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Jan 30, 2010 03:13 PM

Singapore: Which Hawker Center?

Hi All.
I've read a whole bunch of very informative posts on where/what to eat in Singapore, and it all sounds good, thank you! I'm a little overwhelmed though and need help narrowing it down.

I'm from Los Angeles, single and female. I just have one afternoon/evening - plane gets in at noonish, then have to head back to the airport for bedtime (staying at the ridiculously priced Crowne Plaza in Changi Airport).

From what everybody has said, sounds like I should find a Hawker Center and just stay there and eat all afternoon/evening, since I'm alone and to get the most variety. I've been to Newton Hawker Center a few years ago and liked it, although the heat/humidity kind of got to me.

I don't speak Mandarin, don't really know the proper names for most dishes, and will be there alone, but love trying new things and like most everything. I don't mind hanging out alone, but a place with either (a) a/c and stores to go shopping (mall?) or (b) fresh outdoor ambiance (?) would be good, so I can sit with my book in between eating.

So which one would you recommend for me?
Thanks in advance!

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  1. Most hawker centers are hot and humid, so if you prefer comfortable a/c place, I will recommend Food Republic at Wisma Atria and the the food court at the basement of ION. They are next to each other. Plenty of stores for you to shop as well, or do your reading in coffee shops.

    7 Replies
    1. re: FourSeasons

      May be I too will do that during my next trip to S'pore? ION is just a short walk from the Sheraton? No?!

      1. re: Charles Yu

        Not in the Singapore heat, Charles - it's a good 15-20 minute walk. Take a MRT train from Newton to Orchard instead.

        The ION food court had been oft-criticized for its inflated prices (20% higher than other foodcourts' prices), and much clientele had moved back to Food Republic in Wisma Atria just next door. At ION, I only liked a few places:
        - Bonchon, the Korean (by way of Manhattan) fried chicken outlet (very crisp chicken wings & drumlets);
        - Noo's Thai (quite authentic, someof the items were cooked fresh on order);
        - Arinco King's delicious "sand-cake";
        - Ginza Bairin's extra-light, crisp tonkatsu;
        - Taiyaki's delicious wafers filled with (1) Ham-and-cheese, and (2) Chocolate-and-banana.
        But you do find almost all S'porean hawker food options in there: fried Hokkien noodles, oyster omelette, pork-rib soup (bah kut teh), Malay nasi padang, even Singapore fried chilli crabs. See

        Another food court to check out is the one at Takashimaya Food Village at Basement 2, Ngee Ann City. Again, the choices are pretty extensive. I liked Manna Korean - pretty good, solid Korean staples (dolsot bibimbap, samgyetang, haemultang, etc).

        1. re: klyeoh

          Stumbled upon this thread as a new arrival (10 days!) from the California board. This is very helpful.

          The longest line I had at ION foodcourt was for takoyaki opposite the ice cream place.

          Another place I found very interesting was VivoCity on my way to the Sentosa Express-the top floor has a Food Republic the basement has a Halal selection separate from the more traditional ones. BTW, the fresh coconut from the Koufu food court on Palawan Beach ain't bad either.

          Hawker centers I liked so far- Tiong Bahru (liked the crispy tofu pockets & Cêng Teng), Commonwealth, Ghim Moh. There are some nice ones long the S. Bridge Rd close to the river around employment pass center - Jombo seafood, Song fa Bak Kut Teh, Tiong Bahru boneless hainanese chicken.

          I got 2 Food guide bookletsfrom the SIngapore visitor center around Sommerset MRT-the Chinese one is definitely much better than the English one.

          1. re: Ting Ting

            Hi Ting Ting,

            next time you're at Tiong Bahru (and if there early) give the chee kueh a try. They can be a little stingy with the preserved veg but it's still (I think ) the best in Singapore. I'm flying in for one night only tomorrow and plan to hit this up first thing!

            1. re: JamTam

              Thanks! I am putting together "must-try list" before I get sent back to US...

      2. re: FourSeasons

        Thanks FourSeasons. Sounds great! Looks like they're right on the MRT line too.

        1. re: Taxgeek

          Taxgeek, once you get out at Orchard MRT, you're inside ION Orchard. Underground walkways link you to malls in all directions: Wisma Atria, Tang Plaza, Isetan Scotts and Wheelock Place. All have extensive selection of eateries.

