When the heat of the tropical city gets too much, Singaporeans often head straight for their nearest hawker center or market. Here, you’ll find a cornucopia of cheap food and drinks, perfect for cooling off on a humid day.
This explosion of street food is a relatively new phenomenon. Just 40 years ago, hawkers in Singapore sold primarily Malay, Indian, and Chinese cuisine. The government has since relaxed restrictions on where vendors can sell food, leading to the smorgasbord of options we see today. Each different stall offers something different.
Some specialize in just one dish – perhaps chicken rice or nasi goreng (fried rice) – while others combine several at once: think laksa (spicy soup with noodles) or Hokkien mee (yellow noodles with shrimp). There are even vendors who push the boundaries of what exactly constitutes street food. Think waffles covered in pandan and condensed milk syrup… Whatever your tastes, you’ll find them catered for in this list of must-try Singapore street food:
Bao: The steamed bun with a million uses
Bao – Chinese steamed buns – have become ubiquitous in Singapore, particularly at night markets and hawker centers. Traditionally, they were filled with pork, but these days they are filled with everything from cheese to chicken, seafood to eggs, and even ice cream. They’re cheap, filling, and even easier to eat than a sandwich.
You can find bao at almost any hawker center or food court, but if you want the best, head to Chinatown. There, you’ll discover Tian Wai Steamed Bun Restaurant, where you can try over 15 different types of bao. Try the black pepper pork bao or the crab meat bao for something different. If you prefer to try making your bao at home, all you need is the right dough recipe and a steamer. There are plenty of recipes online – just make sure you don’t overload your dough, or the steamed buns will be too thick and not as tasty.
Char kway teow: Singapore’s favorite fried noodle dish
A favorite among Singaporeans, especially at breakfast, this fried noodle dish is an excellent introduction to Singaporean food. The best place to sample it is at the Maxwell Food Centre. There, you will find several stalls specializing in this dish, each with its unique flavor. For a classic take, try Tian Tian Hainanese Char Kway Teow. This stall serves its noodles with a dark sauce that is both sweet and spicy. It’s also topped with pork slices, prawns, and squid. Be sure to mix everything up with a spoon – that’s where the best flavor is. If you can’t get enough of the flavors in one go, you can find it served at hawker centers as noodles in a bowl. This variation is sometimes even topped with a fried egg.
Chicken rice: The king of Singaporean cuisine
This dish is the king of Singaporean cuisine for many reasons. For starters, it is often considered the national dish of Singapore. It’s also highly versatile – there are countless variations across the country. More importantly, it’s cheap and delicious.
You can find chicken rice at almost any Singapore hawker center, but Chinatown is the best place for flavor and quality. Try Tian Tian or Hill Street Hainanese. The latter even has an iconic sign that you can’t miss. Of course, when it comes to chicken rice, an essential part is the chicken. Ideally, it should be poached, but most places don’t do that. Instead, they fry the chicken and serve it with rice.
Chilli crab: Good news for spicy food lovers
Few dishes are as synonymous with Singapore as chilli crab. This spicy, crab-based dish is perhaps the most well-known Singaporean recipe. It is often served as a meal, with a side of vegetables, a couple of pieces of plain white rice, and a cold beer. Chilli crab is best sampled at the iconic Boat Quay, where you’ll find several stalls serving the dish. Make sure you visit the original Jin Hoe crabs, though.
This famous stall has been serving Singaporeans fresh crabs since the 1950s. If you don’t want to try chilli crab, don’t worry – there are plenty of other dishes to sample. Some of the other classics you can find in Boat Quay include laksa, mee siam, and roti prata.
Hokkien Mee: Comforting noodles with seafood and egg
If you like egg noodles, seafood, and soup, you’ll love hokkien mee. This dish can be found all over Singapore, but it’s most famous in the Little India, particularly at Joo Chiat Place. Here you can find several places that specialize in the dish. Hokkien mee is a traditional Singaporean dish, and many of the best places serve it with a generous amount of dried prawns, sliced pork, and fermented tofu.
Many of these places also add a couple of hard-boiled eggs. The noodles in hokkien mee are often served dry, so make sure you slurp them up as soon as they arrive. And while they’re great on their own, they are even better when mixed with a bit of the chili and vinegar provided on the side.
Kway Chap: A hearty bowl of soup with pork maw and flat noodles
This hearty bowl of soup is one of the best meals you can find in Singapore. Best enjoyed in winter, kway chap is a hearty bowl of noodles and a pig’s stomach. It’s a simple but tasty dish that makes for good comfort food.
While you can find kway chap at many hawker centers, the best place to sample it is at Hameed: Famous Malay Muslim Food, a restaurant in Little India. Here you can sample kway chap with a generous portion of pork maw – a popular Chinese delicacy made from pigs’ internal organs. If you’ve never tried kway chap before, this is the perfect place to try it. Make sure you ask for less chili and more ginger; that’s how you can get the authentic experience.
Murtabak: This crispy roti prata are filled with beef, eggs, and more
Roti prata is a type of Indian flatbread widely eaten in Southeast Asia. Murtabak is a variation of the dish that is often filled with eggs, onions, and beef. It’s famous street food and a great way to start your day in Singapore. You can find murtabak in many hawker centers across Singapore, but the best place to get some is at the Jalan Besar Centre MRT. This stall, aptly dubbed Murtabak Pansy, has been in the business for over 50 years. While you can’t go wrong with any murtabak place, Pansy does it best. She has been praised by the Singapore Tourism Board for serving the best murtabak in the city. Her secret? Extra-crispy roti prata and a generous amount of butter.
Nasi lemak: This Malaysian staple is served all over Singapore
Nasi lemak is a Malaysian staple that is served all over Singapore. It is most associated with the city’s Malay community and is often eaten as a breakfast meal. Nasi lemak is made with fragrant steamed rice, coconut milk, and a rich sambal chili sauce. It’s usually served with fish, eggs, peanuts, and a hard-boiled egg.