Adventures in East Asia

Eating at Singapore Coffee Shops and Hawker Centres

Since we need to eat (!), it was without a doubt we'd find ourselves at a "Coffee Shop" or "Hawker Centre" in Singapore.


The country is famed for excellent food at excellent, low prices and no wonder, with three distinct cultures of Chinese, Malay and Indian to influence the palate of Singaporeans.

Coffee shops and hawker centres present the cuisines of different ethnicities for no-frills consumption and we found ourselves with a bewildering choice of good food.

It was a good thing that our friends B and L were often at hand to guide us through the possibilities. But what's the idea behind the names? Both coffee shops and hawker centres looked very similar to us when we first saw them. Read on...

Coffee Shops

Unlike a quaint little café that you'd find in England, coffee shops or Kopitiams in Singapore are like little outdoor food courts that collect together a number of stalls or shops selling food.


In a typical coffee shop, the drinks stall is usually run by the owner who sells coffee, tea, soft drinks, and other beverages as well as breakfast items like kaya toast, soft-boiled eggs and snacks.

The other stalls are leased by the owner to independent stallholders who prepare a variety of food dishes, often featuring the cuisine of Singapore. Traditional dishes from different ethnicities are usually available at kopitiams so that people from different ethnic backgrounds and having different dietary habits could dine in a common place and even at a common table.

(Source: Wikipedia)

Bishan Coffee Shop

Our first taste of dinner in Singapore was at a coffee shop next to Bishan metro station, near to where we stayed. The space was probably able to host around two hundred diners on separate tables and was lined on one side with a number of food stalls selling different kinds of cuisine.


Amongst the hustle and bustle and din of diners, talking and munching, there was little difference to eating at "local" places in Hong Kong, save for this place being outdoors, so we felt right at home. Our friends ordered a range of dishes for us all and we had some steamed Hainese Chicken, some fish balls, rice and soup. Thinking back, it didn't seem enough to fill four people, but we were satisfied afterwards.

Toa Payoh Coffee Shop

On a separate occasion we visited a coffee shop near Toa Payoh metro station. The place was smaller than the one at Bishan and quieter at the time, though it did look a little slicker in design. With coffee shops, stalls tend to have a similar appearance and the same style of signage - it makes sense if they're all managed by the same owner.


At the Toa Payoh coffee shop, we had Hokkien Fried Prawn Noodles.


A Fried Oyster Omelette, different to the Taiwan version we had at the Taipei 101 Building. The Singaporean version was crispier and mixed with tapioca flour & egg.


Rojak - a local salad with a mixture of fruits and turnips, black thick prawn paste and peanuts.


Hawker Centres

Like Coffee Shops, Hawker Centres are open air complexes gathering together a variety of stalls. However, rather than run by a single owner, Hawker Centres are regulated by the local authorities in Singapore.


Found near public housing estates or transport hubs, Hawker Centres sprung up following rapid urbanisation in Singapore in the 1950's and 60's. They were partly built to address the problem of unhygienic food preparation by unlicensed street hawkers.


Though there still seem to be some issues - unavoidable with open air exposure to stray animals and pests, Hawker Centres nevertheless have improving hygiene standards. Stalls actually have little signs bearing a letter from "A-D" to indicate their level of cleanliness, with "A" being the cleanest.

The no frills experience and cheap prices seem to have led Hawker Centres to become the eating venues for the less affluent. In contrast, the growing income of Singaporeans, particularly in the urban populations, has given rise to the indoor, air-conditioned food courts in shopping malls, which seem to be replacing the Hawker Centres.

Linh and I went to several Hawker Centres of course and below are some of the meals we had.

Newton Food Centre

At the Newton Food Centre, considered to be one of the best Hawker Centres, we only stopped by for some noodles and some Hokkien Popiah - a kind of soft, fresh pancake filled with beansprouts and other vegetables.



Teck Ghee Hawker Centre

At Teck Ghee, we tried a few more dishes and I took a few more photos of the stalls and other foods on offer.


This is duck rice with peanuts and a herbal soup in the background.


Linh had some seafood soup with rice.




For dessert, there was ice jelly, a local cold desert.



This entry posted in : Food. Singapore.

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