Best Meal at the Singapore Changi Airport? Visit the Staff Canteen

A while back, I asked for advice about how to spend my time at Singapore Changi Airport. After all, it’s been the number one rated airport for many years and I wanted to find out for myself why. TWG readers are the best, and they offered me many great ideas. One reader, Donald, left a comment that I found intriguing.

He wrote, “You should visit the staff canteen. It’s where the airport workers get their meals–dirt cheap. It’s where you can really get the local experience and eat authentic local food prepared by and served to locals. It’s open to the public so you can sit shoulder to shoulder with baggage handlers and flight attendants while you enjoy your meal together. Skip all that silly stuff (butterfly garden, free movies, etc). This is the true insider experience for travelers.”

Given all there is to see and do at Changi, I got there plenty early so as not to be rushed. I departed on a Sunday morning, so traffic to the airport was quick with barely a 20 minute taxi ride. Check-in for my Malaysian Airlines flight was a breeze and immigration was super easy to negotiate.

One unique part of the Changi airport experience was that security is at the gates. I’m not sure whether I prefer that or not because it did mean I had to get to the gate earlier than I normally like to. I think I’d have to experience security at the gate a few more times to see whether or not I prefer it.

I had a few terminals to visit to take in all the amusements. I did go to terminal 3 to see the butterfly garden. I had no idea what to expect, and though it was a small garden, it was really something to be in the midst of all the butterflies and spend some time just watching them do their butterfly thing. The skytrain system at Changi is fantastic. And you can take your luggage carts on the skytrain. This will come in handy if you use a luggage cart.

I went back to terminal 2 to check out the only lounge I had access to. It’s a SATS Premier Lounge that I had access to with Priority Pass. It was not at all crowded when I went in.

As lounges go, I thought the food was great with dishes that were Asian based. There was laksa, and an assortment of curries. The lounge design was pleasant with good counter space for eating and working, as well as tables and chairs throughout the lounge. I liked that there was plenty of natural lighting.

So did I take Donald’s advice and locate the canteen?

You bet I did! After checking in, I asked how to get to the canteen for employees. My ticketing agent gave me directions, but they were more like her swinging her arms right and then left and then right again and when I walked away I realized I had no idea where she meant for me to go. I decided to head toward the end of the terminal and find some employees to follow and see where they went. Looking back on having done that, it probably wasn’t the best idea to start following airport employees, but in fact it worked! I ended up going up stairs, and through a parking garage. Then in an elevator and down a long hall. And there it was……the canteen.

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I did get some strange looks because it was obvious I wasn’t an employee. The vendors were nice and helpful, and I never mind getting stared at when I know I’ll benefit from a good meal :)

After looking around and seeing all the different food stands and watching what everyone else was ordering, I decided to keep it simple. I ordered Hainan chicken which came with rice, salad, and chicken soup. It was $3.60 USD. Can’t beat the quality or that price!! Fun for me to get behind the scenes, too.

As someone who generally never gets to airports any sooner than I have to, this was a fun few hours and time well spent. So thanks everyone for your tips, and next time you’re at Changi, head to the canteen. If you have any other airports you really like besides Changi, or secret places in airports to grab a great meal, let me know!

12 thoughts on “Best Meal at the Singapore Changi Airport? Visit the Staff Canteen

  1. derek

    Great post! I will visit the staff canteen next time I am at Changi Airport. It could be as early as 2019.

  2. Donald Osborne

    Wow, I can’t believe you actually followed up on my suggestion. It’s been a long time since I visited myself so I would have been mortified if it was no longer open to the public or was shut down. Anyway, I’m glad you found it interesting!

    1. Shelli Post author

      Of course I followed-up. What’s the use of asking for suggestions if you don’t :) It was great! And even if the terms had changed and I couldn’t get in, surely I wouldn’t have held that against you:)) Thanks so much. I have a feeling now many people will enjoy the canteen. Even if you don’t eat, it’s fun just to go and see the scene.

  3. Paul

    Hi Shelli, this is a really interesting post. I am a Singaporean who has of course gone through all the various terminals at Singapore airport but I have also been to the Changi Airport Staff canteen many years ago. This does not look anything like the staff canteen I remember – so I think Kopitiam (they are a foodcourt operator) has taken over the operations of the Staff Canteen.

    Just FYI that Kopitiam has a pretty poor reputation for food quality in their food courts in Singapore. So yes, while the food is somewhat inexpensive (USD 3.60 for chicken rice may sound cheap in the context of Changi Airport but typical price for chicken rice in a Singapore hawker center / food court is about USD 2-3.), the food’s probably not very good. The food quality is probably better at the T3 Basement food court and not much more expensive.

    1. Shelli Post author

      HI Paul, Thanks so much for taking the time to add to the conversation! I did have Hainanese chicken at a hawker stall at a place called Tian Tian. I thought the quality at both places were pretty similar and yes, Tian Tian was less expensive. Thanks for the tip on the T3 Basement food court. I’ll try that next time. And as an aside, I think the chicken I make at home is better than at both food courts :) Now the laksa in Singapore is nothing I would ever attempt to make at home!

  4. RIchard Lee

    Thanks for the info. I saw the signage for the Staff canteen but thought it was restricted to airport staff. I’ll know better for next time I’m in Singapore.

    1. Shelli Post author

      Hi Richard, I thought so too until a reader told me otherwise. I can see why they wouldn’t want it generally advertised that it’s open to everyone. Thanks for reading and do try the canteen. It’s a great spot to grab a good meal.


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