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Nasi Lemak Auntie Photo.jpg

Left Photo: Courtesy of National Environment Agency (2020)

Middle Photo: Courtesy of National Heritage Board (2018)




Did you know that more than half of the hawkers in Singapore today are second and third generation hawkers in their families? And that most of them specialise in a particular dish with a recipe that was passed down from their grandparents to their parents and now to them? 

Many aunties and uncles are also teaching aspiring hawkers as apprentices so their favourite dishes can be enjoyed by future generations.


Why are people who prepare food and drinks at the food centre called hawkers?


"Singapore in the 1800s was a thriving port city which attracted migrants from China, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and other lands, seeking a better life. They were hard labourers, merchants, clerks, and cooks who brought with them the comfort food they grew up with. They adapted these dishes to ingredients that were easily available here, and cooked them using local techniques, eventually creating a recognisable Singapore flavour.

Many immigrants saw street hawking as a good way to earn a living, as it required little capital. These early pioneers started to ply the streets, serving the dishes that they were most familiar with. The streets were bustling with activity, colours, aromas, and flavours. Chinese hawkers would carry their mobile kitchens around, balanced on a bamboo pole along with their ingredients and utensils, so they could serve up piping hot meals on the go. Malay hawkers typically sold fruits and flame grilled meat sticks, a dish that we would come to know as satay. Indian hawkers added colourful sweets, cakes, and jellies to the street scene."

With so many hawkers on the streets, food contamination and waste left on the streets became a problem for public health and hygiene. 

After Singapore's independence, licenses for hawkers and organised spaces for them became a priority. In the late 1960s to the 1980s the government relocated many hawkers to food centres right next to the wet market selling fresh produce,  within walking distance for most residents in the new housing estates that were being built.



Today there are over 110 hawker centres in Singapore, with more planned for the future. Singaporeans and visitors alike enjoy favourite local dishes when they makan together with family and friends, or da pao food to take home, thanks to our hawker aunties and uncles! 

In December 2016, hawker culture in Singapore was included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Culture Heritage of Humanity as an important reflection of Singapore's multicultural identity that will continue for future generations. 



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