Singapore has been called a foodie’s paradise. It is not surprising at all then that several hawker stalls have been featured in the Michelin Bib Gourmand. In addition, two stalls, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle and Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, have received a Michelin Star each. Some of the more popular hawker centres in Singapore that you cannot miss are Newton Food Centre, Tiong Bahru Food Centre, Maxwell Food Centre, Chinatown Complex Food Centre and Lau Pat Sat. Visit any hawker centre, and you will find hawkers with years of experience and recipes that have been perfected and passed down from generation to generation.
Culinary Delights loved by all
The hawker centres are loved by both locals and travellers alike. Being an integral part of Singaporean culture, they have been under the international spotlight for years and have been featured in travel shows, documentaries and even on one of the highest-grossing romantic comedies, Crazy Rich Asians! In 2013, internationally acclaimed chef Gordon Ramsay participated in the Hawker Heroes Challenge and had a cook-off against three prominent Singaporean hawkers.
Since their inception in 1970s, hawker centres have raised their levels of comfort and hygiene. Being open-aired spaces, high ceilings, modified roof structures and installations of fans have improved the overall experience. Hawker centres are dubbed ‘community dining rooms’ and adopt a free-seating system where each table has its own number. Tables usually accommodate four people or more, so sharing tables is commonplace in hawker centres.
Reserve a table before it is too late
Most hawker stalls are usually ‘self-service’, where customers collect the food themselves. However, some stalls still deliver food to the table, where customers provide their table number upon ordering and then wait for the food to arrive.
One Singaporean quirk that might be surprising to visitors is ‘chope-ing’ or reserving a seat at hawker centres. Singaporeans usually place an inexpensive, personal item on the table to reserve their seats while they queue to purchase food. So if you see a tissue packet or a name card on the table, it means that the place is taken.
With hawker centres playing such a huge role in the daily lives of Singaporeans, Singapore has plans to place the hawker culture on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. They are a reflection of Singapore’s multiracial and multi-ethnic society where people of various races coexist in harmony.
Perhaps it is time to ‘chope’ a seat and relish the food cooked by these talented hawkers!