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Hawker Centre Etiquette

Bring out the tissue pack

Finding a table during lunch can get tough. But when the group does locate one, that tissue pack will come in handy. Every minute counts, so the pack acts to “chope” or reserve that space for you while you go off to order your food. It’s important to respect the rule: If you see a table with a pack or a little foldable umbrella on it, know that it’s taken. 

Don’t forget to return your tray

Many hawker centres now participate in tray-return initiatives, whereby patrons return their used plates, cutlery and trays to stands tucked away at the corners of the hawker centre. But these stands are divided into Halal and non-Halal categories, so if you ordered from a Malay or Indian stall, head for the Halal racks.

Uncle, Boss or Bro

Get friendly with the stall owners by addressing them correctly. “Aunty” or “Uncle” works well for anyone above 50, and obviously older than you are. Or, you can call the owner “boss”; if he’s Chinese, lao ban (for men) and lao ban niang (for women) are respectful terms of address. Should the vendor be younger than you are, “bro” could work, and xiao mei, which means “little sister”, is acceptable too. 

I’ve got my eye on you

Hovering quietly near diners as you patiently wait for them to finish their food (and vice versa) is another way of chope-ing a spot, but you have to establish some ownership of that table by being close enough to mark it as yours. However, don’t stand so close that you irritate those trying to enjoy their lunch.

What’s the must-try

Wandered into a hawker centre and not sure what’s good and what’s not? Sniff out the best food choices simply by observing the queue, or lack of. The longer the queue, the tastier the food; despite having a strict lunch hour, Singaporeans love their food and will always join the queue if they know it’s good. Get in line… 

How to order

The chicken rice man can’t make sense of your accent, and you don’t speak a word of Mandarin. Master these terms and phrases to avoid getting a wrong order.

You want: Chicken rice to go
You say: Aunty, chicken rice da bao

You want: Fried kway teow without the cockles
You say: Uncle, mai hum

You don’t want: Chilli
You say: Mai hiam (not to be confused with mai hum, see above)

You want: Extra vegetables
You say: Xiao jie, jia cai

You want: Extra rice
You say: Jia fan

You want: Less rice
You say: Shao fan

You want: More meat
You say: Jia rou

You want: To add an egg
You say: Jia dan

TIP: Practice with colleagues before blurting out to vendor.

Want to find more hawker centre gems? Check out http://thefinder.life/eat-drink/out-about-eats/hawker-gems

By Hazel Vincent De Paul, The Finder, May 2015

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