A major center of commerce, Singapore draws no shortage of business travelers seeking authentic experiences during their downtime. In addition to dazzling visitors with modern attractions such as the futuristic Gardens by the Bay and the Esplanade, much of Singapore’s charm is also found in its most traditional corners.
This juxtaposition is most vividly experienced in the city’s many open-air hawker centers that embody Singapore’s rich culinary heritage. Here you’ll find dozens of individual vendors cooking and serving dishes that blend Malay, Chinese and Indian cuisines.
Staple delicacies include char kway teow (flat rice noodles cooked with ingredients like fishcake, seafood, beansprouts and egg) and Hainanese chicken rice, which have fed Singaporeans for generations.
Indeed, hawker centers are more than just simple spaces crowded with seats where locals grab quick bites — they’re a deeply rooted part of the city’s culture.
Here are six Singapore hawker centers perfect for unwinding with colleagues or clients after work while eating delicious local fare.
Makansutra Gluttons Bay
More like an open-air food market than a hawker center, Makansutra Gluttons Bay offers excellent views of the iconic Singapore River. Makansutra (makan means “eat” in Malay) evokes both nostalgia and modernity with simple plastic chairs set amid the backdrop of the Art Science Museum and the Esplanade.
Makansutra’s location near Raffles Place and Boat Quay make it an ideal spot to enjoy dinner under the stars before checking out one of the nearby bars. Night owls can spend their late-night hours feasting on chili crabs and other offerings — Makansutra is open until 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on Fridays.
Alexandra Village Food Centre
Located west of the city center, Alexandra Village Food Centre’s terrific eats include the Seng Heng Carrot Cake stall. In Singapore, carrot cake refers to a Teochew recipe for diced radish cooked with fragrant ingredients like garlic and spring onion. Seng Heng is open until around 11 p.m.
If time permits, check out nearby Gillman Barracks, a cluster of old barracks repurposed as space for art galleries.
It’s easy to spot the colorful converted shipping containers at Timbre+, Singapore’s version of a gastropark. Stalls offer wonton noodles, fish ball noodle soup and bak kut teh (pork ribs cooked in broth) alongside restaurants that serve Asian and Western cuisine.
Live music starts at 7:45 p.m. Mondays to Thursdays, 8:30 p.m. on Fridays and 8 p.m. on Sundays. Check out the humorous graffiti art, too, especially near the return-tray section.
Lau Pa Sat Food Hawker Centre
Also known as Telok Ayer Market, this 19th-century cast-iron structure with high ceilings seems like an anachronism within the city’s modern Central Business District.
Lau Pa Sat, which means “old market” in a uniquely Singaporean mix of pidgin Malay and Hokkien words, was once a food market. Today, as a hawker center, stalls serve noodle dishes like Hokkien prawn mee and various types of Indian curries and Cantonese dim sum.
It is best known for a stretch of stalls coined, “Satay Street,” which opens at 7 p.m. and consists of vendors serving freshly grilled meat skewers known as satay.
Maxwell Road Food Centre
Walking distance from the Central Business District and Chinatown, Maxwell Road Food Centre was previously a fish and meat market.
Today its claim to fame is Tian Tian, a Hainanese chicken rice stall. The owner, Foo Kui Lian, beat celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay in a 2013 cookout challenge, and Anthony Bourdain has praised Mrs. Foo’s recipe.
Another must-try stall is Huang Ji Wanton Noodle, which blends Singaporean and Cantonese cooking styles.
Be sure to arrive before 8 p.m. Otherwise many stalls might be sold out of food.
Bedok South Market and Food Centre
Near Changi Airport, Bedok South Market and Food Centre is worth a visit for those who work at the East Coast or Changi Business Park. One of Bedok South Market’s more popular stalls is Hill Street Char Kway Teow. Ng Yeow Kiat recently took over the wok from his father, who fried char kway teow for more than 50 years.
The younger Ng makes a glorious, lard-laden plate of flat rice noodles fried with cockles, eggs, bean sprouts, Chinese sausage and other ingredients. Get here early, as he’s often sold out before 7 p.m.
Pro tip: Hawker stalls close at different times depending on when vendors run out of food, so unless the center is known for late-night hours, it’s best to arrive before sundown.