Singapore: Hawker Centre Rules

July 1, 2014

I’m just back from my first trip to Singapore and Bali and it was amazing. It was everything I expected and so much more. One thing that everyone in Singapore told me is that Singaporeans love to eat and from what I saw, this is true. There are restaurants of every type, everywhere – small sidewalk shops, cafés, hawker centres, and restaurants. I was told that Singaporeans eat a minimum of five meals a day – breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner, and late night supper. As much as I like to eat, even that was a bit much for me.

It was difficult to determine what to write about first, however, I thought I’d start with some words of wisdom imparted to me by Brian (11) and Dylan (9) my gastronomic guides to Singapore’s hawker centres.

We went to Tiong Bahru Market and Hawker Centre for lunch one day. The first floor is a typical Chinese market where you can buy fruits, vegetables, and meats as well as clothing and household items. The second floor is the hawker centre selling a variety of local street foods.

Rules to follow at a hawker centre

As we approached the stalls, these are the rules the boys shared with me (written as they were told to me, in no particular order):

  • Hawker centers are very hot, no air con (true, but thankfully we were there on a relatively cool day)
  • Some people spit (glad I didn’t see this myself)
  • Don’t use the bathrooms (they have squatting toilets and some people pee on the floor – thankfully I didn’t have to experience this)
  • Food is very good and cheap (dishes ranged from SGD $3 – $10)
  • No sending back, no refunds
  • Discarded food bits – like chicken bones – are tossed on the tables
  • Food is better than most expensive restaurants

I shared this list with a number of people and they all say the rules are spot on. To the list I would add, if you’re sharing dishes, bring your own paper/plastic plates. Also, I discovered that in many places, napkins are a luxury. One of the first things I was given when I got to Singapore was a packet of tissue and I realized it was to use in place of napkins.

On to the food …

Of course the main reason we were at Tiong Bahru was the food. The first dish on our list was a typical Singaporean breakfast food called Chwee Kueh – rice cakes topped a savory topping that is fried in lard for extra deliciousness. Chilli sauce is optional (or a necessity in my case). And we had to have Chicken Rice – I think I could eat this dish every day. We also had carrot cake – this is one of my favorites and is really turnip cake that is steamed, sliced, and fried with pork – as well as bak chor mee – minced pork noodles.

It was a delicious start to the day.

And exploring the market …

We also spent time walking around the first floor market. So many great things to see and experience. Wandering around food markets is one of my favorite things to do when I visit someplace new. I was particularly surprised to see large quantities of eggs sitting in out in the open in the warm market – something this American is unused to seeing.

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