Recently, Singapore’s hawker culture has been included in the UNESCO list of intangible cultural heritage of mankind. People who have been to Singapore must be familiar with the local hawker center.
In fact, hawker culture is a food culture developed from the hawker center. Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong called the hawker center “community restaurant” in Singapore, even called it a cultural institution.
Singaporeans say, “The hawker center is a food paradise full of life and weaving the grassroots culture of the neighborhood.”
“International” hawker food
In the morning, buy a cup of coffee, a loaf of bread and an omelet at the hawker center; at noon, a Hainan chicken rice at the hawker center; in the evening, buy a bowl of brewed tofu and a red bean ice at the hawker center…
Many Singaporeans are connected with the hawker center for a day, which is an open drink built by the government. Food concentrations sell all kinds of delicious food at low price and a variety of food.
Grilled preserved rice, Yunton noodles, Latsa, coconut milk rice, Malay fried noodles, Indian flying cakes… Gourmet snacks with various ethnic characteristics in Singapore can be found in hawker centers.
However, in recent years, if you walk around the hawker center, you will find that the food sold is becoming more and more international. Spaghetti, Japanese sushi, Thai barbecue, spicy hot pot, Sichuan cuisine, Moroccan food, etc.
have also been settled in the hawker center. Singapore is a multi-ethnic place, and the various flavors of hawker centers also integrate the essence of food from all over the world and are unique.
Hainan chicken rice, known as “Singaporean Chinese cuisine”, is a localized food originating from Hainan Island, China and significantly influenced by Malay culture; Singapore meat bone tea is an authentic localized Chinese food; Singapore snacks such as meat, fried noodles, fried rice dumplings, Chaozhou porridge, fish and egg powder, most of which have Chinese or Fujian blood.
Unified, with distinctive localized characteristics. In addition, Malay fried chicken dishes, beef ball noodles, Malay fried rice, coconut milk rice, Indian mutabak, flying cakes, etc. all have the unique style of “Singapore snacks” to varying degrees, which can not only see its “blood” at a glance, but also through obvious localized evolution.
Even if the name is exactly the same, the flavor of the origin is very different. Even some varieties are Singapore’s unique skills, which are difficult to find elsewhere. These delicious foods are the protagonists of the hawker center.
No wonder UNESCO said: “These vendor centers act as ‘community restaurants’. People with different backgrounds gather here to share different experiences during morning, mid- and evening meals.”
You can see the hawker center in a few steps.
The number of hawker centers in Singapore is unimaginable by foreigners. No matter which district you live in, you can definitely see the hawker center after walking a few steps.
According to statistics, there are more than 110 hawker centers in Singapore, and 6,000 hawker stalls are providing you with affordable meals every day.
It is understood that the Singapore government has restarted the plan to build hawker centers, and there will be 127 hawker centers in Singapore by 2027. For a country with a land area of only about 700 square kilometers, this number is already quite alarming.
Vending centers have always played a significant role in the lives of locals. In the early days, small businessmen in Singapore set up stalls at will and pushed a car to do business on the street.
This not only provided local people with good and cheap food, but also brought many troubles, such as crowding roads, hindering the development of commercial areas, polluting the surrounding environment, and threatening food safety. Lee Kuan Yew, the father of Singapore, once described in his memoirs as follows: “Thousands of people sell food on sidewalks and streets, completely ignoring traffic, hygiene and other problems.
The result is a pile of street garbage, causing congestion, rotten food smells, messy and dirty everywhere, and many corners of the city have become slums. In 1968, the Singapore government spent a year registering hawkers and issued them with temporary licenses.
It was not until 1971 that Singapore began to plan to build a hawker center. At that time, the government licensed hawkers, moved them to rental booths in hawker centers, and began to crack down on illegal street vendors. In 1986, the government completed the construction plan of the hawker center. The Singapore government also launched a renovation plan for S$400 million hawker centers in 2001 to improve the dining environment and hygiene conditions.
Nowadays, many Singaporeans eat three meals a day in hawker centers. Because the food in the hawker center is cheap and convenient, people gradually don’t like cooking.
Because people don’t like to cook anymore, hawker centers are opening more and more. Therefore, in the eyes of Singaporeans, hawker centers can be said to be related to the national economy and people’s livelihood.
The government has strict control over prices and hygiene, the price of food in hawker centers is open and transparent, and the government often collects data and takes the necessary means to keep food prices within affordable to the public.
It is said that the price increase of food in hawker centers will make headlines. In terms of hygiene, the state also has a set of control standards, which are scored according to the hygiene and neatness of hawker booths and processed food.
The scoring is carried out once a year. Hawkers must display the rating marks issued by the authorities at the booth and paste them in a prominent place to let customers know.
Feelings of peddler center
Singapore Hawker Center represents a thriving grassroots culture and symbolizes the equality of all people. During the election, legislators canvassed for votes, held press conferences, or casually chatted with people at the peddler center. Hawker centers have long been an indispensable part of Singaporean life.
The hawker center can not only help people reduce daily expenses, but also be an important cultural heritage. The 2018 film “Golden Picking” has a special scene, where people happily eat in the hawker center, reflecting the local characteristic life.
A Singaporean friend said: “The hawker center is like our community dining room. Whether it is Chinese, Malay, Indian or Eurasian, everyone can gather in the hawker center and eat together regardless of race, religion and income, which also shows our multiculturalism.”
Although the hawker center is so important, people’s enthusiasm cannot hide a potential problem. The vendors in Singapore hawker center are facing the dilemma of no successors, and the well-educated children of hawkers do not want to work in sweaty kitchens.
Therefore, there are calls for “the inclusion of UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage is not the ultimate goal, and how to let our hawker culture be passed on is the more important thing.”