Visiting the world’s most expensive city doesn’t mean spending a fortune on eating out. Singapore’s bustling, no-frills hawker centres have some of the best food, and you can have a hearty meal for less than $5.

Singapore’s hawker culture is so unique that it was added on UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2020. There are more than 118 open-air food courts in the city, serving a variety of cuisines (Chinese, Malay and Indian), reflecting the city-state’s multi-ethnic makeup. Expect halal and Chinese hawkers cooking side by side, generous seating arrangements (sharing tables is not uncommon), and a predominantly cash-based self-service ordering system. Some stalls now accept card/digital payments such as Apple Pay and Alipay. Since the food is freshly made, most vendors have irregular opening hours and close when sold out. So if you don’t go there at lunchtime, you risk being disappointed.

  1. Hong Lim Market & Food Center

Located near the Chinatown MRT station, this hawker center has been a staple of the Chinatown area since it was built in 1978. It’s a little smaller (only 100 food stalls), but it’s a focal point for many who work in the area. Eager customers line up daily at historic hawker stalls. Being in the central business district, it gets busiest at lunchtime. Please arrive a little early to avoid crowds. When in doubt, order from the Michelin Bib Gourmand awardees (selected by the French tire company for serving “great food at reasonable prices”).

  1. Old Airport Road Food Center

Home to some of Singapore’s best-known hawker, the Old Airport Road Food Center has been one of the island’s most popular hawker hangouts for over 40 years. Lines can be long for popular dishes like —lor mee (Hokkien-style noodles in gravy), rojak (fruit and vegetable salad with palm sugar dressing), satay, and char kway teow.

  1. Tiong Bahru Market

This two-story hawker centre fits perfectly into Tiombaru’s Art Deco hipster neighbourhood. As one of Singapore’s oldest public housing estates, it’s home to several heritage hawkers and several Bib Gourmand winners. Downstairs is a wet market, and upstairs are 80 stalls serving hawker staples such as chwee kueh (steamed rice flour cakes topped with preserved turnip), sweet mung bean soup, Hokkien prawn mee, and lor mee, there’s something for everyone.

  1. Maxwell Food Center

This one-story hawker centre in the heart of Chinatown offers a variety of Singapore-style Chinese dishes. Once a wet market in the 1950s, it’s still popular with locals, office workers and tourists as a one-stop shop to sample everything from oyster cake to fish soup.

  1. Gimmo Market & Food Center

Bustling from dawn to dusk, this popular western restaurant is hidden from most tourists. Students, locals and active hikers flock to the nearby 25-mile Green Corridor Nature Trail to recharge and serve timeless hawker treats.

Braised boneless duck, appam (fermented rice pancakes), fried shrimp mee, peanut pancakes. It’s also a great place to meet a new generation of street vendors carrying on the family legacy.

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