A visit to one of the world’s most expensive cities doesn’t mean you’ll spend a fortune dining out. Singapore’s lively, no-frills hawker centers are where the best food is found, and you can enjoy a full meal for less than $5.
Don’t just take our word for it: Singapore’s hawker culture is so distinctive that it was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2020. Around the city, there are more than 118 of these open-air food courts, all offering a wide variety of cuisine (Chinese, Malay, Indian), reflective of the city-state’s multi-ethnic makeup. Expect to see halal and Chinese hawkers cooking side by side, casual seating arrangements (it’s not unusual for people to share tables), and a mostly cash-based self-service ordering system (some stall owners now accept card/digital payments like Apple Pay and AliPay). Because the food is freshly prepared, most hawkers have sporadic opening hours, closing shop once they’re sold out, so go by lunchtime or risk being disappointed.
While the choices can prove overwhelming, the good news is you rarely get a bad hawker meal. When in doubt, join the stall with the longest queue and replicate the order of the patron in front of you. Looking for a little more guidance? These are among the best hawker centers in Singapore—most patronized by locals for decades—and what we recommend you order.
1. Hong Lim Market & Food Centre
A fixture in the Chinatown area since it was built in 1978, this hawker center near Chinatown MRT is on the smaller side (it has just 100 stalls) but it’s a go-to spot for many working in the area. Loyal customers join snaking queues daily at heritage hawker stalls. It’s busiest at lunchtime thanks to its location in the Central Business District; try going a little before to beat the crowds. When in doubt, order from the Michelin Bib Gourmand awardees (selected by the French tire company for serving “great food at reasonable prices”).
Best stalls to visit
Tai Wah Pork Noodle
#02-16 Hong Lim Market & Food Centre, Blk 531A Upper Cross St., S051531. Open daily 7:30 a.m.–3 p.m.
Arguably one of Singapore’s best versions of bak chor mee (minced pork noodles tossed in a vinegar-chili sauce), this family-owned eatery has earned multiple awards and has unrelenting queues daily. A Bib Gourmand winner, the saucy, springy noodles in a mixture of tangy black vinegar, chili, and lard oil has an unmistakable umami flavor enhanced by well-seasoned minced meat, soft wontons, and pork meatballs. Thin slices of pork liver and crispy sole fish are the crowning glory.
Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee
#02-17 Hong Lim Market & Food Centre, Blk 531A Upper Cross St., S051531. Open daily 6 a.m.–3 p.m.
This third-generation hawker stall—another Bib Gourmand awardee—has no shortage of customers, thanks to its ability to produce a plate of char kway teow (stir-fried rice noodles) that’s the perfect balance of savory and sweet. (More amazing still: They have no written recipe.) The noodles are bathed in dark soya sauce and chili with a generous punch of wok hei (wok aroma, for that inimitable smoky flavor), accented by crunchy bean sprouts, juicy cockles (optional), and nuggets of pork lard fried fresh daily. Pro tip: If you see a particularly big portion being fried up, it’s veteran hawker Ng Chin Chye at the helm.
Tanglin Crispy Curry Puff
#02-34 Hong Lim Market and Food Centre, Blk 531A Upper Cross St., S051531. Open daily 8 a.m.–4 p.m.
Chances are you’ll be waiting a bit for your main meal so you might as well have a snack while doing so. These handrolled curry puffs are especially popular—they’re generously stuffed with a mix of curried chicken, egg, and potato in a crisp, light pastry before it is flash fried to perfection.
2. Adam Road Food Centre
Small in size and known for its halal-certified eats, this hawker center is located opposite the Singapore Botanical Gardens (Bukit Timah Gate). After exploring the tropical grounds of the UNESCO World Heritage site, tuck into some hawker favorites: mee soto (spicy chicken noodle dish), Hokkien mee (stir-fried noodles with prawns), and mee goreng (Indonesian style stir-fried noodles). Organized in a simple U-shape and framed by five angsana trees, there are approximately 40 stalls run by longtime owners doing brisk business for decades.
