Hawker Culture

Category: Food HeritageSocial Practices, Rituals and Festive Events

Hawker culture in Singapore can be traced back to street hawkers and the hawker centres which were first built to resettle these street hawkers in Singapore in the 1970s to provide them with a place to sell food in a hygienic setting with proper sanitation. Hawker centres are naturally-ventilated complexes with stalls selling a wide variety of affordably-priced, multi-ethnic food representative of the diverse culinary traditions of communities in Singapore.

Photo of Maxwell Hawker Centre. Courtesy of Marshall Penafort.Photo of Maxwell Hawker Centre. Courtesy of Marshall Penafort

Today, hawker centres house food stalls that offer a variety of iconic hawker dishes popular with Singaporeans and visitors alike. These dishes include satay (skewered meat), roti prata (flat bread with stretched dough and ghee), chicken rice, char kway teow (stir-fried rice cake strips) and many other dishes. In addition to local dishes, hawker centres have also evolved to serve a diverse range of international foods, reflecting the changing tastes and cosmopolitan lifestyle of Singaporeans.

The main function of hawker centres in Singapore is to provide eating places that offer affordable food. However, they are also community nodes where people from all walks of life gather to eat and bond over food. Hawker centres are vibrant, multicultural and intergenerational spaces, where families, friends, visitors to Singapore, and even strangers are able to share tables and enjoy food bought from different stalls at the same table. Through the years, hawker centres have evolved to become an integral part of Singaporeans’ way of life, to the extent that they serve as places of fond memories for overseas Singaporeans who are away from home.

Many of the experienced hawkers are regarded as masters of hawker culinary traditions, and have passed down their knowledge through the generations. However, the hawker trade in Singapore is facing numerous challenges such as the rising costs of ingredients, the tough working conditions and the lack of successors. Fortunately, there are hawkers who are continuing the trade, and some 3rd and 4th generation hawkers are carrying on their family businesses. Some hawkers have also came up with innovative dishes to reach out to the younger generation.


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