of the early morning, then head to Adam Road Food Centre for breakfast. It’s a five-minute walk from the new Botanic Gardens MRT station at the northern part of the park.
Tanya Procyshyn is a freelance writer and photographer. With a passion for unusual destinations, she has camped alongside Komodo dragons and shook hands with soldiers in North Korea.
Our top 10 places to eat and drink around Downtown Singapore