      3. VivoCity sounds good for this, and it's reachable by MRT too. It's a multi-story shopping center that also serves as the base for visitors to go to Sentosa Island. There is a Food Republic food court inside -- same as Wisma Artia on Orchard Road. You'll find a verity of things, so you can sample different types of foods and cuisines in one shot. There is an outdoor sitting area where you can relax and read your book too.

        8 Replies
        1. re: boogiebaby

          Yeah I'd recommend vivo city aswell, you can try their banquet, kopitiam and food republic, plenty of cafes to sit and read in, shops to look at, cross the street to go to seah im food centre, take the shutte train to sentosa!

          1. re: nadzilla

            I probably recommend the ION mall as well. Lots to see and do. If you are serious though about going to a hawker center I think you should give Maxwell Hawker Center a go (about 15-20 minutes away from Orchard St by cab). I tried their Hainanese Chicken Rice there from Tian Tian (stall #28) and I want to say it is the best Chicken Rice I've had in Singapore. IMO better than Boon Tong Kee and way cheaper than Chatterbox (in the Mandarin). Cost of the awesome Chicken Rice? SG$3.5 which is about US$2. Such a great deal.

            1. re: big_apple_ken

              Cannot agree more with big_apple_ken that the chicken rice at Tian Tian is awesome. It's the best I've had as well and so much better than some of the other places like Wee Nam Kee and Chatterbox (which is ridiculously expensive).

              1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                Beware: Tian Tian is closed on Mondays. I found this out the hard way on a 30 hour layover. Had been there once and found the Chicken Rice to be not only delicious but one of the few that actually has some complexity to it if that is possible for such a simple preparation. Go early as the line is forming by 10:30 am.

                1. re: hong_kong_foodie

                  I am not a fan of Tian Tian. Rice there was good but the chicken and the chilli sauce were bland. If you picked the $3.50 set, the meat provided is mostly the breast part but local foodies usually prefer the thigh and drumstick which is more expensive. Best to order 1/2 portion if you can get 2 or more people to eat there. Wee Nam Kee's version is much more delicious (though other dishes there were terrible) and Chatterbox's overall presentation was better IMHO. Chatterbox's pricing is quite common for hotel coffee shop standard; you got nice environment, air con, good service etc for that premium.

                  1. re: FourSeasons

                    Hay Four Season! We finally have TOTAL AGREEMENT on Tian Tian's Chicken rice!!

                    1. re: Charles Yu

                      Same here. Still wondered why some people waxed lyrical about Tian Tian.

                    2. re: FourSeasons

                      Hey, stop knocking my favourite chicken rice place, you boys.

                      Okay, seriously, I am also beginning to think Tian Tian needs to use chicken with more flavour. I like their rice which I think is one of the more nice-smelling ones around. Their poached chicken also has a nice, thin skin with gelatinous "fat" underneath.

                      My favourite Hainanese chicken rice place in all of Singapore used to be Swee Kee. First, they were at Purvis Street, then they move to Peninsula Plaza in the eighties, before moving into a corner shophouse in Middle Road in the nineties.

                      When our unsentimental Government decided to widen Middle Road, they demolish the shophouse and its surroundings. The chief cook of Swee Kee decided to call it a day. So sad.

                      Now, my favourite place for chicken rice in Singapore is the same as FourSeasons' choice : Chatterbox. But it's getting more and more expensive these days :(

            2. Haha been to SIngapore once, got to say Newton Circles ( did I spell it correctly?) is pretty good. Be careful not to be overcharged though.

              1. For just one afternoon, most of the choices listed by the other guys sound pretty good! Lau Pa Sat at Raffles Quay is quite excellent in my opinion, plenty of variety and as usual no air-conditioning. Maybe its cause I lived in Singapore for a good one to two years, but the unique experience known as hawker centres seem to come in an encompassing package of great food, satisfaction, and humidity. Most great hawker foods in Singapore can be found in non-air conditioned places and in exchange you get quality and value.

                If you ever stop by Singapore again, do take the chance to explore once more the wonders of a hot, humid hawker center! Bak Ku Teh at Balestier, Prata [a sort of Indian Dough Bread] at Thomson, you don't get better food than that in Singapore.

                4 Replies
                1. re: theperfectcookie

                  Are you referring to Founder Bak Kut Teh in Balestier and The Prata Shop in Upper Thomson Road, near junction with Yio Chu Kang Rd?

