"Hawkers" originally referred to wandering food vendors who advertised their arrival by sounding horns, knocking bamboo sticks, or shouting. Once alerted, people dashed over to place their orders. Several years ago Singapore's strict government hygiene regulations collected hawkers into large centers, where everything is very clean. At these centers you can sample colorful local eats on the cheap.
Feel free to sit anywhere: tables don't belong to particular stalls. Sharing tables is common when it's busy. Vendors will bring your order to you in some centers, while in others you'll have to wait for the food to be prepared. Sometimes drink vendors wander between tables taking orders. Paying when you order is the norm, though in some places you'll pay post-meal. Most dishes cost S$4 or slightly more; for around S$12 you can get a meal, drink, and fresh fruit dessert. Specify your desired portion when you order; most dishes have several sizes priced accordingly. Generally, credit cards aren't accepted at hawker centers.
Experience the raucous 24-hour Newton Circus, near Orchard Road, but avoid the seafood stalls, which are notorious for fleecing tourists. Newton, Scotts, and Bukit Timah Road Rds., Singapore. Newton.
Instead, opt for stalls that have prominently displayed prices and offer traditional one-dish meals. The financial district's historic Lau Pa Sat Festival Market is an outdoor center. 18 Raffles Quay, Singapore. Raffles Place.
There's also the Maxwell Road Hawker Centre, near Tanjong Pagar. Maxwell and South Bridge Rds., Singapore.
In an effort to revive the old tradition, roads like Chinatown's Smith Street close at 7 nightly so that modern-day nomadic hawkers can roam the area.
Major shopping centers have "food courts," which are indoor, air-conditioned, and slightly pricier hawker centers. In the Orchard Road area you can visit Picnic, in Scotts Centre's basement, or the Food Chain, in the basement of the Orchard Emerald, which faces the Meritus Mandarin Singapore hotel. The food court in Tanglin Mall's basement has a baby grand piano.
Typical Hawker Foods
char kway teow: flat rice noodles fried with chili paste, fish cakes, and bean sprouts.
chicken rice: chicken served with rice cooked in chicken stock. Often voted Singapore's favorite local dish, it's also called Hainanese chicken rice.
Hokkien prawn mee: wheat noodles in prawn-and-pork broth.
laksa: rice noodles in coconut gravy served with a garnish of steamed prawns, rice cakes, and bean sprouts.
rojak: a Malay word for "salad." Chinese rojak consists of cucumber, lettuce, pineapple, bangkwang (jicama), and deep-fried bean curd—tossed with dressing made from salty shrimp paste, ground toasted peanuts, sugar, and rice vinegar. Indian rojak consists of deep-fried lentil and prawn patties, boiled potatoes, and bean curd, all served with a spicy dip.
roti prata: an Indian breakfast pancake served with curry sauce or sugar.
satay: small strips of meat marinated in fresh spices and threaded onto short skewers.
thosai: an Indian rice-flour pancake that's popular for breakfast and eaten with curry powder or brown sugar.
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