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How To Eat Like A Local In Singapore: Hawker Centers

How To Eat Like A Local In Singapore: Hawker Centers

Picture of Prianka Ghosh
Updated: 30 November 2016
One of the first things that you will hear about Singapore is that the people who live here love two things: shopping and eating. That may sound like an over-simplification of a country with nearly six million people, but the truth is that Singapore has some of the best food on the planet, from high-end, five-star restaurants to modest, local hawker centers. If your goal is to eat like a local in Singapore, these outdoor eating spots are just the place to go.

Hawker Centre Guide

The first thing to do when you arrive in a hawker is to find a table and chope (reserve) it. You do this by placing something on the table. Packets of tissues are most commonly used, but anything that shows the table is occupied will do. Make a mental note of your table number and move on to the hard part – deciding what you want to eat!

What To Eat

In any hawker centre, you will find a diverse range of food including Chinese, Malay, Indian, Middle Eastern, Vietnamese, Thai, and Peranakan among others. With that level of selection, there are countless mouthwatering options, but here are a few iconic Singaporean dishes to get you started.

Chili Crab

Chili crab is Singapore’s most iconic food. This delicious dish features a thick, sweet and spicy chili sauce filled with pieces of egg. If you choose this dish, add some mantous (fried buns) to your meal to wipe up the sauce after you’ve devoured every morsel of crab. Another way of serving crab is with a black pepper rub. It’s a dry rub that the crab is fried in. Be aware that crab is often sold by weight (usually per 100 grams), so check the scales at the stall before you complete your order to avoid a nasty surprise when you receive your bill.

© Black Pepper Crab / cegoh/Pixabay | © Chili Crab / Prianka Ghosh

© Black Pepper Crab / cegoh/Pixabay | © Chili Crab / Prianka Ghosh

Chicken Rice

Perhaps the most famous Singaporean dish, chicken rice, (it’s actually Hainanese, from the Hainan province in China) is an everyday staple. To prepare this dish, the entire chicken is first poached in near-boiling water. Once cooked, the fat from this stock, along with a mix of ginger, garlic and other herbs, is used to cook the rice. The result is perfectly tender chicken and deliciously fragrant rice.


Finally, another dish that must be tried while at a hawker is laksa. There seem to be as many different versions of laksa as there are people in Singapore! This dish originates from Peranakan culture, which is a mix of Straits Chinese and Malay influences. Laksa is a noodle soup made from coconut milk, spicy curry or assam and filled with a mix of vermicelli, fish cakes, tofu, prawns and cockles.