All Articles 4 best hawker centers in Singapore—and what to eat there

4 best hawker centers in Singapore—and what to eat there

Top chefs and food writers share their fave spots, traveler tips, and more

A montage of images including Damian D'Silva, MasterChef Singapore judge and founder of Rempapa, sampling of dishes at ABC Brickworks, a plate of char kway teow, and queues for Tai Wah Pork Noodles
Joseph Koh
Jamie Sage
By Joseph Koh and Jamie Sage5 Apr 2023 4 minutes read

Eating well in this city doesn’t mean emptying your pockets. A tiny island big on food, Singapore has over 110 hawker centers that will serve up a hearty meal for only US$5 (or less). Buzzing with sizzling grills, steaming pots, and heady spices, these open-air food courts are the soul of Singapore’s storied food traditions. The halls of any hawker center hold a spellbinding array of dishes across cultures, from Hainanese chicken rice to nasi lemak (coconut rice) and roti prata (Indian flatbread). The world’s cheapest Michelin-starred meal was also once found right here—in the humble hawker center.

A montage of food and happenings at Chinatown Complex Food Centre and Tekka Centre, Singapore
Locals and tourists dining at Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Singapore
An everyday scene at Chinatown Complex Food Centre

If a couple of days in Singapore is all you’ve got, narrowing the hawker picks down can feel overwhelming. To help you out, we got four passionate locals—chefs and food writers, no less—to share their most-loved hawker centers, must-try stalls, and top tips. Whether you’re craving breakfast or supper (eating is an all-day affair!), there’s nowhere better to get the best of local food.

💡 Keen on exploring a few hawker centers at one go? Eat your way around town with a guide.

Chinatown Complex Food Centre

Recommended by Damian D’Silva, founder of Rempapa—a restaurant known for heritage cooking

A selection of dishes from Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Singapore
Aunties dining at Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Singapore
Hawker centers are a great way to sample lots of dishes and meet locals from all walks of life

Hawker centers in Singapore were created to house street vendors under one convenient roof. These roadside cooks used to line the tarmac with their mobile kitchens, serving comfort food for migrant laborers, merchants, and clerks back in the day.

Built in 1981, Chinatown Complex Food Centre is Singapore’s largest hawker center with more than 250 stalls. “There are a few second-generation hawkers here—some of their stalls used to operate along the streets right beside the building,” said Damian D’Silva. If you’re visiting the traveler-fave Buddha Tooth Relic Temple and Museum, this lively spot is (literally) a stone's throw away.

D'Silva’s must-try stalls:

Hill Street Fried Kway Teow for char kway teow (stir-fried flat noodles), Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck and Kway Chap for kway chap (rice sheets served with braised pork cuts), Weng Kiang Kee Porridge for sliced pork porridge, Fatty Ox Hong Kong Kitchen for beef brisket noodles, Lin Da Qiang (林大强) for sweet-sour pork and their fish head dishes.

A portrait of Damian D'Silva, founder of Rempapa and MasterChef Singapore judge, at Chinatown Complex Food Centre
Braised beef noodles from Fatty Ox HK Kitchen, Chinatown Complex Food Centre
(L-R) Damian D'Silva, founder of Rempapa and MasterChef Singapore judge; braised beef brisket noodles from Fatty Ox Hong Kong Kitchen
Video montage of hawker stalls from ABC Brickworks Food Centre

ABC Brickworks Food Centre

Recommended by Pamelia Chia, author of Wet Market to Table & writer of the Singapore Noodles newsletter

(L-R) Well-loved for their char siew (barbecued marinated pork), Fatty Cheong is one of ABC Brickworks' most popular stalls; sparkling lights at ABC Brickworks during Chinese New Year; a hawker making naan bread; beyond the hawker center, ABC Brickworks also houses a bustling wet market in the morning

Opened in the 1970s, ABC Brickworks has long been a local favorite with around 100 stalls whipping up a generous variety of dishes. When exploring the Southern Ridges nature trail or gallery hopping at Gillman Barracks, a 10-minute car ride will whisk you here. “It may be a little out of the way, but there’s so much good food to choose from,” shared Pamelia Chia. “One stall I make a beeline for is Jason Penang Cuisine—their prawn noodles do not skimp on flavor.”

Chia’s must-try stalls:

Jin Jin Hot/Cold Desserts for chendol (a dessert made with jellies, coconut milk, and palm sugar syrup), Fatty Cheong for barbecued meat, Jason Penang Cuisine for prawn noodles, ThunderBowl Lei Cha for thunder tea rice.

