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A guide to eating your way through Singapore’s hawker centres

Chicken rice to carrot cake and everything in between — when in the island city, make sure to try these stir-fired, barbecued, curried delicacies

Roxanne Bamboat | Published 05.03.24, 07:55 PM
Singapore's hawker centres are a mainstay of the city, serving the best of everyhting that makes up Singaporean cuisine

Singapore's hawker centres are a mainstay of the city, serving the best of everyhting that makes up Singaporean cuisine


If eating was a national sport, Singaporeans would ace it. They take their food seriously and with Malay, Chinese and south Indian influences — the food tapestry of the tiny nation is bursting with a mix of robust flavours. From local corner shops for cheap eats to fancy fine dines that make it to the Michelin guide and Asia’s top 50 Best — you’re spoilt for choice.

Singapore's hawker centres are always bustling with locals and tourists alike

Singapore's hawker centres are always bustling with locals and tourists alike

The real charm of Singaporean food lies in their incredible hawker centres. Dedicated areas — think massive indoor or outdoor food courts — in different localities that host a range of stalls offering the best of what Singaporean cuisine has to offer. If you’re a food enthusiast looking to navigate their way through one such hawker centre, then this will help be your starting point. These are some treasures you must feast on…




This meal in a bowl is comfort food in every slurp. The creamy coconut milk-based curry with cut up rice noodles and a heaping portion of seafood, is a rage in Singapore. It’s slightly different from the laksa in Penang (Malaysia) and often called Katong laksa or the Singaporean version which is creamier and less tangy than its Malaysian counterpart, and eaten with a soup spoon and chopsticks.

Hokkien mee


If you enjoy a good noodle dish then this one hits the spot. This Chinese dish, which has roots in the Hokkien Fujian province is a wok-tossed noodle, usually served with a flavourful seafood-pork broth. It’s a combination of two types of noodles — yellow egg noodles and white rice vermicelli noodles — tossed with egg and seafood, usually prawn and squid, and often pork, with a side of chilli sauce. These noodles are relatively dry and don’t have a thick sauce but different vendors make their own version.

Hainanese chicken rice

Wikimedia Commons, Shutterstock

Not only is this one immensely popular with the locals but also often considered Singapore’s national dish! The locals love this dish and some hawker centres are famous for their version with locals and tourists both lining up. The origins of this dish can be traced back to the Hainanese and Cantonese migrant communities but today it’s probably the most iconic dish when it comes to Singaporean cuisine. It’s a simple plate of poached chicken and rice that’s cooked in chicken stock or broth, with sides of extra broth and some chilli sauce, and some cucumber. It’s wholesome, flavourful and worth all the hype.

Carrot cake and Black carrot cake

Shutterstock, Wikimedia Commons

Funnily enough there isn’t any carrot or cake in this dish but plump pieces of preserved daikon radish that are cut into cubes cooked, mixed with egg and chilies, and stir fried to give it that intense smoky aroma. There are two versions of this dish — the white carrot cake and the black carrot cake which is cooked with soy sauce to give it a darker colour and a sweet, stickier glaze.

Fish head curry


This is a local adaptation of fish head curries from southern India. Meant to be the most flavourful part of the fish, it is cooked with vegetables in a spicy curry often served on a bed of rice and accompanied with a glass of lime juice. The story of this dish is that an Indian chef was tasked with feeding a group of Chinese diners and so he made the curry and added the fish head as it’s one of the most loved parts of the fish for the Chinese. It was an instant hit and a legendary dish was born.

Char kway teow

You’ll find noodle dishes in every shape and form in Singapore — in a bowl of soup or tossed in Hokkein mee style — but the one that gets the most love is the char kway teow. This messy, greasy mix of deliciousness is a stir-fry noodle dish made with rice noodles, cockles, prawn, egg and sweet Chinese sausage. It’s a tricky dish to make and requires some serious wok handling skills or the rice noodles tend to clump together and it becomes a gooey mash but somehow the hawkers always manage to toss up a masterpiece.

Singapore Chilli Crab

No Singapore food list is complete without the mention of the signature Singapore chilli crab. It’s not easily found at a hawker centre but there are plenty of restaurants offering the same. It’s ironic, because even though it’s called chilli crab its flavour profile is sweeter and tangier than spicy. Mud crabs are cooked in a sauce that’s thickened with eggs, chilli paste, ketchup and tomatoes. When eating the Singapore chilli crab, you have to get messy because this one is best eaten with your hands and that fragrant sauce must be mopped up with freshly made Mantou buns or steamed buns.


More of a side dish or a party appetiser than a main dish, the satay is a southeast Asian, and definitely Singaporean, favourite. Often referred to as ‘Asian kebabs’ this dish with Indonesian roots is found everywhere in Singapore. Skewers of meat — chicken, pork or beef — are marinated and grilled on an open flame and served with a signature peanut sauce and a chilli-cucumber relish. A great precursor to any meal in Singapore.

Sambal stingray 

This might be the perfect barbecue dish in Singapore with its intense flavours. The meaty stingray fish is cut into steak-like pieces and marinated sambal paste, which is a mix of chilies, shallots, cane sugar and lime, before being wrapped in a banana leaf and grilled over a hot pan or barbecue. The spicy, smoky fish is served with a garnish of onions, some calamansi lemon and more sambal sauce.

Roxanne Bamboat, aka The Tiny Taster (@thetinytaster), is a Mumbai-based content creator, food and travel writer, event curator, and travel consultant

Last updated on 05.03.24, 08:03 PM

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