Hawker Centre Near Orchard Road – The hawker center showcases the heart of Southeast Asia, beating beneath Singapore’s shiny exterior. These public and often open complexes are known for their cheap and good food, and they’re super clean: each stall has a clearly visible sanitation rating. There are dozens of these centers in Singapore – but which are the best? Chris Wright.
The Century Old Market Market (also known as Telok Ayer) was not demolished and replaced with office buildings like the ones around it. Its high roof and decorative trusses supported by cast-iron columns recall its colonial Victorian origins – the iron was cast in Glasgow – and the stark contrast to the surrounding modernity is part of its appeal. While you can sit inside, many prefer the streets on the southwest side, which are closed to traffic at night, where you can choose from a dozen or so glowing satay stalls (a local favorite: Stall 8), while Tiger’s waitresses bring cold food beer.
Hawker Centre Near Orchard Road
Cheap, varied and unpretentious, this is where locals bring foreigners to show them the real Singapore. There are about 170 stalls here, but the standouts are Nan Xing, which is famous for its delicious fried noodles with shrimp;
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Singapore’s most revered stall might be here: Tian Tian Hainanese Chicken Rice, whose recipes for simple dishes are beloved by locals (along with Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay, who both rave about it). Located in the heart of Chinatown, the center also has many other popular items, Zhen Zhen Porridge is a local favourite. The porridge here is not your Uncle Toby’s kind of breakfast, but rice-based, with meat and vegetables.
Location, location, location. Right by the sea at East Coast Park, with the cable car lagoon on one side and the free skate park on the other, this is a great family spot, open and airy with a vaulted wooden roof. One of the most popular dishes here is the Laguna carrot cake: a deep-fried savory meal that doesn’t actually involve carrots or even cake. Instead, it is a white dish based on rice noodles and daikon. Try it.
Chomp Chomp, a night owl in Singapore’s hawker centers, doesn’t get quiet until 6pm and then usually stays open until around 1am. Avoid the smoky interior and sit outside under an umbrella. It’s a great place to eat satay and grilled meats like the stingray or seafood garden stalls on Boon Tat Street (Boon Tat Street, by the way, is named after the road on the side of Lau Pa Sat Hawker Centre).
If you’re in Little India, you really can’t miss this bright orange two-story building. As you might expect, Indian stalls and other South Asian stalls are more abundant here than most other centres. Try our biryani at the Yakader stall, one of the many places that serve this dish.
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Even before Hong Kong Soy Sauce Chicken Rice was the cheapest Michelin-starred restaurant in the world ($2.50 a plate), this Chinatown hawker center was hugely popular. These days, you can wait in line for an hour or more for that stall, but by the time you get to the front, the chicken is tender and juicy. Another street food stall in Singapore, Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle in Crawford Lane also has a Michelin star.
Tiong Bahru is an increasingly trendy area, known to foreigners for PS.Cafe, but it also prides itself on this hawker center located above a bustling and colorful market. Locals love Jian Bo, a stall that sells char kueh, a steamed rice cake topped with deep-fried pickled daikon or daikon, served with a chilli sauce.
We mention this because it’s close to Orchard Road and it’s set up for foreigners – but that means you’ll pay more (be careful ordering fish that’s priced by weight) and get bragged about people approach. On the plus side, it’s a great place to try new things and has some of the best seafood in the country. Try Hop Kee’s Oyster Omelet.
Timbre+ might be put off by being called a hawker centre, but it’s basically a high-end food market, with restaurants serving up in converted stacked shipping containers and a catchy local cover band in front of the food truck. At most hawker centres, dishes cost more than you pay for (although if you return the tray you’ll get a dollar back!), celebrity chef Damian D’Silva’s lim peh sliders, beef and bread medley are S$8 , don’t go bankrupt. Hundreds of bottled beers are also available. There are dozens of pop-up markets today. But one of the earliest pop-up markets in Singapore took place in your parents’ 60s-70s, a car dealership called Glutton’s Square, or a car park on Orchard Road.
Singapore :steet Vendor Along Orchard Road Editorial Photography
But when night fell, the place transformed into a bustling foodie haven, dubbed “Jaws Center” by some for the same reason we call Newton Circus a “tourist trap” today.
This informal open-air hawker center started in 1966 and bills by the hour. These drivers will set up booths, tables and chairs, often squeeze two booths, and put two or three tables in each booth.
“The hawkers would come to the open car park at 5.30pm before sunset,” said Ms Leong Mun Yee, 70, a former patron of Glutton Square who is particularly fond of rojak.
Until the 1970s, the Orchard Road car park market was a very popular place for car sales. At its peak, the market has 80 stalls crammed into the parking lot.
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“It was dirty around the tables and around the well,” added Mr Lawrence Wee, 66, another shopper with fond memories of the Orchard Road car park market.
“But at least there are tables and chairs.” If you need more space for larger groups, they open a new table. “
Part of the appeal of the Orchard Road car park market is its “raw”, unhygienic nature. As it is a part time car park centre, there are no toilets for hawkers.
“The store has no toilets or running water,” said Ms Jennifer Lam, 66. “That said, unless it’s raining, it’s usually very crowded.”
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With no water mains, a nearby canal was filled with leftovers thrown by the hackers. Vendors have to fill buckets on Koek Street and carry them to their stalls by hand.
Customers eat in cramped, dank conditions, but are clearly willing to be brave.
You and Lam remember going to the parking lot market on a date and drinking lots of “green dots and bottled soft drinks.” Lam also fondly remembers the char siew pan, though he says the food options in the market are much the same as what we have today.
“Food was very cheap in the 1960s,” says Mr. Lim Chong Hsien, Glutton Square hawker from 1967 to 1976. Lim sells rojak and cuttlefish for 30 cents and 50 cents.
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Local favorites such as oyster omelette, Hokkien prawn noodles, carrot cake and char siew strips are also available for less than one yuan.
“People think being a salesman is easy, but the hours are very, very long,” he said in an oral history interview at the National Archives.
Leong previously had a stall on Koek Street, just a few steps away from the Orchard Road car park market.
“You spend at least 10 hours a day selling cooked food at the stall. Then you have to consider the time spent buying raw materials at the market. Unless you have a day off, you don’t have time to do anything else.”
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Lin said that at that time, hawkers had few rest days and the intervals were very long. If hawkers valued customers, they could not rest for too long.
“Don’t take too long a break.” A day off is fine, but if you take two or three days off and your clients come and can’t find you, you’re going to lose them. “
Leong agreed, saying market traders work late every day, saying “my friend and I would go at 10pm and the stalls were still open for dinner.”
In 1978, in line with the government’s plan to transform Orchard Road into a tourist area, Gluttony Plaza was closed and turned into a park.
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Today, street food no longer exists on the streets, but hawker culture lives on in our hawker centres, coffee shops, and perhaps in the near future, on the world stage as an intangible part of our Singapore heritage.
Whatever form our hawker tradition takes, Orchard Road Car Park Market will long live in our collective memory as the original pop-up street food market.
The Orchard Heritage Trail features Glutton’s Square and other historic sites along Orchard Road. Watch the video below to learn more:
This post, sponsored by the National Heritage Board, helps our writers get one step closer to setting up their own pop-up hub.
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