Best stalls to visit
Selera Rasa Nasi Lemak
#01-02 Adam Road Hawker Centre, 2 Adam Rd., S289877. Open Saturday and Sunday 7 a.m.–3 p.m.; Monday–Thursday 7 a.m.–5 p.m.
This plate of nasi lemak (coconut rice) is fit for royalty—literally. (It is a favorite of the Sultan of Brunei, according to the Straits Times.) There’s always a queue for the Royal Rumble, a combination plate of fluffy aromatic basmati rice served with an assortment of sides: deep-fried potato pancake, flash-fried chicken, otah (spiced fish cake), crispy peanuts and fried anchovies, accompanied by a generous dollop of sambal chili.
Bahrakath Mutton Soup King
#01-10 Adam Road Hawker Centre, 2 Adam Rd., S289877. Open daily 1 p.m.–3 a.m.
There aren’t many places to still get a warm bowl of mutton soup, but this longtime favorite has been deemed sedap (delicious) by those in the know. Hours of boiling mutton bones result in this rich, robust, spiced soup with chunks of tender mutton topped by crispy scallion and onions.
Noo Cheng Adam Road Big Prawn Mee
#01-17 Adam Road Hawker Centre, 2 Adam Rd., S289876. Open 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m., 6:30 p.m.–11:30 p.m.
On cold rainy days, there’s rarely anything more comforting than a piping hot bowl of prawn noodles (hae mee): your pick of yellow egg noodles or thin rice vermicelli, festooned with fresh prawns, sweet pork slices, and springy fish cake. This hawker stalwart is known for its rich, umami broth cultivated from slowly simmering prawn heads, shells, pork bones, herbs, and spices; enjoy it to the last drop.
3. Amoy Street Food Centre
In the Central Business District, this newly renovated, bustling food center has a mix of heritage hawkers, Michelin Bib Gourmand winners, and new-generation owners serving modernized hawker staples like A Fishball Story’s Singapore-style ramen with handmade fishballs. There’s a wide selection of eats, including sliced fish soup, vadai (fried Indian snacks), mee goreng, and rice dumplings to sample. Avoid lunchtime, as it gets crowded when the surrounding office crowds gather for their favorite hawker meal.
Best stalls to visit
Hoo Kee Rice Dumplings
#01-18, Amoy Street Food Centre, 7 Maxwell Rd., S069111. Open Tuesday–Friday 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
This traditional bak zhang (rice dumpling) seller has been in business for more than 50 years. A Bib Gourmand awardee, Hoo Kee is the gold standard for many locals, who flock here morning, noon, and night. Prepared daily at dawn by hand, the Hokkien-style glutinous rice is studded with nuggets of pork and roasted chestnuts and flavored with five-spice powder and soya sauce. If you’re feeling adventurous, order the salted egg version with its earthy, semi-sweet flavor.
Amoy Street Fried Kway Teow
#01-01, Amoy Street Food Centre, 7 Maxwell Rd., S069111. Open Monday–Saturday 9:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m.
What started as a traveling pushcart in the 1960s has become one of the best plates of char kway teow on the island. It is favored by many for its healthy amount of wok hei and use of fresh cockles coated with just the right amount of dark soy sauce.
Han Kee Fish Soup
#02-122, Amoy Street Food Centre, 7 Maxwell Rd., S069111. Open Monday–Friday 11 a.m.–3 p.m.
A go-to option for locals seeking a healthier hawker meal. Don’t despair if the queue for this fish soup stall seems endless—it moves quickly. This nourishing bowl (they offer three sizes) of fish soup brims with thick slices of Spanish mackerel (batang); it’s popular for its clean, fresh flavor and sweet broth spiked with bits of fried garlic.
