Singapore’s famous hawker centers 

Lau Pa Sat, Singapore by Ethan Hu on Unsplash

Hawker centers bring together the true diversity of Singapore’s multicultural cuisine, dished out hot and fast at affordable prices. Neighborhood life revolves around these lively open-air structures, established as a sanitary alternative to mobile hawker carts of the past. Tourists love Lau Pa Sat in the central business district for its central location and colonial architecture, while many locals consider Old Airport Road Food Centre, far off the beaten track, as the best in Singapore. 

Some hawker stalls have gained local and international fame: Tian Tian’s Hainanese chicken rice at Maxwell Market in Chinatown, singled out by Gordon Ramsay and the late Anthony Bourdain; curry puffs from J2 Famous Crispy Curry Puff at Amoy Street Food Centre; steamed buns at Tiong Bahru Pau; and the once Michelin-starred Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle at Chinatown Complex, to name a few.

Singaporeans love to argue hotly over which stall makes the best versions of classic dishes like chicken rice, nasi lemak, laksa, satay and more. Why choose just one favorite when you can try them all? 

Penang, Malaysia’s foodie heritage center 

Man cooking in Penang, by Mark Chan on Unsplash

The city of Penang combines UNESCO World Heritage-listed architecture with a vibrant culinary history, featuring iconic hawkers who have spent decades, sometimes generations, mastering and serving one singular dish. From the bright streets of George Town to its waterfront hawker stalls, eating your way through Penang is an explosion of local color and local flavor. 

Noodles in Penang, by Krystal Hu on Unsplash

You can’t go wrong with Malaysia’s pride and joy: char kway teow (flat rice noodles stir-fried with light and dark soy sauce, prawns, cockles, a fermented shrimp paste called belachan, bean sprouts, and chili) is everywhere in Penang. Assam laksa (a sweet-sour-spicy tamarind-based fish soup), nyonya otak-otak (fish parcels wrapped in banana leaf), and lok lok (where ingredients are served on skewers for DIY cooking in a communal hotpot) are also Penang must-tries.

For a taste of Malaysia’s Indian-Muslim heritage, try murtabak (pancakes stuffed with chicken, egg and spiced onion), nasi kandar (a hearty breakfast of rice with tandoori chicken, okra and fried egg) and roti canai (flatbreads tossed on hotplates with speed and flair, served hot with with curry sauce).

Bustling Mong Kok, Hong Kong

Mong Kok, Hong Kong by Kendall Henderson on Unsplash

A tight grid of jam-packed streets and hidden alleyways in Kowloon, Mong Kok is where you can find anything and everything from gadgets to goldfish, pricey sneakers to cut-price cameras. But foodies know Mong Kok best for its hole-in-the-wall eateries and street markets offering cheap, tasty eats, particularly along Sai Yeung Choi, Dundas, Fa Yuen and and Soy Streets. 

Snack on traditional Cantonese fare such as Hong Kong-style stir-fried noodles, fish balls (fish meat made into deep-fried balls with curry sauce), and siu mai (steamed fish, meat, or vegetarian dumplings). Sit down for dim sum, roast goose, or even snake soup if you’re adventurous. 

In between bites, check out the ever-changing display of graffiti by local and international artists at the Hong Kong Wall of Fame, shop for a new outfit at the Ladies’ Market, or have your fortune told at the Temple Street Market. Keep an eye out for the latest street food craze of the moment, whatever that might be!

Taipei’s Shilin Night Market, Taiwan

Taipei Shilin Night Market by Mark Oh on Unsplash

Taipei’s biggest, busiest night market is packed with quirky shops, roadside food vendors, gaming arcades and karaoke bars. The food is the biggest draw here: with over 500 stalls and restaurants in the Shilin Market Food Hall and even more in the surrounding side streets, you’ll be spoilt for choice. 

Unmissable street food favorites include stinky tofu (fried beancurd with a distinctive aroma), bubble tea (milky black, green and fruit teas with chewy tapioca pearls or jelly chunks), cold noodles, sweet potato balls, crispy Taiwanese fried chicken on a stick, and oyster omelette (juicy oysters fried with egg and chives). 

Most stalls start setting up at around 5 p.m., and you can easily wander this sprawling, mazelike market around for hours. Don’t forget to keep cool and hydrated with a rainbow of chilled fruit juices on offer, ranging from custard apple to dragonfruit and sugarcane.

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