If you're ever in Singapore or Malaysia and want a cheap, delicious, authentic bite to eat, a hawker center is exactly what you're looking for. Hawker centers are extravaganzas of food, with numerous small food stands, surrounded by tables. At larger centers, you'll be able to find something from every local cuisine, which is especially tantalizing in multi-cultural Singapore.
Hawker centers are quite common, so you should be able to find one nearby in Singapore, or in major cities in neighboring Malaysia. If you're in Singapore for a short while, Newton Centre at Newton Circus is a great introduction to the hawker experience.
Once you're at your hawker center of choice, we'd recommend doing a once-around to get a feel for what different types of food are available. At more frequented hawker centers, most, if not all the menus will be in English, so language shouldn't be an issue for many visitors. While you're walking around, you'll likely encounter some of the many, many people trying to rope you into sitting near their stand, under the guise that certain tables are theirs. Don't be fooled, all the tables are open to anybody. Just keep on walking.
Once you're comfortable with the range of options, and have a good idea of what you might want to eat, go grab a table. Remember the number! Write it down, if you must.
When you order your food, simply tell them what you want and your table number. Don't worry about paying now, you'll pay your server, at the table, when the food is ready.
Don't forget to find something to drink. You'll likely have to order drinks at a separate stall, as most, if not all stands only offer food. Just as with food, you'll have lots to choose from: local beer, soda, tropical fruit juices; basically anything you could want is available. Once again, remember your table number.
If you're eating with a group, it's a great idea to order a wide variety of food and share. It won't cost much, and everyone will get a chance to try something different. With the range of options, it won't be hard to find something to satisfy everyone. Just to be sure, make sure that you get at least one vendor to bring plates.
In our experience, cleanup was painless. There were people who collected the trash and dishes for you, so there was no need to search out for a trash can.
Have you eaten at a hawker center and had a great experience? Let us know in the comments.