4. Ghim Moh Market & Food Centre
Buzzing with activity from dawn till the late afternoon, this popular eating spot in the west is hidden from most tourists. Attracting a mix of students, nearby residents, and active hikers refueling while traversing the nearby 15-mile Green Corridor nature trail, it offers a selection of timeless hawker treats: boneless braised duck, appam (fermented rice pancake), fried prawn mee, and peanut pancakes. It’s also an excellent place to catch new-generation hawkers carrying on their family’s legacy.
Best stalls to visit
Li Lao San Ghim Moh Chwee Kueh
#01-54 Ghim Moh Road Market & Food Centre, 20 Ghim Moh Rd., S270020. Open daily 6:30 a.m.– 5 p.m.
The springy steamed rice cakes topped with a savory-sweet chai poh (preserved turnip) have been handmade by the same family since the 1960s. Li Lao San Ghim Moh Chwee Kueh remains a favorite of locals for its use of pork lard, which gives each cake a fuller flavor.
Jiu Jiang Shao La
#01-17 Ghim Moh Road Market & Food Centre, 20 Ghim Moh Rd., S270020. Open Thursday–Sunday 10 a.m.–2 p.m.
Brave the snaking queues for a plate of its roasted goodies: char siew (barbecue pork), roast duck, and roast pork. Choose the fattier cut of barbecued pork that’s charred beautifully—it’ll still be juicy with every bite—but you really can’t go wrong with the affordable Three Roast Meat combo plate, so you can sample it all.
Heaven’s Indian Curry
#01-26 Ghim Moh Road Market & Food Centre, 20 Ghim Moh Rd., S270020. Open Tuesday–Sunday 6 a.m.–1 p.m.
Hit up this stall for a taste of Indian breakfast staples like thosai (savory thin pancake made from fermented lentil and rice batter), appam, and putu mayam (rice flour string hoppers). If you only have stomach space to sample one item, order the bowl-shaped appam, which is handmade fresh in an iron mini wok to achieve a crisp texture. The subtle sour flavor? That’s from the rice flour and coconut milk batter, which is left to ferment for eight hours before hitting the pan.
5. Maxwell Food Centre
In the heart of Chinatown, this single-story hawker center offers a wide range of Singapore-style Chinese food. Once a wet market in the 1950s, it remains popular with residents, office workers, and tourists as a one-stop location to try everything from oyster cake to fish soup.
Best stalls to visit
Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice
#01-10/11 Maxwell Food Centre, 1 Kadayanallur St., S069184. Open Tuesday–Sunday 10 a.m.–7:30 p.m.
No visit to Singapore is complete without a plate of chicken rice, and Tian Tian arguably serves the best version. Its flavorful poached chicken is drizzled with house-made soya sauce–based dressing and served with a mound of chicken stock-–nfused rice.
China Street Fritters
#01-64 Maxwell Food Centre, 1 Kadayanallur St., S069184. Open times vary; call +65 9239 6464 before going.
Try these crispy Hokkien-style fritters while you still can. The owners of the 80-year-old hawker stall have announced they’ll hang up their aprons for the price of S$1 million dollars (US$750,000) for their secret family recipe. Until that happens, get your fill of their handmade fritters: meat rolls, egg slices, and pink sausage dipped in a starchy sweet sauce with a drop of piquant chili sauce.
Fu Shun Roasted Meat Specialist
#01-71 Maxwell Food Center, 1 Kadayanallur St., S069184. Open Monday–Saturday 11:30 a.m.–8 p.m.
Hungry office workers make a beeline here for their fix of this Cantonese stall’s crispy sio bak (roast pork belly), flavorful roast duck, and charcoal roasted char siew, served either with noodles or rice. Regulars love this stall for its generous portions and high-quality ingredients.
6. Newton Food Centre
A short drive (or walk) from Orchard Road, this bustling hawker center will look familiar thanks to its cameo in Crazy Rich Asians. (Credit to the scriptwriters who didn’t embellish the experience.) Here, the seafood stalls are plentiful (and most are excellent) and there’s a dizzying array of food to try, from laksa (spicy coconut noodle soup) to satay (spiced skewers served with a peanut sauce), ice kachang (shaved ice), and fresh-off-the-griddle oyster omelette. Top it all off with a glass of cold sugarcane juice.
