The flavors of Singapore’s streets come alive in this journey of discovery with local Michelin-star Chef Malcolm Lee. Read along for the best Singapore street food.
Travelers always find delving into the food of a locality a tantalizing journey of discovery, and Singapore, with its rich culinary heritage, is no exception. Fusing Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Peranakan traditions creates an irresistible street food scene. From bustling hawker centers to hidden aromatic food stalls, Singapore’s streets are a playground for the senses, inviting locals and visitors alike to savor its vibrancy, diverse flavors, aromas, and colors.
Singapore’s street food isn’t merely a means of sustenance; this cultural institution reflects the nation’s rich heritage. Our insider, Michelin-starred chef Malcolm Lee, is one of the few Singaporeans achieving such high recognition and guides us through the enchanting world of Singaporean street food.
What is Singapore Street Food?
Since 1819, Singapore’s street food heritage has blossomed due to the mingling of the Chinese, Indian, and Malay communities drawn to this British trading post. Itinerant hawkers with baskets on poles or carts equipped with stoves offered quick, hearty meals like noodles, curries, and skewered meats. Singaporean cuisine was born from the blending of ingredients and techniques.
Centralized food complexes, known as Hawker Centres, have become integral daily hubs of hawker food, from breakfast to dinner. So much so that in 2020, UNESCO recognized and added Singapore’s hawker culture to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Hawker Centres—Home of the Best Singapore Street Food
After gaining independence in 1965, Singapore built “new towns” that included high-rise apartments, schools, clinics, parks, police stations, and hawker centres, alleviating housing shortages and further embedding hawker culture. Fostering inclusivity, the government ensured a mix of Malay, Indian, and Chinese stall owners in each hawker centre.
Now ingrained in daily life, these bustling hubs have up to 200 stalls, each with a few specialty dishes. Some downtown centres, like Lau Pa Sat in the financial district and Geylang Serai Market, occupy charming historic buildings. Government oversight ensures their cleanliness, safety, and maintenance, preserving these spaces as vital elements of Singapore’s culinary landscape.
Where to Eat?
Some visitors may be bewildered as the hawker centres lack the fine lines, polish, or styling of shopping mall food courts. However, you have a trayful of tasty local fare from around Asia for just a few Singapore dollars. Insider Chef Malcolm shares some of his recommended Hawker Centres that are easily accessed using Singapore’s efficient MRT (subway train system).
Hong Lim Market & Food Centre
Hong Lim Market & Food Centre near Boat and Clarke Quays in central Singapore is busiest during the day.
Lau Pa Sat
In the financial district, the sizable Lau Pa Sat attracts office workers. Some surrounding streets close in the evenings, and Satay Street enlivens this centre with an alfresco market vibe.
An Array of Standout Hawker Centres
Standouts include the Chinatown Complex on Smith Street, Maxwell Food Centre on Maxwell Road with its famous Chicken Rice stalls, and Amoy Street Food Centre with great fish soup. Over in Little India, the Tikka Centre offers many cuisines, though South Asian dishes, including Tamil-style biryani and Sri Lankan curries, shine.
Geylang Serai Market
Geylang Serai Market, including the Haig Road Food Centre, is best known for its authentic Malay cuisine, which includes nasi padang, beef rendang, and a mouth-watering selection of satays. Once a trade emporium, Geylang Serai acquired its name serai (lemongrass) from extensive cultivation of this herb (and distinctly Asian aromatic) within the area in the early days of settlement.
East Coast Lagoon Food Village
A favorite of insider Chef Malcom is just six miles east of downtown (towards the airport), East Coast Lagoon Food Village is Singapore’s only beachside hawker center. Except on weekends, this centre usually opens late afternoon, with people snacking waterside in a lush, balmy outdoor environment. Satay and a cold Tiger beer are always a treat, as is the duck rice (duck braised in a thick soy-based sauce served with rice studded with taro) and excellent wanton mee (noodle dish).
What to Eat When Sampling the Best Singapore Street Food
While it’s hard to go wrong with any of the delectable offerings at the hawker centres, here are some of our suggestions for the best Singapore street food.
