No such thing as a free lunch. But there’s almost free…

Singapore hawker centres are more than just an outdoor food court, more than a gathering of street food vendors.  They are, first and foremost, a beloved part of the Singaporean culture, and it seems every local is religiously loyal to a particular stall in a particular hawker centre (information that they may or may not share with outsiders).  To eat in a hawker centre for the first time is to experience Singapore in its purest form:  It is always hot, you are always sweaty, you are surrounded by an overwhelming number of nationalities, hawking their overwhelmingly varied foods, all of which are overwhelmingly fragrant. (Have we mentioned overwhelming?)  Almost every sign is actually in English, and yet you still can’t quite figure out where to stand, what to order, or how to do so.  There are construction workers sitting alongside men in business suits; groups of teenagers and awkward first dates and huge families with more generations than seems possible.  There are social mores and rules, which someone might explain to you– in a shout if you’ve pissed them off, or more often with the patient eye roll one might give a toddler who keeps putting his shoes on the wrong feet.  But in the end, after a huge meal that cost less than your morning latte (often washed down with several icy Tiger beers), even the most clueless of expats finds there is a lot to love about the hawker centre. 

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