From Singapore’s ‘chope’ culture to ordering food and payment methods, we share the lowdown on some must-knows before your first trip to a hawker centre. (Psst: These same rules just as much apply to coffee shops and food courts.)
Chope table

‘Chope’ culture

If it’s your first time in a hawker centre, food court or coffee shop, you may notice curiously placed packets of tissue or name cards on tables and seats. But don’t shove them aside: Singapore’s chope (to mean ‘reserve’) culture is an unspoken rule to abide by, and one to be embraced – so don’t be afraid to chope your seats with packets of tissue, too. 

Kaya butter

Tout not

Some vendors can be heavy-handed in touting dishes, and tourists in particular are a target. But you needn’t feel obligated to make a purchase from their stall. Instead, explore the rest of the hawker centre fully before ordering the dishes that most appeal to you. Stuck for options? Get the lowdown on some of Singapore’s most well-loved local foods here – or try this guide to some of Singapore’s best hawker centres

Hawker stall

Placing orders

Tables in hawker centres are typically marked with numbers – so remember to quote yours when placing an order, particularly for dishes that may require more time to be prepared. Think ‘satay’ (skewered barbecued meat) or ‘sambal’ barbeque stingray, the latter built from fermented small shrimps, chillis, shallots and a touch of lime. Otherwise, some stalls run by a self-service system: order your dish, place a tray at the counter, collect your cutlery and watch your meal being prepared before your eyes. 


Cash or card?

Hawker centre stalls generally only accept cash as payment, although – in Singapore’s attempts to create a cashless society – more eateries now allow payment with an EZ-Link or NETS card, as well as apps like GrabPay or DBS PayLah!. EZ Link and NETS cards are stored-value cards that can be topped up at Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations, most ATM machines and 7-Eleven convenience stores. This depends on which stall you’re ordering from, though, so it’d be best to have some cash on hand anyway. Need more tips? We've rounded up eight must-knows before travelling to Singapore

Chicken rice

Sharing is caring

And very much so, in the case of hawker centre food. If you’re visiting the hawker centre in a group, try ordering dishes across several stalls for sharing – say, white ‘beehoon’ (rice vermicelli) from one stall, char kway teow (fried flat rice noodles) from another, sambal barbeque stingray to go along, and tall mugs of freshly pressed sugarcane juice to cool you down.

All done with your meal? Don’t forget to return your trays – look out for large signboards indicating so. Then get schooled on some of Singapore’s best local (and affordable) desserts before booking your stay at Marina Bay Sands.