What do you first imagine when you think of Singapore? Maybe you will think of the iconic lion statue in Merlion Park, Marina Bay Sands, and a paradise for foodie travelers who want to try various Asian foods. A place that is undoubtedly a must for those of you who want to taste a variety of foods, of course, is the Hawker Centre.
Hawker Centres has been a part of Singapore’s life day-to-day basis, becoming one of Singaporean well-known cultures and heritages. In short, the Hawker Centres is an open-air complex and food court most commonly found in Singapore. They are typically found throughout the city-state, located near public housing estates or transport hubs (such as bus interchanges or train stations).
It houses many stalls that offer various food from different immigrant groups who settled in Singapore since the 1960s, from Malay, Chinese, Indian, and various other types of food. A typical Hawker Centres comprises numerous food and drink stalls and a shared seating area. There is an old saying that “If you haven’t come to a Hawker Centre, you haven’t really gone to Singapore.”
Several Hawker Centres in Singapore had been running for more than decades, passed on from several generations who still maintain the standard, quality, and originality of the food they serve. Even some of them still serve the customers in their retirement age. One of them is Grandma Leong, who owns Nam Seng Wonton Noodles.
(Image Source: SingaporeBestFoods)
Even in her 90s, she wakes up every day at 4.30 AM to buy some ingredients at the wet market. Although she hires employees to help on the cooking side, she insists on working on some miscellaneous tasks. Grandma Leong may be old, but her memory is not at all. She could remember up to 10 orders at a time, which proves that her memory remains sharp.
As her stalls get more popular, she needs to adapt to it. Until now, she can serve customers in 3 languages. “Nĭ hăo, Hello, Nei seung sik mat ye? What do you want? Nǐ xiǎng chī shénme?” as she demonstrates speaking in English, Mandarin, and Cantonese at the same time. Grandma Leong is one of the legendary chefs at Hawker Centres who has survived more than 60 years serving customers. “I’m not that fierce. If I’m fierce, how can I be here for 60 years?” she said.
Hawker Centre is where many hawkers offer various foods, from Chinese, Malay, Indian, Thai, and many more. Some of the stalls are even older than Singapore’s independence age. Many old stalls have been passed to the younger generation while still maintaining the food’s originality & the way it cooked.
“From being a street-side stall on Sago Street before 1983 to the present day hawker stall at Chinatown Complex Food Centre, Ah Sau has been serving my favorite Ikan Bilis Yong Tau Foo breakfast since I was born!”– Yip Yew Chong, Artist
One of them is Thomas. A third-generation hawker at Koh Brother Pig’s Organ Soup in Tiong Bahru Market. This stall has been around since 1955. When his grandfather decided to retire, he decided to take over the booth so that the legendary stall remains. “One of the main reasons I decided to take over this business is because my grandfather started this from a pushcart. It is 63 years of hard work. I think it’s really a waste to let it go, so I decided to take it over.”
2020 is certainly not a friendly year for hawkers. The anticipation of COVID-19 from the Government of Singapore resulted in a drastic decrease in visitors to the Hawker Centres. This difficulty gave rise to the Hawkers United movement – a Facebook group under the name of “Hawkers United – Dabao 2020 -” created by Melvin Chew, a hawker at Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck. His goal is to help hawkers and customers to connect and arrange takeaway food orders and home delivery.
(Image Source: Vulcanpost)
“Covid causes a lot of changes in our local hawkers and food and beverage industry. A lot of businesses closed down because of COVID-19. But at the same time, more hawkers start to realize the importance of engaging technology, digitalize systems during the pandemic, and so forth.”– Melvin Chew to ASEAN Youth.
According to Melvin, after many hawkers and customers joined the group, it has saved many hawkers and made them still in business through this unprecedented time. To this date, the group has more than 270 thousand hawkers and customers who want to connect and discover new foods.
He pointed out that positive strength by all hawkers can help and lead us to overtime this pandemic. “If everyone is united by obeying laws and personal hygiene, then we will be safe, and the pandemic will end soon. .. Be united and help each other without any food politics and selfishness..” he added.
Hawker Centres is not just a place to eat. Still, a community of all Singaporeans, young to old, from unemployed to bosses, local and tourist – all come together in this place to share laughter and stories, and will certainly be a memory in the future. Many celebrities or even politicians pick this “community dining room” to meet local people and enjoy the typical Singaporean food taste.
Some world-class celebrities & politicians are enjoying hawker cultures. Top row (left to right): Justin Trudeau, Gordon Ramsay. Bottom row (left to right): Joe Biden, Hugh Jackman. (Image Source: MSNews)
The vibrant Hawker Culture in Singapore that we enjoy today results from the support of many – the hawkers, community groups, organizations, Government, and Singaporeans who patronize them. Together, they have helped make the Hawker Culture in Singapore an integral part of Singapore’s living.
Until now, there are more than 110 Hawker Centre in Singapore and will increase over time as the Lion City actively pushes the hawker culture to become a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Hawker Culture is very much associated with its Hawker Centres, which serve as important social spaces for community interaction in this half-sized Los Angeles city.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong states that the hawker centre is a community dining room that is a unique part of its heritage and identity. For that, this lion city is intensively promoting this Hawker Culture. Pledge your support here for the nomination of Hawker Culture in Singapore for UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage today!
Written by Juandi K
Juandi is a content writer for ASEAN Youth Organization, where he publishes content related to ASEAN country’s relations and events. He was born in the capital city of Indonesia, Jakarta, and has lived most of his life there. At 19 years old, he is currently studying at one of Indonesia’s top universities, Tarumanagara University, majoring in Business Accounting. Juandi is also actively involved in the esports journalism industry where he spent the last 3 years writing for one of the biggest esports media companies in Indonesia, RevivalTV.