EW's Gail Mallo shares her first hawker experience at Newton Food Centre in Singapore.
28 April 2015| Last updated on 28 June 2017
There is something about Singapore that keeps making me want to go back over and over. I knew I had fallen in love with the place after my first visit when I could not stop talking about the food, the hospitality and just the overall feel of the city. It is quite difficult not to fall in love with Singapore’s charms. While it must feel pretty much like place's such as Dubai - with the same cost of living - perhaps it is the greenery and being surrounded by all that lush made me like being there. It's a clean break from the stretch of desert, sand and concrete in the Middle East and other cities around the world.
Last January when a Japan trip did not push through because of late visa applications and a work obligation, my husband and I canceled the trip and decided to go to Singapore instead. Luckily, coming from a Southeast Asian country a visa was not required of us going to Singapore as a tourist.
The very first day we got there we checked-in at the Carlton Hotel. Our temporary home for the next seven days was right across Raffles Hotel and a short walk to Singapore Art Museum. We dropped our bags, freshened up and made our way by taxi to the Newton Food Centre. I was determined to make this trip a food trip as well when I added “try eating at a hawker centre” among the many places on my to-do list. I had forgotten how hot it can be in Singapore. Living in the desert can be sweltering hot but Singapore’s heat is different! We were going to meet up with my college friends who are now expats in Singapore and one of them chose Newton Circus because it was nearby her workplace.
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Newton Food Centre, also known as Newton Circus for locals, is always packed with both residents and tourists alike. If you are the type of tourist who likes to immerse herself in local culture, this is a nice place to people watch as you enjoy a lovely spread of Singaporean favorites. I realized that in public places where getting a table requires skills of a ninja, you can just leave any personal belonging like a hankerchief or something very small and it will be considered as "occupied" or "table saved". It turns out to be a common practice among diners. The outdoor dining area is reminiscent of an old food court with numerous food stalls selling different Singaporean specialties— seafood, the famous Singaporean crabs, satay, Chinese food, Indian food, Malay food and a fusion of the three.
My head was reeling with excitement while walking around and I could not decide what to order so I asked my resident friends to order for us. At the hawker centre, tourists must beware because they can charge tourists for more than the dish’s regular price. If it were not for my friends I would have said yes to the price I would be quoted. My hunger and jetlag will not help either as I was already exhausted, starving and very hot.
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The dining place where tables are scattered is an open-area with long wooden picnic tables and some tables with a shady roof. I looked around and noticed how there were a lot of tourists and locals. The interesting part of a hawker centre is that you get to eat like a local and you get to sample different dishes in one place (as long as your stomach can handle it!). We had a very nice spread of assorted dishes from crispy sambal squid, Singaporean chili crab, yang chow fried rice, popiah and calamares. For drinks we all got barley with coconut meat, a refreshing drink and “very Singaporean” to order, apparently. There was a refreshments stand where you can choose from soft drinks, juices, to alcoholic beverages.
When in Newton Food Centre, tourists must beware of "uncles" and "aunties" who wave the menus of their food stalls and urge you to buy food from them. You do not want to pressured by their coaxing so look for a place by yourself, avoid eye contact or asking them questions if you have no plans of ordering from their stall. With that being said, a trip to Newton Circus was very enjoyable and it was quite an experience. We left the place feeling full to the brim and despite the hot and sticky weather it was a great night to experience Singapore's famous dishes.
Not to miss: Singapore's famous chili crabs, assorted meats satay, popiah and the small crispy sambal squid!
Newton Food Centre (also known as Newton Circus)
500 Clemenceau Avenue
Written by EW's Gail Monique Mallo