Best stalls to visit
Hup Kee Fried Oyster Omelette
#01-73 Newton Food Centre, 500 Clemenceau Ave. N., S229495. Open Tuesday–Saturday 6 p.m.–midnight.
Hup Kee’s fans are steadfastly loyal to this hawker icon, who has been plying his trade since the 1960s. Expect a generous plate of crispy-edged, juicy oyster omelette accompanied by a dipping sauce of garlic-accented chili.
Guan Kee Seafood
#01-53 Newton Food Centre, 500 Clemenceau Ave. N., S229495. Open daily 11 a.m.–midnight.
There are many seafood stalls at Newton Food Centre, but Guan Kee’s halal certification makes it a safe choice for all travelers. If you order only one dish here, make it the sambal stingray, which is grilled fresh and moist to the bite, brushed with a rich shallot and dried shrimp sambal sauce. Ask for the sauce on the side if you prefer an unspicy meal.
Bee Heng Popiah and Satay Newton
#01-12 Newton Food Centre, 500 Clemenceau Ave. N., S229495. Open Friday-Wednesday noon–midnight.
Don’t even try to order a single roll of popiah (fresh Teochew-style spring roll filled with stewed turnip); there’s a minimum order of two from this hawker, who’s been in business since the 1930s. While they’re pricier than others, their traditional style of stewed soft turnip, crunchy bean sprouts, and freshly diced boiled eggs encased in a paper-thin popiah skin with a generous topping of crushed peanuts, sweet sauce, and potent chili (optional) is a multi-textured mouthful of deliciousness.
7. Old Airport Road Food Centre
Home to several famous Singapore hawkers, Old Airport Road Food Centre has been one of the island’s best-loved hawker haunts for over 40 years. The queues for popular dishes—lor mee (Hokkien-style noodles in gravy), rojak (fruit and vegetable salad with palm sugar dressing), satay, char kway teow—can get long, but there are excellent people-watching opportunities to bide the time.
Best stalls to visit
Dong Ji Fried Kway Teow
#01-138 Old Airport Road Food Centre, 51 Old Airport Rd., S390051. Open Monday—Saturday 11 a.m.–8 p.m.
Different from the sweet, dark, and wet Singapore-style fried kway teow, this Penang-style version full of wok hei is drier with charred bits of noodle and fried with a generous amount of cockles, fishcake, and prawns. The elderly uncle manning the one-man operation meticulously fries each order individually, which is reason enough to join the line.
Toa Payoh Rojak
#01-108 Old Airport Road Food Centre, 51 Old Airport Rd., S390051. Monday–Saturday noon–7 p.m.
Arguably one of the better versions of Chinese-style rojak in Singapore, the secret to Toa Payoh’s success lies in the piquant prawn-paste sauce that coats the chunks of pineapple, jicama, and kang kong (water spinach) that make up this sweet-salty fruit and vegetable salad. Expect it served with crushed peanuts and freshly toasted dough sticks.
132 Claypot Rice
#01-132, Old Airport Road Food Centre, 51 Old Airport Rd., S390051. Open Wednesday–Monday 12:30–9:30 p.m.
There’s a good reason you’ll be kept waiting for this fragrant, sweet-salty rice dish of lightly charred chicken and savory Chinese sausage with salted fish drizzled in thick dark soy: Each portion is only cooked upon order. Top up with some salted egg yolk for extra flavor and be sure to scrap all the charred bits of rice at the bottom.
8. Tekka Market Food Centre
Located at the entrance of Singapore’s vibrant Little India enclave, this multi-use building houses a wet market, food center, and retail shops in a single complex. Go here to sample the island’s best Indian food: The sprawling complex has more than 100 hawkers to sample, but the section on the first level (facing Bukit Timah Road) has a concentration of stalls serving favorites like biryani (aka briyani), thosai, and murtabak.
