Hawker Stalls: Let’s Talk About Food

“We ask that you please bear with the changes and enjoy the new environment when the renovations are completed…[T]hree markets/food centres will be built into one centre, to be named “Taman Jurong Market & Food Centre” – date of completion is May 2005.” (Duruz & Gaik, 2014).

Above: Today’s hawker stalls shown from (left) Behind the Food Carts and (right) FUNG BROS’ “FUNG BROS FOOD: The Hawker Stall! (Singapore)”

Since the release of Malaysia’s control, food has become an integral part of Singapore’s identity. Much so that it has developed into a tourist attraction next to the famous Merlions. As “the influx of large numbers of new immigrants into the city-state set to continue”, the country cannot avoid the cultural development from several nationalities including Malaysian, Indonesian and Chinese (Yeoh & Lin, 2012). This gradual change has affected food in kopitiams, hawker stalls and boutique coffee shops, allowing the country to expand into a multicultural cooking network. As the cuisines have clashed, fused and transformed into new flavours, the variety of eateries have amplified for both locals and tourists alike.

As a second generation Australian born Malaysian-Chinese, Singaporean food crosses similarities with what I have eaten in the past. In saying this, food has evolved from ingredients to the taste, signifying the subtle changes that can differ a specific dish from Singapore and other countries. With a Malay influence, Singaporean food contains elements that indicates a unifying cultural thread. To preserve these traditional dishes, ethnic districts have reconstructed food courts that correspond to the relevant cuisine. From the exert ‘Foundational Narratives: The Village Boy Makes Good’, Singapore is “caught in the vortex of developmentalism’s imperatives…competing with desperate attempts to preserve (and indeed, redevelop) a remembered heritage,” describing the inevitable nature of modern change (Duruz & Khoo, 2014).

The relationship between the old and new has redefined the nation’s identity however the two aspects struggle to cohabit. With renovation, hawker stalls have lost primary characteristics – mobile carts, outdoor atmosphere, stools have been replaced by an air conditioned all purpose shopping complex as they are “built into one centre” (Duruz & Khoo, 2014). This was to maintain regulations to “ensure hygienic food preparation and consumption” as they were known for being a public nuisance and a health issue. Thus, Auntys and Uncles were in need of a legal permit to serve what was considered clean by the Hawkers Department’s Special Squad due to exclusion off the streets. The relocation lead to “sentimental and practical” objections as Duruz & Khoo (2014) states “The category of ‘sentimental’…hawkers who feared a loss of place and community; the ‘practical’…concerned with questions of maintaining a customer base and storage facilities,” depicting the opposing opinions of what may result in an obscured heritage. Therefore, the introduction of hawker centres “posed interesting challenges for redrawing culinary landscapes and structures of belonging” (Duruz & Khoo, 2014), damaging the cultural imagery of hawker stalls.

On the other hand, history is withheld in the establishment through memory and remembrance. Although there was urban development among these stalls, these alterations have become a fundamental detail of the contemporary design. They are now a functional construction that is preserved to a certain extent in which Singapore’s diversity in food remains present.

References

Jean Duruz and Gaik Cheng Khoo, ‘Spreading the Toast of Memory: From Hainanese Kopitiams to Boutique Coffee Shops in Singapore’ (Chap 2); ‘Growing Up Transnational: Travelling through Singapore’s Hawker Centres’ (Chap 4); ‘Dumplings at Changi: Singapore’s Urban Villages as Spaces of Exchange and Reinvention’ (Chap 5) in Jean Duruz and Gaik Cheng Khoo, Eating Together: Food, Space and Identity in Malaysia and Singapore, Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Maryland, 2014.

Brenda Yeoh & Weiqiang Lin, 2012, Rapid growth in Singapore’s immigrant population brings policy challenges, MPI, viewed 16 January 2017, <http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/rapid-growth-singapores-immigrant-population-brings-policy-challenges&gt>

FUNG BROS 2015, FUNG BROS FOOD: The Hawker Stall! (Singapore), videorecording, YouTube, viewed 22 January 2017, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kJEynhvMUYg&t=394s&gt;

Kim & Phil, 2015, Hawker stalls: Singapore, Tumblr, viewed 22 January 2017, <http://behindthefoodcarts.com/post/111918755924/hawker-stalls-singapore&gt;

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