Start with Chicken Rice—a humble but enduringly popular combination of juicy boiled and braised chicken with rice cooked in stock infused with ginger and drizzled with a Hainanese sticky chili paste sauce. Spot the vendors with chickens hanging at their stall front.
Char Kway Teow
Char Kway Teow is a popular noodle dish. It features flat rice noodles and yellow wheat noodles wok-tossed over high heat with light and dark soy sauce, garlic, chili, Chinese sausage, egg, fishcake, and beansprouts. Fresh prawns and cockles may be added.
Wanton Mee, which originated from China, features Wonton noodles. It is often called wanton mein. The noodles are tossed in a black mushroom sauce and served with greens, barbecued char siu pork, and wontons (dumplings typically stuffed with pork and shrimp).
Laksa is a Malaysian specialty; Katong Laksa is a well-loved Singaporean version. The spicy coconut milk broth filled with thick vermicelli noodles has dried shrimp and is topped with prawns and fish cakes.
Roti Prata is a South Indian flatbread that usually accompanies a small bowl of fish or mutton curry. Originally served with egg, unconventional versions with cheese, chocolate, and even ice cream now flourish. Look out for the roti-men stretching and whirling the dough before slamming it on the greased griddle to bubble and crisp.
Nasi Lemak is a Malay favorite and is the perfect mix of flavors: aromatic rice cooked in coconut milk and pandan leaves, eaten with deep-fried fish or chicken wings, and accompanied by grilled fish paste, fried local anchovies, peanuts, egg, cucumber, and sambal (spicy chili paste).
Spicy Fish Head Curry
A spicy fish head curry could be a tasty choice at other times of the day. Insider Chef Malcom’s best advice is to follow your nose or join the queue if a stall has a long line. Singaporeans are very selective about their food.
Don’t Forget Breakfast
Yes, you can also visit the hawker centre to find a great breakfast featuring Singapore street food. Congee is a popular breakfast option. It is an Asian-style rice porridge, often with a protein like pork added.
Hawker Centre Tips and Etiquette
If possible, visit outside the peak meal period—especially breakfast or lunch—giving you time to check out what’s on offer minus the crowds. Remember, these communal halls get very busy. Always secure a table before hunting down your food by placing a travel pack of tissues or maybe an umbrella on the table.
Follow this local and well-accepted local practice by similarly reserving your table. Sharing tables is okay, so ask if you see spare seats. Community, after all, is what these places are all about. Once you finish, you are expected to clear your dishes away, leaving the table ready for someone else.
About Malcolm Lee
Singaporean Chef Malcolm Lee, 39, is recognized internationally for helping to place Peranakan cuisine on the world map. He is the chef-owner of Pangium (launched in 2022) and the one-Michelin star Candlenut (established in 2010). Candlenut is the world’s first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant and has held that rating consecutively for the last seven years.
Note: Peranakan is a native-born person in Indonesia, Singapore, and Malaysia with mixed ancestry.
Candlenut redefines Straits-Chinese cuisine by offering refined Peranakan dishes. With astute twists, the restaurant preserves the essence and complexity of traditional food while elevating dishes to a new level.
Chef Malcolm’s second restaurant, Pangium, nestled in Singapore’s award-winning Botanic Gardens, is a contemporary sharing-plate menu reflecting the flavors of the Singaporean Straits.
In his role as a chef and restaurateur, Malcolm underscores the importance of studying history and tradition from today’s perspective. At Candlenut, he is acclaimed for preserving the essence of heritage dishes from Singapore’s Peranakan community. He believes strongly in conserving food history—from the hawkers and their often lifelong food know-how to his parents’ and grandparents’ ancestral food knowledge.
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Exploring the Best Singapore Street Food
Thanks to Chef Malcolm Lee for being our Insider and guiding us on the tantalizing journey that is Singapore street food. We hope it entices your palate and your curiosity to explore Singapore. We invite you to read more on Wander With Wonder about other things to do and see when you visit Singapore.
An Insider’s Guide to the Best Singapore Street Food