Women eating power chendol from Jin Jin Dessert at  ABC Brickworks, Singapore
Queues at Jin Jin Dessert, ABC Brickworks
Cool off from Singapore's sunny weather with some shaved ice at Jin Jin Dessert

Tekka Centre

Recommended by Vasunthara Ramasamy, chef and founder of South Indian private home dining experience Cutlery Optional

A sampling of Tekka Centre's popular dishes
A lady picking out her favorite Indian rojak ingredients, an iconic Singapore dish that means "eclectic mix" in colloquial Malay
(L-R) A sampling of Tekka Centre's popular dishes; a local picking out her favorite Indian rojak ingredients, an iconic Singapore dish that means "eclectic mix" in colloquial Malay

Located in the colorful Little India neighborhood, Tekka Centre is a hawker center, wet market, and shopping arcade rolled into one. This is a great place if you’re on the lookout for halal food. Whenever she’s prepping for a feast, Tekka Centre is one of Vasunthara Ramasamy’s go-tos: “I feel alive in this hawker center—there is so much to take in culturally, and makes Singapore seem less of a concrete jungle.”

Vasunthara’s must-try stalls:

Generation Coffee for great Nanyang coffee; 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles, Jaan West Coast for mee goreng (stir-fried yellow noodles) and white beehoon goreng (stir-fried rice noodles); Noor Asian Food for goreng pisang (fried banana fritters), jemput-jemput (fritters), and sardine curry puff.

A hawker from Jaan West Coast in Tekka Centre whipping up some mee goreng
Mee goreng from Jaan West Coast at Tekka Centre, Singapore
Mee Goreng (fried noodles), an Indian Muslim dish made of fiery red noodles. It's less spicy than it looks!
A video of scenes from Prata Saga Sambal Berlada, Tekka Centre

Hong Lim Food Centre

Recommended by Evelyn Chen, food writer and editor who also runs private hawker tours

A long line at Tai Wah Pork Noodle at Hong Lim Food Centre, Singapore
A plate of char kway teow from Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee
More scrumptious food from different hawker stalls at Hong Lim Food Centre
L-R) Unsure on which stall to pick? A safe bet would be the one with the longest line; char kway teow (stir-fried flat noodles); a hawker making curry puffs from scratch; sticky rice dumplings hanging from a stall; a hawker “uncle” brewing kopi (local coffee)

It may be set in Chinatown, but Hong Lim Food Centre keeps a quintessentially local vibe as it’s surrounded by public housing flats. For food writer Evelyn Chen, this two-story haven is great for travelers on the hunt for street food. She may have dined at some of the fanciest spots, but hawker centers hold a special place in her heart: “There are fine-dining restaurants all over the world but not many cities have a hawker culture so deeply ingrained in the lives of the people.”

Chen’s must-try stalls:

Tai Wah Pork Noodle for bak chor mee (minced meat noodles), Outram Park Fried Kway Teow Mee for char kway teow (stir-fried flat noodles), and Qi Xiang Cha Shi (其祥茶室) for kaya (coconut jam) toast and kopi-o (black coffee).

Top 5 tips when visiting Singapore’s hawker centers

A video of Cheng Meng Teng from Withlocals taking travelers on a hawker tour
Ching Meng Teng from Withlocals taking travelers on a hawker tour

1. Get a guide to whisk you to the best stalls

“Navigating Singapore’s hawker scene is complicated unless you do your research properly or get a guide,” said Chen. There are lots of local pros who’ll bring you around the popular hawker centers in just a couple of hours. Besides rounding up the iconic dishes from different spots for travelers, guide Ching Meng Teng from Withlocals dived into the country's vivid cultures and its decades-long obsession with great food.

Popular hawker food tours

2. Customize dishes as you please

“You can make special requests when you order, like asking for less chili or more vinegar. The stall owner will happily make it for you,” shared Chia. If this feels daunting, go ahead and ask the person behind you in the queue to help you out—most Singaporeans will gladly oblige.

3. Come ready with tissues and wet wipes

“Be sure to bring a packet of tissue paper or an umbrella with you to ‘chope’ a table,” said Chen. To “chope” means to reserve a spot at the hawker center—trust that no one else will snatch your seat away. Vasunthara added, “Always bring wet wipes, so you can clean the seats.”

Travelers sharing a variety of dishes from Tekka Centre, Singapore
A packet of tissue paper at a hawker center table
(L-R) Order a few dishes to share—sharing food is common among locals; a simple packet of tissue paper is enough to "chope" your spot

4. Check the timings of your favorite stalls

Vasunthara’s tip: “A hawker center changes from day to night—do your research, plan your time and stomach, and visit when it’s not as crowded.” This could mean heading down during the lull between breakfast and lunch (around 11 a.m.). Leave time to queue for highly-rated dishes. Stalls tend to close when the food sells out.

5. Order a few dishes and share

“Don’t just order one dish. Go with two or three others and share a few dishes among yourselves,” said D’Silva. You can also order a bigger portion, so there’s more to go around. Communal dining is very Singaporean, so you’ll be in good company.

Bonus tip:

Should you have some time to spare, try taking a short walk beyond the hawker center. You may uncover bustling wet markets, unique sundry stores, or old-school public housing flats—glimpses of everyday living in Singapore that many travelers have yet to discover.

Joseph Koh
Joseph is a travel and culture writer based in Singapore. His work has appeared in Monocle, Courier Media, Design Anthology, Cereal, and more. During his free time, he’s either exploring a nature trail or munching on a bao—quite likely the latter.
Jamie Sage
Jamie is an Art Director and Photographer based in Singapore.