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Hawker Centers

Singapore's insider take:

Singaporeans swear that the island's best laksa noodles, won ton mee (noodle soup with Chinese dumplings), and rojak (spicy-sweet salads made with fruit and seafood) are found at these bustling outdoor food courts. They can be found all over the island, and each is annually inspected for cleanliness and food hygiene, so you don't have to worry about the stomach bugs that often accompany street food elsewhere in the world. All hawker centers are crowded with locals around the clock (hours tend to extend past midnight); the fast, cheap food appeals to all walks of Singaporean life. So don't be surprised if you find yourself sitting right next to the same society matron you saw the night before, fabulously coiffed and bejeweled, at a luxe French restaurant.

One of the most popular hawker centers is on Maxwell Road, on the outskirts of Chinatown, where dozens of vendors have stalls set up in a huge, open-air, fluorescent-lit warehouse. With an excellent range of Singaporean specialties, it's a great starting point for your culinary explorations. Some of the tastiest seafood in Singapore can be found at Newton Food Centre, where grilled stingray with hot sambal (chili peppers combined with coconut) goes down well with roti prata (fried Indian bread with curry), especially after late-night clubbing (open late, starting at 5 pm daily).

Recently, a collection of Singapore's best hawkers opted out of the maddening din that defines places like Maxwell and Newton. Instead, the 12 vendors have set up shop—along with 500 outdoor seats and simple plastic tables—at the Singapore Riverfront at Makansutra Gluttons Bay (01–05 Esplanade Mall; 65-6336-7025; With signage in English, Chinese, and Japanese, just about anyone can know what he or she is eating, from Indonesian mee goreng noodles to Chinese char siew bao (stuffed pork buns) and Heng Heng's rightly famous fried carrot cake.

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