From Singapore Hotels & Singapore Lifestyle
Singapore Hawker Centres (or "Food Centres") is the name given to open-air complexes in Singapore housing many stalls that sell a variety of inexpensive Food. They are typically found near public housing estates or transport hubs (such as Bus Interchanges and Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations).
Call them hawker centers, call them food courts: Singapore's culinary circuses put the awe in gourmet.
The surroundings may have changed but the food remains yummy.
Singapore's hawker centers were once wet, dirty and dim shelters crammed with all forms of street food.
As the country took on a more modern face, its food spots followed suit, with many of the island's hawker centers upgrading or moving indoors in the 1990s to air-conditioned food courts.
While foodies bemoaned the loss of authenticity, diners with delicate constitutions and wary of reusable cutlery cheered.
Years on, hawker centers -- or food courts -- are a vital part of life and the undisputed source of Singapore's best food.
The hawker centres offer multi-ethnic Singapore Cooking at its best. Whether it's a simple dish or noodles for S$3 or a S$20 three-course meal of barbecued fish, chilli prawns and fried vegetables served with rice, the cost is a fraction of what you would pay for the same meal in a restaurant. No wonder that eating at or buying food home from hawker centres is a common part of the Singapore lifestyle. Prices apart, the experience is unique. A visit to food-crazy Singapore isn't complete without taking a meal at one of these vibrant, colourful places.
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For the uninitiated, here's how you order a meal at a Hawker Centre. If there's a group of you, have one person sit at a table to "chope" (ie. reserve in local parlance) seats for the rest of the party. Don't be surprised if you see seats with bags or packets of tissue paper on them; it's a sign that they have been taken. The others, having taken note of the table number, should then proceed to survey the various options. When ordering food, tell the stall owner the table number, unless of course it's a self-service operation. If you're on your own, you can share a table with strangers. As you savour your meal, you will realise why true-blue local gourmets will head for their favourite Food Stall at every opportunity.
Hawker Centres are scrupulously inspected for hygiene. Look for the "ABC" signs, representing an annually awarded grading based on excellence in cleanliness and food hygiene ("A" is the highest award). A long queue in front of a particular stall will also be an indication of what's good to try.
The Hawker Centres in Singapore are governed by 3 different government bodies. They are the Ministry of Environment & Water Resources (MEWR), Housing & Development Board (HDB) and JTC Corporation. However, all these centres are managed by the National Environmental Agency (NEA).
In the past, there was no such thing as a Hawker Centre. Instead, the term "hawker" was once used to describe food vendors who moved their wares around in mobile carts. The sound of an ice-cream bell, or the clacking of a wooden block, or the chant of the Mua Chee man selling sticky nougat-like candy, would send children - and their parents - scrambling from their homes into the streets to buy their favourite snack. The fare on offer was amazing. From bread and bowls of steaming noodle soups to peanuts and Poh Piah (spring rolls), the roving hawker was a familiar fixture in the neighbourhood. Then came the roadside hawker, setting up shop on the streets after dark, when parking lots were emptied by cars and replaced by wooden tables and stools, and a pushcart which doubled as the kitchen. Such hawkers have pretty much disappeared from modern Singapore, but hawker-style food remains hugely popular in our Singapore lifestyle.