Hawker culture has always been an integral part of Singapore. Recently, UNESCO added Singapore’s hawker culture as part of their Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. Over the years, hawkers in Singapore has reached milestones that their predecessors might not have imagined.
Even before getting inducted into the prestigious list, hawker culture in Singapore has always been loved by locals and tourists. A hawker centre is a place you must visit in Singapore to enjoy the best and most authentic local food.
They are the saving grace of every Singaporean who is trying to save money during lunch. Additionally, they provide comfort food that reminds us of our grandmother’s cooking. Preserving hawker culture in Singapore is also preserving years of hand-downed recipes that we cannot find anywhere else in the world.
Today, we recap the milestones that hawkers in Singapore have achieved throughout the years!
In 2016, Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle stall in Singapore became the first-ever street food hawker to be award a Michelin Star. Stall owner Chan Hon Meng represented Singapore on a world stage with one of the cheapest Michelin-starred meal in the world.
Today, there are numerous hawker stalls in Singapore are recognised with the Michelin Plate. The Michelin Plate is an acknowledgement to restaurants that offer a good meal, carefully prepared with fresh ingredients.
There are also over 33 hawker stalls in Singapore with Michelin Bib Gourmand, an award recognizing restaurant with good value for money food under $45. You don’t have to travel the world or spend a lot of money to have a taste of award-winning food! Just head down to a hawker centre.
If you haven’t tried Singapore’s Michelin-starred chicken rice, try it here.
Address: 78 Smith Street Singapore 058972
The late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain was known to love Singapore’s hawker food. He frequently visited hawker centres whenever he was in Singapore. In his last series, Parts Unknown, three out of seven restaurants featured in Singapore were hawker stalls.
He believes that Singapore is the most food-centric place on Earth that offers the most diverse and affordable dishes. In an interview with Thrillist, he mentioned that the future of fast food will look a lot like Singapore’s hawker centres.
One of the hawkers stall he featured was 545 Whampoa Prawn Noodles. The stall is run by a third-generation hawker, Li Ruifang. Li gave up a stable office job at a multi-national company to operate the stall and is now one the most popular stall in Tekka Food Centre.
Address: 665 Buffalo Road #01-326, Singapore 210665
In 2019, Netflix launched a documentary series entitled Street Food: Asia. Singapore was one of the nine countries chosen to be featured in the series. Even though there were mixed reactions towards what was featured in the documentary, Singaporeans should still be proud that our hawker food is being represented in the series.
One of the hawker stalls that is featured in the series is the Haig Road Putu Piring. Known for its long queues, the Putu Piring sold in the stall is a labour of love by stall owner Aisha Hasim who spends long hours preparing the ingredients.
Address: Al-Azhar Coffeeshop (Onan Road), 970 Geylang Road, #01-02 Singapore 432492
As of this year, National Environment Agency (NEA) and SkillsFuture Singapore launched the Hawkers’ Development Programme that aims to equip aspiring and existing hawkers with relevant modern-day skills that will help sustain the hawker culture in Singapore.
The programme provides the fundamental training for culinary and business management as well as an apprenticeship. After mentoring for two months, you can try out your business idea under NEA’s Incubation Stall Programme or even start your own stall!
One of the stalls under the Hawker Development Programme is Ashes Burnnit, a Golden Mile Food Centre. In an article with the Straits Times, the stall owner Syafiq Lee who signed up as a mentor said that he wants to help others set up their hawker stall.
Address: 505 Beach Road, #B1-24, Golden Mile Food Centre, Singapore 1999583
(Please note that Golden Mile Food Centre is currently going through renovation.)
One of Singapore’s oldest hawker stall owner retires her stall at 91. Veteran hawker Leong Yuet Meng operated her stall for nearly six decades before retiring this year during the pandemic. Her stall, Nam Seng Wonton Noodle, was located just outside the old National Library in Stamford Road.
The store started in 1965 where the price of a bowl of noodle was just 30 cents. In her interview with Channel News Asia, Madam Leong said that she would like to continue in order to preserve her Nam Seng brand as she built her business with a lot of hardship. Her accomplishments over the years deserve to be celebrated.
It is sad to see hawker stalls closing especially the ones that hold a lot of history. Singapore tries hard to preserve hawker culture so that we do not lose the deeply cultural recipes from the past generations of hawkers.
As Singaporeans, we should continue supporting our hawkers by visiting their stalls to enjoy the delicious dishes that they have to offer. Consider hanging out at hawkers with your friends or even visiting the hawker centre during lunch! There are still so many good hawker foods that you can explore.