When you are in Singapore, you must try to eat at Singapore hawker centre because it is an iconic representation of the Singaporean way of life. Hawker centres are common places where most of the Singaporean settle their breakfast, lunch and dinner.
They may be recognised by their many stalls, each selling different kinds of cheap and nice local food. All hawker centres are not air conditioned (Those that have air conditioning are known as food courts, and are normally located inside shopping malls). If the weather is hot, you will have to endure the warm air while you are enjoying the delicious food. However, there are some unspoken rules that you need to know when you are eating at Singapore hawker centres. This article will tell you the rules and culture that you have to follow.
To "chop" a seat means to reserve a seat, so the first thing that you have to do when you are at a busy Singapore hawker centre, especially during lunch hours between 12.00 p.m. to 2.00p.m. is to chop a seat before you order food. The way to do this in hawker centre is to place a packet of tissue paper or umbrella or your staff badge on the table that you wish to reserve. Other diners will respect your "chop" and will not remove the tissue paper or take the seat. So take note, if you see a packet of tissue on the hawker centre table, it means that the seat is taken so please do not sit on it.
Most of the tables at the Singapore hawker centre will have a number written somewhere on the table. When you order your food, tell the hawker your table number and they will serve the food to your table. However, now almost 90% are self service in which case you will have to take your food back to your seat by yourself after you have paid.
If the stall is not a self service stall, most of the time you will pay after they serve the food to your table. However, there are some stalls which will require you to pay first before they serve the food to you, so pay first only when they ask for it. Now most of the stalls are self service and thus by default you will need to pay when you order the food.
"Da Pao" is a common phrase that you will hear when you queue to order your food at the stall, it is a Singapore slang word meaning "take away". They will ask you whether you are going to have your food "here" or "Da Pao". If you can't pronounce the word properly even after some practice, just tell them "take away". Most of the hawker understand simple English and they will know that you mean "Da Pao".
You don't have to clean your table or throw your reminding food away or bring the plate back to the stall after you have finished your meal. You just need to leave it on the table and the cleaner will clean the table later. This is a common practice in Singapore. Even in fast food restaurant like McDonald, most of the dinners leave their reminding food or plate on the table for the cleaner to clean. This is different culture as compared to western countries. Though we are not encouraging this culture, we felt that you should know that this is a common behavior here in Singapore.
However, due to the shortage of cleaner, Singapore government is encouraging customer to return their own trays and plates. There are even tray collection point in most of the hawker center.
If you are observant enough, when you eat at any of the Singapore hawker centres, you will notice that there are big labels placed in front of each stall stating A, B or C. That label is the hygiene rating given by the government so if you are particular about food hygiene, eat with stall that score A or B.
Now that you have learned the rules and protocol of eating at a Singaporean hawker centre, I am sure you are ready to pop in to any of the hawker centres in Singapore to try the local way of eating local food. Hope you enjoy your meal.