6 Things I Wish I Knew at a Hawker Center

6 Things I Wish I Knew at a Hawker Center

During the short period of time I’ve spent in Singapore, I’ve learned a lot about Singapore’s iconic hawker centers. By no means am I calling myself an expert, but I think I’ve upgraded from being a newbie. I know enough just to get by. The layout of each center is fairly straight forward each food center is different and may contain a few to a lot of stalls with about 2-4 beverage stalls. I wanted to list 6 things I wish I knew before stepping foot inside a food center.

1. Always Carry a Pack of Tissues

my pack of tissue, "Oh Darling"
my pack of tissue, "Oh Darling"

Unlike eateries and restaurants in North America / Europe where they provide paper napkins when needed, these places do not. There maybe a person walking around selling tissue packets but its best to just pop in a 7-11 or any hyper market and pickup a pack for a decent price. I got a pack of 12 for only $1.50 SGD. Super cheap! This mighty item not only will help you dry off the sweat from your forehead but it can claim a spot for seating and hold down the fort. Locals know that if you leave a pack of tissues (unused – the cleaners will throw it out if its used looking) it means that someone is sitting there. Weird but a really interesting fact.

NB: Tourists will think that it's a free pack of tissues though so it may not work at food centers where there are lots of tourists (any near Chinatown)
NB: Tourists will think that it's a free pack of tissues though so it may not work at food centers where there are lots of tourists (any near Chinatown)

2. Do Follow the Crowd

It’s always a good sign when there’s a lineup for the food. Singaporeans will queue up for something worthwhile, but not too long that it’ll waste their time.

3. Don’t Follow the Crowd

Crazy long line full of guide-book toting folks.

Lineups are always a good indication for good food but a big turn-off for me is an lineup filled with tourists holding up guidebooks and cameras (like me, without the books haha) Like what I’ve mentioned above, Singaporeans will queue up for something worthwhile but there are other places that would be equally as tasty for shorter amount of time.

4. Touting is Not Always Effective

Most food centers don’t allow touting (surprise, surprise!) It took me a while to understand what this meant when I saw the “fine” print – ok, that’s my only pun for this post. But there are food centers and eateries that do allow it. When they do, it just seems like they’re really trying to get some business. If the food is good, there will be a crowd and it will speak louder than they can tout.

5. During busy times, Someone Will Take Drink Orders

Yes, there are drink-maids (for lack of a better term) from the beverage stalls that go around the center taking any orders for drinks. It really beats holding a warped tray full of chicken rice and a bowl of hot soup broth with a drink and navigating your way through the crowd, back to your table reserved by your good ol’ tissue pack.

6. Leave your Plate of Food, It Will Be Left Alone

yum chicken rice

Yes. Fact. Singaporeans tend to leave things alone (as per tissue pack) since there are a lot of patrons eating alone and they need to be able to get other things like drinks without having to carry around their stuff

Hawker centers are super awesome and worth a visit: they’re good, cheap and something definitely you need to do if you want a local experience during your time in Singapore.

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Michael Gozum

I'm a food photographer that wants to eat my way around the world.