One of the best things about being in Singapore is undoubtedly the food. It is no secret that Singaporeans eat and drink with a passion. Volumes of eating guides have been published about the thousands of eating and watering spots on the island, all in the hope of making some sense of the madness. For the newcomer, deciding where and what to eat can be an intimidating, yet at the same time, exciting experience. Here, we provide a gastronomic guide to Singapore, what we think you should know about the tastes and the smells of the island’s food and drink. And don’t say we didn’t warn you about that chili…
Where you can eat your food
These can be found in most housing estates outside the city and are usually located on the ground floor of apartment blocks or in 2-story shophouses. Even till today, Singaporeans gather at coffee shops not just to eat and drink, but also to chat or even play a game of checkers. Although the older coffee shops are slowly being phased out, they are still the place to go if you want to get cheap and good food served with a slice of true Singapore life, not forgetting the thick, black local coffee that comes in a porcelain cup.
Opening hours: Early morning to about 10pm, though some may be open 24 hours.
Probably the most distinctive eating places in Singapore, hawker centers house dozens of food and drink stalls under one roof. The best advice is, walk around the whole place and take in everything before ordering. Prices are cheap and comparable to those in a coffeeshop, although tourist favorites like Newton Hawker Centre and Lau Pa Sat are more expensive. When ordering, tell the hawker your table number and you should get your food within 10-15 minutes.
Opening hours:10am to about 10 pm, though the bigger ones like Newton open till about 4 am.
Together with hawker centers, food courts are the people’s main eating choice when dining out. They are usually found in shopping malls, and are air-conditioned and thus more expensive. For example, a plate of noodles that cost $3 in a hawker center may cost $4 in a food court. The choice of food is also more cosmopolitan, with some food courts even offering Italian, Korean, Japanese, and Greek cuisine all in the same place. Be warned: at the more popular food courts, you could find people waiting behind you for your seat, so if you like to take your time, go during off-peak hours. Unlike hawker centers, you have to carry your own food to your table.
Opening hours: 11 am to about 10 pm.
A favourite with children and teenagers, fast food arrived in Singapore in the late 70s and is today a familiar sight everywhere.There’s McDonald’s, KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Dunkin’ Doughnuts and much much more.
Opening hours:7am to about 11pm (weekdays); midnight (weekends)
A growing favourite with the young working crowd. Designer coffee places like Starbucks, Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf and Coffee Club have become the “in” places to hang out with friends. Most cafes serve Western food like sandwiches, pizzas and pasta.
Opening hours:10am to about 11pm (weekdays); midnight (weekends)
These range from the cheaper and more informal, like Spaggedies or La Smorfia (Italian) and Ponderosa (Western) to the decidedly posh and budget busting, like The Pinnacle. Whatever the cuisine, the budget or the occasion, there’s definitely more than a few to choose from.
Opening hours:11am to about 11pm (weekdays); midnight (weekends)
Popular Local Food Haunts
Newton Hawker Center
(Take to Newton MRT station and follow signs)
Hours: 6pm – 4am (only some stalls are open for lunch
All types of cuisine, but well-known for seafood. Prices may be slightly more expensive than other hawker centers
Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre (literally”Old Market”)
(Take to Raffles Place MRT and follow signs)
Hours: Noon – 4am
Astonishing number of stalls to choose from. At night, al fresco satay stalls are open.
Clarke Quay Satay Club
Hours: 7pm – 3am
Many of the original Satay Club stalls moved here after they were relocated a few years ago. Most agree the best satay on the island can be found here.
Marina South Hawker Center
(Take to Marina South MRT station and transfer to bus service 400; more convenient to take a taxi)
Hours: Noon – 2am
Well-known for both its seafood and steamboat stalls. Steamboat is a way of cooking whereby a pot of water is placed over a small stove on the table and brought to boil. You then cook your own food, buffet style, in the boiling soup, or fry meats on a hotplate coated with butter. Steamboat is popular at family and friend get-togethers.
Chinatown Food Center
(Take to Outram MRT station and walk toward Chinatown)
Hours: 7am – 9pm
An excellent example of the wide variety of Chinese food that can be found in Singapore. Prices are ridiculously cheap, but be prepared to bear with the heat and the crowds, especially during lunch. Take a walk around this huge complex to soak in the atmosphere, including a wet market in the basement. Particularly well-known are the colorful Cantonese cold dessert stalls.
Be prepared to walkaround a bit as there is great food all over the area. The food outlets here range from cheap S$3-meal places to posh North and South Indian restaurants.The best bet is to start with the cheap places and discover what kind of food you prefer before “graduating” to the restaurants. The vegetarian food here is especially good.
East Coast Park Seafood Centre
(Not immediately accessible by public transport, best bet is to hop into a taxi; parking almost non-existent on weekend nights)
Hours: Dinner only
Many say the best seafood in town can be found here, whether you fancy a spicy black pepper crab or juicy lobster. You will see why when the crowd starts pouring in, especially on weekends. A big attraction here is that you can dine pretty close to the sea and enjoy the breeze. However, as with most popular eating places in Singapore, prices can be slightly higher here.
Bencoolen Street 24-hour Rotiprata
Located below a backpackers lodge and a popular haunt with both locals and foreigners in search of a 60 cent roti prata at 2 am in the morning. Don’t forget to try the teh-tarik as well. After a late-night meal here, you are guaranteed to feel truly Singaporean. In the wee hours, this is also a great place to people-watch, as colorful Singaporeans from all walks of life converge here.