Singapore’s hawker culture: how did it all start? | Belly Of A Nation | Part 1 | Full Episode

Singapore’s hawker culture: how did it all start? | Belly Of A Nation | Part 1 | Full Episode


Around noon each day, at least five days a week, almost everyone
looks to the future. It drives millions into the veins
of the urban jungle. They hunt. This mass urge, repeated over millions of hours, produced a culinary institution, the hawker centre. The cooks in the streets
who became a national feature. From few to many,
they fed the country. Here at the table are their stories, their hearts, their minds
and their food. The past, present and
future hawker culture in the Belly of a Nation. Alan, Michael, and my
name is Junjie. At five months into the game, the Three Good Guys
is a newcomer to the hawker business. Others in the centre are
already trading. Many have been
here for decades. Others are done with it. Three of us met, actually, at an advertising media company. So, what we did was we met and thought that it was time to
do something for ourselves. We thought of a lot
of things. We wanted to come up with an app
developer company. But at the end of the day, we felt that F&B was one of the options
we wanted to go into. We actually came up
with a lot of different ideas, like going into
a food court or kopitiam. Ultimately we decided
to first go into the hawker (trade). Down here we have
zero experience. What we actually wanted to do is start off from the ground level, which our grandfather’s generation
actually started from. We do realise that now
there aren’t a lot of youngsters that come into the hawker (trade). For our boys, all is fresh,
new and exciting. So is their menu. Something untraditional, an import called mala xiangguo (mala stir-fry). In the last five years, this dish has built
an inroad into Singapore. It celebrates the
Szechuan peppercorn and its numbing sensations. We understand that mala hotpot is actually a Chinese cuisine. Instead of doing just
the typical mala hotpot, let’s do something else. So we actually did a lot of research
during that one year, and we found out that salted egg is very delicious, very nice. So we thought, “Why not
do a fusion style of salted egg and the mala hotpot?” We actually tried it out a lot
of times at my house. We did trial sessions,
again and again, throughout the one year. Until we finally got it done. “This is the way we want to do it.” So, the first time
when we came here, we did exactly the same thing. We turned on the fire and the
whole thing was burnt. Because the type of fire and the stove is different. Since mala stir-fry
isn’t exactly breakfast food, the boys have two hours to prepare. Among the three of us, honestly speaking,
I do not do any household chores at all,
even like cooking. So, I did learn a lot ever since I joined this industry, for someone who doesn’t know even know how to
cook scrambled eggs. Their dish may not be
classically Singaporean, but their profession is a tradition that goes back many centuries. It’s a job fraught with questions, particularly the big one. What is the future? A question repeated time
and time again, in and out of centuries. In order to survive, many immigrants became hawkers. They came from China,
Indonesia, India, in large numbers at
the beginning of the 1930s all the way through the 50s. And it’s during those decades that quintessentially
Singaporean dishes were born. One is white and the other,
generally red. Not flag colours, but Singaporean dishes created
by immigrant hawkers. The kueh tutu, also known
as the tutu kueh began as sung kueh. It was brought in
by Fujian immigrants, a kind of special treat, a reminder of home. As in sung kueh, the flour is normal rice that’s been moistened with
water and sieved. With this mix, Tan Bee Hua’s father, and friends, moulded into existence a thing of beauty and substance. Kueh tutu’s similarity
to the Malay putu piring can’t be ignored. Made with rice flour, it’s shaped with a mould
resembling a small dish, which is what “piring”
means in Malay. The filling is grated gula melaka. Then it’s steamed. Then it’s flipped onto pandan leaves, then a shower of grated coconut. Then it’s eaten with a spoon. Putu piring may have been adapted from the Indian putu mayam. Some call it kutu mayam
or putu mayang, or kutu mayang. Or in South India, where
it’s called idiyappam. Rice dough is squeezed to resemble beehoon
or vermicelli. Putu mayam is served
with shredded coconut and granulated sugar,
dyed red or orange. These used to be sold by hawkers who travelled with trays
on their heads. Kueh tutu, however, was
sold on a pushcart. Bee Hua’s brother,
Chiong Chuan, created the electric steaming system. With the pushcart first, then mobile tricycles, kueh tutu got around the island. Bee Hua is now on her own, left to run the business after both her father
and brother passed away. She gets a helping hand
from her sister-in-law, which she will need today. She’s just received a call
for 200 kueh tutus to be done in two hours. On the brighter side
of the colour spectrum is the Indian rojak. Year and place of birth? Near the old bandstand
in Waterloo Street, sometime in the 1930s. But that could just
be an urban legend. What’s for certain, it’s a Singaporean creation. It’s from Singapore itself. My ancestors from India came over to Singapore, and realised that Chinese
have their Chinese rojak, and Malay have their Malay rojak. We wanted to have something for
ourselves and that’s when they came up with Indian rojak. Waterloo Street Rojak was already
famous in the 1950s. A hawker named Chinayapillay
sold tauhu udang. That’s prawns in beancurd, sotong, potatoes and
boiled duck eggs. My father said in those days
