It's no great secret that Singapore is a food obsessive's paradise. But while Singapore may be world-renowned for its famed chili crabs, these crustaceans rarely make the plate of a regular Singaporean lunch or dinner due to their hefty price tag. You're far more likely to encounter chicken rice, char kway teow, bak chor mee, and a plethora of vibrantly delicious yet affordable hawker fare.
Known for its melting pot of Chinese, Malay, and Indian cultures, the "little red dot" has seen cheap street food flourish since the 1800s, when Singapore started thriving as an entrepôt. At that time, the promise of a low-capital business enticed many to start selling street food rather than to seek other forms of employment.
Due to rapid urbanization and the need to regulate the vast numbers of street food peddlers, the government started erecting markets with dedicated hawker centres, or open-air food complexes, in the early 1970s. Offering a variety of permanent food stalls with shared tables and seats, hawker centres are dotted throughout the city and are particularly abundant in government-built housing estates. But while hawker centres are dime a dozen in the city, hawker food is also available at open-air coffee shops, canteens, and air-conditioned food courts.
Of late, however, the city has been abuzz with talk about how Singapore can keep its hawker heritage alive as an aging generation retires and stall-rental costs continue to spiral upwards, sometimes making it almost financially unviable for young hawkers to break into the business. Thankfully, even amidst these challenges, Singapore's hawker trade is anything but torpid. Here's what (and where) to eat cheap in Singapore:
Evelyn Chen is a former Time Out food critic and former editor of Zagat Guide; her food and travel features have published in New York Times, the South China Morning Post, Destin Asian, Telegraph Travel, and Conde Nast Traveller.
Editor: Hillary Dixler
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