Singapore Hawker Culture: Wah UNESCO See Us Up Leh!
STORY: Pearlyn Tham
16 December 2020
Confirm liao, our hawker culture is now officially part of UNESCO’s list of intangible cultural heritage of humanity.
We promise you we did not make up the name of that list. It exists. And it has 463 items including Armenian letter art, avalanche risk management from Switzerland (they aren’t only good in risk management of the private banking kind hor) and whistled language from Turkey.
And now there’s our hawker centre culture liao. So, today when you queue up for your favourite Hokkien prawn mee, nasi lemak, roti prata or kopi-O, be proud that you are going to have a bite of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. And it tastes so shiok!
Here, a list of interesting facts you really ought to know about our beloved hawker centres:
1. From the streets (in)to hawker centres
Once upon a time ago, we had a robust street hawker scene (Fun fact: the word hawker refers to a travelling salesperson). By 1985, all street hawkers in Singapore were rehoused in the purpose-built food centres we now know for good, affordable everyday food.
2. The first hawker centre in Singapore
Built in 1971, the Yung Sheng Food Centre in Jurong, now renamed Taman Jurong Market and Food Centre, was the pioneering hawker centre.
3. We now have 110 hawker centres
Together they are home to more than 6,000 cooked food stalls selling everything from good ol’ fried carrot cake and BBQ chicken wings to more hipster-fusion fare like grain bowls and craft beers.
4. The cheapest Michelin-starred dish in the world is sold at a hawker centre in Singapore
And that honour goes to the one-star Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice Noodle at Smith Street where you can get an award-winning meal for only $2!
5. The most “expensive” hawker food is at…
Drumroll, please – Sengkang. A recent study done by the Institute of Policy Studies found that this neighbourhood offered the priciest hawker fare. For the cheapest, head to Woodlands.
6. The hawker centre that was a social enterprise
Opened in 2012, Kampung @ Simpang Bedok was set up to help budding hawkers who had the option of being paid a salary until they could afford the rent. The concept lasted only a year, due to stiff competition and poor business.