The number one piece of advice we received before our Southeast Asia trip was to eat at the Singapore hawker stalls. I’m not one to turn down good food. In fact, it’s one of the main reasons why I seek out certain travel destinations. And I definitely won’t turn down good food at great prices – which is exactly what you’ll find at Singapore hawker stalls!
If you’re interested in Singapore’s hawker stalls check out some of my tips for first timers below!
What is a hawker stall?
Okay, let’s start with an easy one. What the heck is a hawker stall (sometimes just called “hawker”) or hawker centre? Great question. I would describe them as an open air mall food court. Or like a bunch of food trucks all parked together. Hawker centres are composed of many hawker stalls. Each stall is a tiny restaurant front that serves food. There are then tables located throughout the middle of the centre, just like in the food court at the mall.
The reason these hawker centres are raved about is because the food is absolutely amazing and the prices are dirt cheap. In an expensive city like Singapore that’s known for great cuisine, this is basically the holy grail.
There are hawker centres all over
As we were planning for our Southeast Asia trip, everyone kept saying we had to go eat at Singapore hawker stalls. So my natural response was, “Great! Where are they?” Is there one hawker centre we need to go to? Or a certain area of town?
Turns out, not really. There are hawker centres all over the place. Of course, each is different and locals will have their favourites. But I doubt you’d find one with bad food, so I’d just go to whichever one is most convenient.
Each stall specializes in a certain dish
This is one of the most unique things about Singapore hawker stalls. Each stall specializes in a certain dish or certain type of dish. For example, we went to one stall that just served roasted duck, either with rice or with noodles. Another stall just served fish soup. And another just served bubble tea.
The idea is that each stall perfects one dish instead of trying to deliver a huge menu of food. And it works well given the small space these stalls have to cook – they don’t have the space or resources to make a bunch of different meals.
Take a walk first
Before you make any decisions about which stalls to order from, take a walk around the hawker centre. There are lots of options and it might be helpful to survey what else is out there. You don’t want to fill up on the first stall you see if there’s a hidden gem just around the corner.
Order lots and share
Because each stall specializes in only one dish, it makes sense to order from a few different stalls so you can try a variety of things. I noticed that the plates seemed on the smaller side, so it wasn’t unreasonable to order three plates between two people – or more if you’re really hungry.
Each plate is only going to set you back a few dollars, so go ahead and order a few!
Go where the line up is
This is a trick that I think works almost everywhere in the world – including Singapore hawker stalls. If you don’t know where to go or what to get, just follow the line up. Bonus points if it looks like the line is mostly local people.
If people are willing to wait in line for something, it usually means that something is really good and worth waiting for. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by choices at a hawker centre, just seek out any stall with a line. This is how I found some delicious soy sauce chicken and Indonesian barbecue!
Try something new
The whole point of being in a different country and visiting a hawker centre for the first time is for the experience, right? So don’t be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone. Singapore is known as a foodie haven so odds are you’re going to end up with something delicious. And even if you didn’t love it, it probably only cost you $3. So be brave and order that dish – even if you have no clue what’s in it!
Try something familiar
At the same time, I think finding the familiar in a new situation is a good way to comfortably ease yourself in. When we visited a hawker centre for lunch in Singapore one day, I could tell Colin was getting a little bit overwhelmed. It was hot and humid out, most of the stalls were serving unfamiliar dishes, and Colin was unsure what to do. As a slightly picky eater (though he did do so well on our trip trying new things!), not knowing what he should order or what types of things are being served is stressful.
So Colin decided to go with something familiar. He went over to a Chinese food stall that had dishes of pre-made food, kind of like the Chinese fast food restaurants you see at the mall. This was something Colin understood and, best of all, he could actually see the food he was ordering. And even though it wasn’t the most adventurous dish and the stall wasn’t lined up, the plate of food ended up being really good. And it was less than $3.
Don’t worry about the lack of English
While English is one of Singapore’s national languages, it’s not always common at the hawker centres. But don’t let that stop you from enjoying Singapore hawker stalls! This is another bonus of each stall only serving one dish – you don’t have to try to decipher a whole menu in a different language. You can get away with some English, some pointing and som patience.
I stood in line at a roast duck stall where none of the signage was in English. I had absolutely no clue how to order or what the dish was – besides the duck hanging behind the glass. So when I reached the front of the line, I just pointed at the duck and asked for one. The guy behind the stall was able to help me out and I was enjoying delicious roast duck a few minutes later!
Sit in the action
The atmosphere of Singapore hawker stalls is really cool, especially during a busy lunch or dinner rush. It’s fun to sit right in the middle of the action. Grab all your dishes and spread out at one of the food court style tables. Bonus points if you can get one under a fan to help combat the heat and humidity!
Singapore hawker stalls are home to some of the most delicious and most affordable eating in all of Singapore. You don’t want to miss out on this when you visit Singapore!
Have you been to a hawker stall? Or would you try them out?
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