                  1. re: M_Gomez

                    Gomez, I can't really remember the name of the Bak Ku Teh place, just that lots of local celebs seem to enjoy eating there too! Prata Shop sounds right though, there's a Prata House at Serangoon that was pretty good i think! Open 24/7 too, favorite pig-out spot.

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        Yes! Thats the place for sure. Definitely worth a visit.

                2. Bumping this thread...Getting ready for my 2d visit to s'pore 18-25 October. Based on research here and in the new Makansutra, probably going to visit Maxwell Rd., Chinatown Complex, Old Airport Rd. and a couple other north and west. Thoughts? I'm working on a newspaper story on Singapore hawker centre food, so more suggestions welcome. Also, since I couldn't figure out how to pm the S'pore residents on this board, I would like some expert company. Looks like at least Four Seasons and klyeoh are the ones I want to meet. Pls get in touch. Can hardly wait to re-visit a few of my favorites, though I'm skipping the durian stand in back of Chinatown cmplx this time ;-)


                  14 Replies
                  1. re: mczlaw

                    My apologies, I won't be able to meet you this time. But do feel free to ask any specific questions on where to eat or what you're looking for.

                    1. re: mczlaw

                      Unfortunately, you just missed our Singapore chow meet 2 months ago. If you are adventurous, you can venture to Chomp Chomp and Geylang area as well.

                      1. re: FourSeasons

                        Let's start with this: I eat and enjoy nearly everything. I have the new 2011 Makansutra and have been combing through it. The centers I mentioned above seem to have a fairly large concentration of places with high ratings in Makansutra.

                        So,I am initially curious if those of you who live or frequent Singapore hold the guide in high esteem. Do most Singaporeans consider it authoritative? Would I be smart or silly to only visit stalls that have 2.5 or 3 chopsticks in the guide? Would that be a fair minimum standard?

                        Beyond that, which hawker centres do you prefer to go to when you are out for fun and food with good friends or family? And what makes them your "go to" places?

                        BTW, I should specifically include M. Gomez in on this since it appears she is also a Singaporean. But, obviously, anyone who lives in S'pore or spends a lot of time there eating, I would love to hear from.

                        Lastly, since I now know that CH does not have a private messaging system, anyone who might wish to respond privately with ideas or a willingness to chow with me for an afternoon or evening, feel free to email to mczlawATpacifierDOTcom .



                        1. re: mczlaw

                          I don't have a copy of Makansutra so I can't really comment on the book. None of my friends own the book as well and we never discuss about it. But it does have a growing reputation, I think.

                          There is no such thing as the "best" hawker centre. A hawker centre has many stalls, and in all cases, a few are good and the majority is just mediocre. Most foodies will vote the "best" on specific dish; for example, many voted Tian Tian at Maxwell as the best chicken rice stall, Nam Sing at Old Airport as the best Hokkien noodle stall (though I disagree with the consensus opinion but that is just personal). So in your research, it is perhaps more important to figure out what dishes you want to try and then figure the hawker centre that fits all. (I assume you get an introductory lessons on the hawker dishes on Makansutra) The three that you mentioned are the older hawker centres, and generally speaking, they have decent reputation and within the easy reach of most tourists. But they focus mostly on the Chinese dishes so if you are looking for Malay or Indian dishes, you maybe disappointed.

                          And then you have to understand hawker food is mainly economical food for the masses; they are priced from $2 to $5 so do not expect anything refined. They are just delicious comfort food for most Singaporeans.

                          If you are looking for something more than comfort food, you can also focus on the non-hawker Singapore-food restaurants scene. We have local seafood restaurants, Nyonya restaurants, Tze Char (meaning all rounder Chinese food restaurants), local Padang/Bryani restaurants, Curry fish head restaurants and Hokkein restaurants. These are all unique to Singapore. The food scene here is quite diversified due to the 3 ethnic groups so you need to perhaps narrow down on your focus.

                          I hope the above information is helpful to you. Once you have more specific question on the dishes and the stalls, perhaps we can be of more assistance to you here.