Note: Tekka Market Food Centre will be undergoing renovations from July 3, 2023, until September 30, 2023.
Best stalls to visit
Rasa Raja Bojun
#01-280 Tekka Centre, 665 Buffalo Rd., S210665. Open daily 9:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.
Sri Lankan food, specifically Sinhalese cuisine, isn’t particularly easy to track down in Singapore, which makes this hawker stall especially popular. Take your pick of dishes like savory-sour fish curry, seasonal jackfruit curry, and specialties like stir-fried banana blossom and side dishes like gotukola sambal, a refreshing raw green salad made with pennywort and grated coconut.
#01-232 Tekka Market Food Centre, 666 Buffalo Rd., S210665. Open daily 8 a.m.–8 p.m.
If you love a good biryani (spiced Indian rice dish with slow-cooked meats), Tekka Market is biryani central. Amid all the stalls hawking their version of this comfort dish, Allauddin’s Briyani is known for its dum-style biryani where the meat is layered and cooked till fall-apart tender with the rice to fully infuse the spices and flavors. In operation since 1968, Allauddin’s also serves a chicken and fish option.
Temasek Indian Rojak
#01-254 Tekka Market Food Centre, 666 Buffalo Rd., S210665. Open daily Tuesday–Thursday 9 a.m.–5 p.m., Friday–Sunday 9 a.m. –7 p.m.
There are many versions of rojak (“mixture” in Malay), but this stall serving the Indian version of deep-fried fritters (prawn, cuttlefish, tofu, fish cake) is celebrated for its crisp batter and sweet, homemade dipping sauce with a hint of heat. Order with your eyes, but definitely include its three types of prawn fritters, and eat them with a touch of sauce and fresh onions.
9. Tiong Bahru Market
This curved, two-story hawker center looks perfect in the art deco, hipster enclave of Tiong Bahru. As one of the oldest public housing estates in Singapore, it’s home to a few heritage hawkers and some Bib Gourmand awardees. With a wet market on the ground floor and more than 80 stalls on the upper level serving hawker classics like chwee kueh (steamed rice flour cakes topped with preserved turnip), sweet mung bean soup, Hokkien prawn mee, and lor mee, there’s something for everyone.
Best stalls to visit
Tiong Heng Fried Sotong Prawn Mee
#02-01 Tiong Bahru Market, 30 Seng Poh Rd., S168898. Open Tuesday–Sunday, 11 a.m.–3 p.m., 4:30–7:30 p.m.
A multiple Bib Gourmand awardee, this signature Hokkien mee is cooked to order in small batches so you know your dish is always fresh from the wok. Locals love the slightly charred noodles studded with bits of egg, prawns, and fishcake. Don’t forget to squeeze the fresh lime before your first bite for a touch of refreshing citrus. Go early as it typically sells out before closing time.
Tiong Bahru Lor Mee
#02-80 Tiong Bahru Food Centre, 30 Seng Poh Rd., S168898. Open Tuesday–Sunday, 5:30 a.m.–2 p.m.
The crowds gather early for a bowl of tummy-warming noodles bathed in velvety gravy with mild herbaceous notes. Topped with braised pork belly, fish cake, fried wonton, hard-boiled egg, and ngoh hiang (five-spiced pork rolls), the bowl is full enough—but customize yours by adding black vinegar, red chili, and garlic.
Zhong Yu Yuan Wei Wanton Mee
#02-30 Tiong Bahru Market, 30 Seng Poh Rd., S168898. Open Saturday, Sunday, Wednesday, and Friday 7 a.m.–1 p.m.
Residents of Tiong Bahru swear by this bowl of wonton noodles, which continually wins favor for its slices of beautifully marbled char siew that are lightly charred and tender to the bite. Don’t forget to top it all off with a smidge of chili jam.
This article was originally published in 2022. It was most recently updated on May 2, 2023 to include new information.