Coffee shopsCoffee shops (literally kopi tiam - 'kopi' a Malay word, 'tiam' a Hokkien word) are probably the most common places where locals have their meals if they eat out. They are normally located in housing estates and you can find one within walking distance every few HDB blocks apart. Some are located in industrial areas. A coffee shop typically houses about 5 to 7 stalls. One of the stalls will definitely be a drinks stall, which is often operated and run by the owner of the coffee shop itself.
Common stalls you can find in a coffeeshop other than the drinks stall would be those selling Mixed Rice, Mee Pok (minced pork noodles), Carrot cake, Porridge, Won Ton noodles, Chicken rice, Fishball noodles, Tze char (fried noodles, rice and other meat and vegetable dishes), Western food and 1 or 2 halal Malay or Indian food stalls (Roti prata, Nasi padang, Mee rebus, Nasi Briyani etc.). A meal at a coffeeshop costs between $3 to $4 on average. Food at the Western stall normally costs a little more. A drink will cost between $0.80 to $1.50 depending on what you order, beer excluded.
There are normally 2 to 3 staff from the drinks stall moving around in a coffee shop clearing drinks cans and glasses and taking orders. To order a drink, just put up your hand to signal to them that you want to place an order. You can also call out to them by addressing them as 'auntie' or 'uncle' to get their attention. If it's a younger lady serving you, you may address her 'sister'. The auntie, uncle or sister will bring you your order and you pay them.
The majority of coffee shops are not air-conditioned. Tables are free seating, and there's a section in the coffee shop designated as a smoking area.
There are more than 2000 coffee shops today in Singapore. They first started to sprout up when the government wanted to clear roadside hawkers for development and hygiene reasons. The roadside stalls were then moved to the coffee shops or hawker centres.
*You haven't experienced Singapore if you haven't eaten at a coffee shop. Click here for tips to eat like a local at a coffee shop.
Hawker CentresHawker Centres is a large food area which can contain more than 50 hawker stalls. A wide variety of food is available and normally the same food item is sold at more than 1 hawker stall. Hawker centres are found at the heart of a housing estate, typically next to the wet market, at a central area where the other estate amenities are located as well (a housing estate is self-contained with facilities such as a wet market, clinic, hardware store etc.).
Other than the stalls you find at a coffeshop, you will also find stalls selling fruit juice, dessert, barbecued seafood, Char kway tiao, Roast meat with rice etc. Hawkers at hawker centres rent their stall from the government.
Every table has a table number indicated on it. Some stalls owners will ask you for your table number when you order. They will prepare the food and deliver it to where you sit and you pay them when they send the food to your table (although some owners would want you to pay first). Stalls with a sign that says "self-service", well, is self explanatory.
A meal will cost about $3 to $4. A drink costs about $0.80 to $1.50 and a fruit juice between $1.50 and $3.
Tip! Queues in front of a stall is a clear sign that they have some really good food there. If you see any newspaper or magazine articles displayed at the food stall, it is safe to say the food there is good
During meal times, you might find it a little challenging to find a seat and sharing a table with others is common.
A food court is the air conditioned version of a hawker centre. The number of stalls are many, but fewer than that in a hawker centre. A food court can be found is almost all shopping malls in Singapore.
During lunch and dinner times, it is common to find items like tissue packets, lanyards, umbrellas and name cards on the tables. This indicates that the table has been 'reserved' while the item owner is buying his food. It might be difficult to get a table but just wait around those who look like they are about to finish eating and you should get a seat in a short while.
Expect to pay a little more than in a coffee shop or hawker centre - about $4 to $8 for a meal. A drink will cost between $1.50 to $3. Probably the most expensive food court to dine at is Rasapura Masters, which is the food court at Marina Bay Sands.
If you will be in Singapore for a period of time, you might want to consider purchasing a dining card at food courts (which have several outlets) like Kopitiam and Koufu. You may top up the stored value of the card and use it to pay for your food. This will give you a 10% discount on what you buy. These cards can be purchased for a few dollars at the food courts itself.
It's just $12 to get your hair well shampooed and scrubbed, and your head and shoulder massaged at a local hair salon in a housing estate! What a deal!
Many Singaporean ladies have visited the same hair salon at the neighbourhood where they live for the longest time that they have become acquaintances with the hairdressers there. Normally you will find about 2 to 3 hair salons within a housing estate. Hair services for men are available too, although you might be able to find a barber in the estate as well.
It is common to hear some chatter (gossip) while you're in a hair salon and the atmosphere is normally light and lively. Many of the salons are owned by the friendly hairdresser(s) herself and they have years of experience with hair. You get the same range of services you find at a hair salon in a shopping mall at a much lower price too! Peak hours are on weekends in the mornings, when ladies head to the wet market or hawker centre within the estate for groceries and breakfast, and to get their hair done.
@ Marine Terrace Wet Market
You can't get it any fresher in Singapore unless you go fishing. The best place to get the freshest vegetables, meat and fish at the best prices is at a wet market in Singapore. Wet markets are commonly found in the heart of housing estates. The idea of wet markets originally was for customers to see the animals or seafood live before they were slaughtered. But because of hygiene reasons and urbanisation, this is no longer permitted and stall holders simply chill the food well. The stall holders are friendly and customers are usually residents living in the area. Wet markets however are gradually phasing out with the presence of more supermarkets.
A housing estate also has other amenities like a hawker centre, hair salons, clinics, bakeries and coffee shops at a housing estate to serve the neighbouring residents. Most people don't have to travel more than 5 bus stops (about 12 minutes) to get what they need. Visiting a housing estate tells you how life is like for locals here. Click here to know more about roaming an estate.
For wholesale options, you can visit Pasir Panjang Wholesale Centre for fruits and veggies, and Jurong Fishery Port for seafood.
There are about 80 wet markets in Singapore today. Here's a list or wet markets you could get a fish or two from:
Chinatown Complex Market
Bukit Merah View Market and Food Centre
Bedok North Market and Food Centre
Tampines Round Market and Food Centre
Teban Gardens Market and Food Centre
Clementi Market and Food Centre
Blk 724 Ang Mo Kio Food Centre
Kovan Hougang Market and Food Centre
Admiralty Wet Market
Marsiling Lane Food Centre