                          P.S: Regarding Geylang that I mentioned on the above post: it is a red light district but accompanied by very interesrting food scene. Many Singaporeans do not go to that area because of its notoriety. You may want to read this introductory site (I tend to ficus on the food scene on Lorong 9):

                          1. re: mczlaw

                            Makansutra can be hit-and-miss. I liked it for the fact that the Editor/Food Critic KF Seetoh and his team of Makanmatas (Food-Police) put in a great effort trying out virtually all the hawker stalls in Singapore, then rate those according to their (oftentimes) personal tastes, but also with a nod to the stalls' popularity amongst locals. I said "personal tastes" because sometimes, I balk at their choices, even those which were rated 2 chopsticks.

                            Furthermore, Singaporean hawkers can be undependable when it comes to their operating hours and opening/closing times, Makansutra struggles to capture these details (which may turn out wrong through no fault of theirs) and you can sometimes arrive at the food centre only to find the stalls closed.

                            One example is what happened to me today - I grabbed my copy of Makansutra & set out to try Singapore's three highest-ranked wantan noodles stalls. Turned out, only one (Fei Fei Wantan Noodles) was open, whilst Kok Kee at Lavender Food Centre and Hua Kee at Old Airport Road Food Centre were both closed!

                            Anyway, do be very aware that Singapore-style wantan noodles are VERY different from HK-style wantan noodles. The latter is a refined noodle dish, where connoisseurs debate over the freshness and springiness of noodles used, the subtlety, lightness & flavors of the soup stock which complemented the noodles, and the accompanying wantan dumplings - their filling, the flavorings used, etc. To understand the finesse in the art of preparation of HK wantan noodles, look no further than the thread started by CH Charles Yu:

                            Singapore-style wantan noodles, on the other hand, is a brash, in-your-face, dish which grabs you by the throat, and leaves you panting for breath afterwards - its lethal chilli paste (which Singaporeans slather over their noodles in vast quantities), its boiled (rather than roasted) "char-siew", its peasant-style wantan noodles plonked unceremoniously onto a bowl & shoved in front of you at your table. Singaporeans wait up to 40 minutes during peak meal-times for a bowl of Fei Fei's noodles. You either love it or hate it!

                            That said, if you still want brave the challenge & taste perhaps the best-known wantan noodle stall in Singapore, then go to:

                            Fei Fei Wantan Noodles
                            64, Joo Chiat Place
                            Opening hours: 8am - 10.30pm Daily.

                            1. re: klyeoh

                              Ha ha, I think Fei Fei wantan mee is no match for HK's Mak's Noodles. Fei Fei is famous all this while (most famous customers must be ex-AA chairman and current NKF Chairman, Gerard Ee) because they make their own noodles, resulting in a sticky, homemade taste and texture.

                              But if you go to any Indonesian pushcart noodle place in Singapore, for example, You & Mee Noodle Place in the basement of United Square, you'll find similar handmade noodles by the Indonesians, but much better tasting sauce. Their Mee Ayam and Beef Soto are to die for-lah!

                              I like Kok Kee and Hua Kee Hougang much better because they use the black soya sauce dressing, a bit similar to Malaysian Cantonese wantan mee.

                              1. re: M_Gomez

                                Second Kok Kee, that is my favorite wonton noodle in town.

                                Interesting....You & Mee Noodle Place at United Square. I still have not had a decent Indonesian-style Mie Ayam in Singapore, will have to try this place that you recommended.

                                1. re: M_Gomez

                                  M_Gomez, have you tried J-Cafe in Mid-Point Orchard's Bakmie Ayam?

                                  I think J-Cafe's version is much tastier than You & Mee's version, its dressing has got that really addictive flavor which makes you want to go back for more.

                                  What You & Mee offers is a wider menu, as it also has Mie Kangkong, Pek Lor Mee, Mie Kikil (luscious beef tendons), Mie Soto with beef, plus side-dishes like Tahu Isi and spring rolls, besides desserts.

                                  You & Mee Noodle Place
                                  #B1-03 United Square Shopping Mall
                                  101 Thomson Road, Singapore 307591
                                  Tel: 6353 3909
                                  Opening hours: Mon-Fri 11am-9pm, Sat 10.30am-9pm, Sun 10.30am-8pm.

                                  1. re: klyeoh

                                    Oh, thank you. I'll check out J Cafe this weekend! I love Indonesian bakmee noodles.

                                2. re: klyeoh

                                  When you refer to Singapore wonton noodles as being brash and in- your- face, I do understand where you are coming from. Many years ago when I had a plate of wonton noodles(dry version) in one of the Hawker centers, they added tomato ketchup to the noodles.Being from Kuala Lumpur and also having lived in Hong Kong for many years,I found this practice to be quite unusual to say the very least. Are they sill doing this.

