When a tourist visits Singapore, one’s senses are immediately overwhelmed. The sounds and smells permeate the land, surpassed only by the colorful sights and the humidity that envelopes the lucky visitor. To the local, these senses are encapsulated in one common passion. Singaporeans love their food.
I am not referring to the seven-course meals served in Michelin-rated European restaurants, or the prime grill meats offered in New York City. I mean street food, or more correctly the “hawker food” served at hawker centers, which are open-air food stalls that are located throughout Singapore. These food icons have been around since the 1800s and are now on the verge of disappearing, which is a reason to discuss the availability of this grant on GrantWatch.
The port city of Singapore was an important international trade hub and immigrants came from all over the world. In order to survive, the immigrants walked throughout the island hawking traditional dishes from their homelands. In the 1960s, the government regulated the hawkers and relocated them into clean food stalls. The hawkers flourished, selling freshly prepared Chinese, Indian and Middle Eastern foods.
Saving the Culture?
UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) recognizes the hawker culture.
UNESCO, which has recognized places like the Acropolis in Greece and the Pyramids in Egypt as World Heritage treasures (that must be preserved and protected), now recognizes street food. The UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity was established in 2008. They have identified a unique way of life in different countries and will promote and safeguard that specific way of life. They have protected shrimp fishing on horseback in Belgium, gingerbread craft in Croatia and now the hawker culture in Singapore.
Is the hawker culture sustainable?
Young people in Singapore are not joining the food court business. Staffing, utilities and raw material costs are rising. This is not a 9-to-5 job. Most stalls are open until 2 a.m. Many are open 24 hours, and they don’t close for holidays.
The government has stepped up to assist. The “Incubation Stall Program” provides aspiring hawkers with stalls discounted up to 75%. The “Hawker Productivity Grant” will pay up to 80% of equipment costs that will result in more productivity. They will modernize the stalls using suitable automation equipment in order to achieve higher productivity in preparing and serving the customers through technology.
The unanimous decision by UNESCO to list the hawker culture is a source of great pride to people and the government. Together, private and public sectors strive to keep this culture vibrant and alive.
Film Featuring Food
Food is a focal point in the blockbuster film “Crazy Rich Asians.” When director Jon M. Chu’s groundbreaking Hollywood romantic comedy featuring the first all-Asian leading cast was released in 2018, it grossed $117 million over the Labor Day weekend, making it the most successful romantic comedy in a decade.
Food is featured everywhere in the movie. As soon as they land in Singapore, the stars of the movie – Rachel and Nick – meet up with friends and go straight to the Newton Food Centre, a famous outdoor market that exemplifies the hawker culture.
Chu talked about filming at the food stalls. “The thing that we think about, when we think about Asia, is street food,” he said. “You have all walks of life, all cultures, eating with each other.”
The dumpling standoff uses food to visualize the tension between Rachel and Nick’s family. Grandmothers taught their children to make dumplings, and they in turn are expected to pass on the recipe. The deeper meaning of the wonton-wrapped bundles are symbolic of family lineage. Future generations need to learn the family recipe to keep it from disappearing.
The hope in Singapore is that the hawker culture will continue and not disappear. This is the lesson that Rachel learned.
If you have not seen this movie, do so. You will not regret it.
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