Hawker Centres in Singapore

To understand a country’s people, you need to eat what they eat. Food is the universal language we speak and luckily for me, I have no barriers. The last time I visited South East Asia, I was living a lie as a vegetarian. Two years of going green put me off everything meat. Surprisingly, I gained weight, expanded by 8 inches around the waist, had several bad hair days and whatnot. During that time, I was limited to steamed vegetables, rice, and relied on my hotel’s breakfast buffet for nourishment. This usually meant stuffing my face with pancakes. This time around, things were rather different. I was really looking forward to my time in Singapore as I wanted to nose dive into its culture through food. And nose dive I did on my first night. Fresh off the flight, I dropped off my luggage at the plush Pan Pacific Hotel in Marina Square to make my way to Makansutra Gluttons Bay at 8 Raffles Ave #01-15. It was my first experience at a hawker centre and it cemented the rest of my trip.

Gluttons Bay

Back in the day, people wanted quick and easy access to food. Hawker centres in Singapore blossomed around 1950s and 1960s. Roadside food carts slowly vanished and entered a food hub like a hawker centre. In those days, hawker centres had a reputation for being unhygienic, badly managed, and riddled with pests. The government decided to take action against unlicensed food carts and bring about a positive change. Everything was regularised with strict rules that ensured hygiene and customer satisfaction. In the early 1990s, hawker centres starting looking better and were starting to be known as food courts. They are kept in check through regular inspections by various government bodies to ensure the high standards are maintained throughout.

This inspection bit seems clinical but the food served at these centres/ food courts are anything, but ordinary. Asian food is a mix of easy to prepare meals and elaborate recipes. As a chef, you could either spend minutes or even days to prepare meals. Both equally delicious! Residents I spoke with said that Singaporeans rarely cook at home, especially when the man and the woman go out to work. Instead, they swing by the nearest hawker centre and make a meal out of it.

Char Siew Noodles

Coming back to my experience at Glutton’s Bay, it is owned by KF Seetoh. He is known as the food encyclopaedia of Singapore cuisine and very rightly so. As a popular figure in Singapore, he has dedicated his life to exploring hawker centres and bringing noteworthy food stalls in the limelight.  Handpicked by his company, Makansutra, Gluttons Bay maintains a high standard of quality. Situated right by the Singapore River, this little hawker centre was dotted with food stalls selling a variety of things. There was seafood of all kinds mixed in spices and ready to cook. Different kinds of meats were ready to be sliced and served. Woks in different sizes were heated up to cook your noodle or rice dish as soon as you placed an order. Every stall was a specialist in one particular dish.

IMG_20150415_223542 (1)
Chicken Rice with Kailan at Gluttons Bay

Chicken Rice is a staple dish at every hawker centre and Gluttons Bay has Hainanese Chicken Rice (available in roast and steam options) that makes a cheap yet delicious meal for as little as $4.50. Sliced chicken with a side of fragrant rice and soup is as simple as it gets. Order a portion of steamed Kailan on the side which is a native green similar to spinach. A drizzle of soy and fried garlic just uplifts the humble dish priced at $6. You’ll even find Sambal Stingray, Seafood Noodles, and BBQ Calamari at a bbq stall there that specializes in seafood grills $8 onwards.

Stuffed Tofu at ION Orchard Food COurt
Stuffed Tofu at ION Orchard Food COurt
Hock Lam Beef at ION Orchard
Lim Chee Guan at ION Orchard is a must try

Apart from Gluttons Bay, there’s….

Maxwell Road Hawker Centre in the heart of Chinatown. There are over 100 stalls offering different kinds of dishes. Locals recommend trying Tian Tian Chicken Rice, Char Kway Teow from Marina South Delicious Food stall, and Congee with Century Egg.
Where: 11 South Bridge Rd

Tiong Bahru has an Anthony Bourdain approved food court which he speaks about on his Layover episode. Here you must try their Tiong Bahru Fish Balls and Pork Ribs Prawn Noodles. You even get the best Chwee Kueh (steamed rice cakes topped with chilli) in town at this food court.
Where: 30 Seng Poh Road

ION Orchard does a food tour for free everyday at 11 am. A guide takes you around the massive food court which lies under the magnificent mall. He stops to explain certain dishes and lets you sample some of them along the way. At the end of the hour long tour which finishes at lunch time, you get a $5 voucher redeemable at the food court. At the food court you must try Old Cucumber Pork Rib Soup, Char Siew Noodles (with extra chillies!), the best Beef Noodle Soup at Hok Lam Beef, Premium Bak Kut Teh (pork rib soup) at Balestier Bak Kut Teh, and Braised Duck Porridge. You’ll spot a beverage cart with really unusual looking drinks so pick up the one with goji berries and snow fungus. It’s weird but delicious. Lim Chee Guan is a delightful little shop selling bak kwa. It is similar to beef jerky and super addictive. Their Singapore Slice Pork and BBQ Chilli Pork is simply marvellous and lasts for up to 10 days so they make for great presents for friends and family. Speaking of addictive, Lim Chee Guan also sells these rolls which are either stuffed with prawns or pork. A box comes for $8.50 and oh so delicious!
Where: 2 Orchard Turn

P.S: You can get this food trail & other awesome experiences complimentary when you book a Singapore Airlines flight

Does this make you hungry?  Here’s why you must plan your next trip to Singapore:

  1. Singapore turns 50 this year. No better time to grab the celebratory airfares from Singapore Airlines starting from Rs. 22,000 per person. It comes with a bundle of surprises filled with complimentary experiences & attraction. Read more
  2. Hotel deals where you pay for 2 Nights and get 3rd Night free.
  3. Shop Till You Drop with the never-ending Shopping deals and so much more!

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