                                  1. re: dyson17

                                    Oh yes, we are! If you say that you don't want any chilli paste in your noodles, the hawker will add tomato ketchup in its place. Mind you, we do have wantan noodles in Singapore which stick to the soysauce-sesame oil variety as in KL.

                                    The only place in Malaysia where I encountered spicy chilli paste in wantan noodles is Kota Bharu, Kelantan. Tasted EXACTLY as what we have here in Singapore!

                                  2. re: klyeoh

                                    Can definitely see the undependability of the hawkers being a problem with Makansutra’s listing of hours. Went to Old Airport Road today for a 3-hour solo marathon sampling and discovered that at least two that should have been open weren’t. A gentleman who I shared a table with just shrugged his shoulders. Oh well.
                                    I did want to report that after six (or was it seven) dishes today, there was a winner. That would the rojak from Toa Payoh. It was a delight in contrasting flavors and textures…crunchy, sweet with a hint of citrus tartand a solid spike of chili heat, fritters and fruit and the sauce to die for. A spectacular dish. Runner up: the Chinese-style mutton soup from Hougang Jin Jia. This was earthy, gamy stuff with a lovely ginger tang, plenty of chunks of well-stewed mutton rib meat, accompanied with a dish of sour-hot chili sauce. Other dishes I tried (no losers today. . .all rated 2+ chopsticks in Makansutra): sour plum-lime juice from Jimmy’s; a curry puff and black pepper chicken puff from Wang Wang; otah (one fish and one prawn) from Lee Wee & Brothers; crunchy, porky ngo hiang from Xin Dong Fang; and the 3-in-1 (yam and sweet potato sandwiching sweet glutinous rice) crunchy from the fryer.
                                    I was pretty full, but walked it off. . .now off to Waku Ghin for dinner. . .but that’s another report.
                                    So, my local expert friends. . .Geylang Serai for some Indian treats? Where for your favorite examples of Malay and Peranakan treats? Make it personal. . .don’t care about “best” since that will never work, will it ;-) ?


                                    PS. . .any of you in s'pore still welcome to join me....Saturday or Sunday are open for more gourmet gluttony in the service of professional curiosity ;-)

                                    1. re: mczlaw

                                      I hope you did try the Hokkein Mee at Nam Sing stall in Old Airport as that is the best known stall there and require at least 30 minutes waiting time.

                                      You will enjoy Waku Ghin but it is very expensive. Look forward to your review.

                                      If you want Malay Padang food, these two are my favorites:

                                      - Warung Nasir at Killiney Rd: more Indonesian influence compared with other local Padang places.
                                      - Nasi Pariaman at North Bridge Rd: you can come to this place if you are more adventurous, this place is not clean and chaotic but the food is pretty good. Near the same area, there are two famous Malay restaurants, both tidy with more varieties as well but the food is not as good as Pariaman. one is Sabar Menanti, there is a picture of Bourdain there and the other is Haji Maimunah.

                                      Another option is Gardua Padang on the 7th floor of Orchard Central Mall. The chain is from Indonesia; food is quite decent but they have changed the menu to suite the food palette of Singaporeans.

                                      For Peranakan food, I will recommend House of Peranakan at the basement of Hotel Meritus Negara.

                                      1. re: mczlaw

                                        mczlaw, not Geylang Serai (a Malay enclave) for Indian treats - you should go to Little India instead! Some gems along Race Course Road (Jaggi's), Syed Alwi Road (Anjappar, Murugan's, Raj of Kolkata, Malgudi), Serangoon Rd (Komala Vilas) and Upper Dickson Road (Madras New Woodlands).

                                        For Peranakan (my fave cuisine, since I'm of Peranakan descent), try (in order of my preference):
                                        (1) Guan Hoe Soon at Joo Chiat Place, 40 Joo Chiat Place, Tel: +65 6344 2761
                                        (2) Peranakan Inn, 210 East Coast Road, Tel: +65 6440 6195
                                        (3) Ivins, 21 Binjai Park, Tel: +65 6468 3060
                                        (4) Baba Inn, 103 Frankel Avenue, Tel: +65 6445 2404
                                        (5) Peramakan, 3rd Floor, 10 Bukit Chermin Road, The Keppel Club, Tel: +65 6375 5563