Indian rojak had lettuce, but nowadays nobody is doing it. Initially, they didn’t give the sauce as a separate dipping element. They mixed the sauce together, so it was easier for them to manage. Abdus Salam is a
second-generation rojak seller, with a stall named after him. His recipe contains a part of that
Waterloo Street heritage. So, those people who were running
Waterloo Street Indian Rojak actually were friends
with my father. From there, they even shared recipes, but not the entire full recipe. They just taught the basics, and then from there,
my father improvised it himself, to add more items to the gravy,
especially the gravy because that is the most important
element in Indian rojak. The sauce is actually quite
similar to a satay sauce because satay sauce
also has a base of peanut and gula melaka. There’s sweet potato, the basic, that’s actually the
thickener of the sauce. And we have additional
special ingredients that is my father’s secret recipe. Rojak means mixture. “Indian” doesn’t necessarily
mean it’s from India. Some people ask me, “Indian rojak, does it come from India,
since it’s Indian Rojak?”, I told them it’s not. India doesn’t have this. In India, they have
chilli fritters and dhal vadei, that’s a popular item in India. They wanted to have that
because in India that’s one of the street snacks. It comes with a dipping sauce. Over time, the original
vadei was joined by a full orchestra
of battered companions, adaptations from other cultures. The Chinese tauhu, the Malay tempeh, the cuttlefish, all brought together
by a rich sauce, becoming a truly
Singaporean concoction. Many local Indian hawker dishes are cooked by Tamil Muslims. Southern Indians were early
immigrants to Singapore and many survived
through selling food. Over time, their
South Indian tradition absorbed influences
from other cultures, producing fusion food
like mee goreng. Somehow, they put the mutton
in mamak mee goreng. In Malay mee goreng,
they put prawns, tauhu, and the sotong. Indian or mamak mee goreng is fried with fresh mutton straight
from the market. We take one piece, we hang it on the hook. Later on, if someone orders
mee goreng or mutton chop, we cut the meat on the spot
into small pieces and use them on the spot. After that, we throw away the tulang. Years later, the bone discards would become a
made-in-Singapore star. Abu Bakar took over
from his father, an early Indian immigrant who turned to street hawking to survive. Today, son-in-law Nisa
works alongside him. I was born in South India. When I was five, my father
brought me to Singapore. At that time, ladies seldom
came to Singapore, so my mother never came here. Regardless of race, the early immigrants were
mostly men, without families, and lived in tightly packed
quarters with no cooking facilities. They needed hawkers to feed them. The whole house mix,
of Chinese and Indians, was about 30 persons. There was only one
bathroom, one toilet. There was a kitchen,
but we seldom cooked there. Only the owner cooked
in the kitchen. Abu Bakar operates in the
same area as his street days, in a place called the
Golden Mile Food Centre, a double-storey food centre
created in the 1970s, where there’s food of all types, like the mala stir-fry from
the Three Good Guys, and Burgers, created by
three other good guys who call themselves
Project Warung. I’m Lee Syafiq, and
my two other partners are Mohd Shah Imran and
Mohd Ridzwan. The team has industry cred, 4 years as hawkers and several
more in finer establishments. Before we actually started
Burgs, or Project Warung, all of us were actually working in restaurants or cafes individually,
in the F&B business. The different thing we are
actually trying to do here is to bring restaurant quality
service to the hawker trade. We try to change from what hawker centres used to be,
into a new environment. “Warung” is actually an
Indonesian word for food stalls. Our long-term project is to have different concepts
in a food stall itself. At that point we were thinking, “What can we actually do
with comfort food, everyday food?” If you talk about
burgers, some of them will actually eat burgers everyday. We thought, “Why not change the scene
in the hawker centre?” Because you wouldn’t find a burger
stall in a hawker centre. The burger place has two branches and the Project has
12 people in the team, making the Three Good Guys real novices in the game. It’s nearly lunchtime. Today, there’s a difference. Today, we will be introducing
this lunch set meal, which is actually available
from Mondays to Fridays, from 12pm to 2pm. As we understand that for the
Singapore lunch crowd, the pace is a little bit fast. They normally do not
have time to choose the ingredients from the chiller. So we came up with chicken, pork and beef options. What they need to do is to choose two vegetables
from the chiller and tell us which meat
they would like that to go with. Questions follow the crowd. Will they head to
the new kids on the block? Or will they go to
the tried and familiar? Will there even be a crowd? What if it rains? A future fraught
with questions for many at the hawker centre. Lunch is over. Our good guys are on the run. To us, there are always
constant challenges that we have to rectify. Sometimes there’s a big flow of crowd, sometimes there’s a slow flow of crowd. And we have to remember
the meats and everything We cannot over-order. Over-ordering means there will be
wastage of food and expenses. Their set lunch idea has paid off and stocks are low for dinner service, which is why they are on the run. Initially we got our supplies
from supermarkets. We did understand the costs
might be slightly higher. What we actually did was to
look at their packaging, and their contact numbers. Through our networks, because we used to do corporate sales, we were able to get some of the contacts, get the supplies at a better cost, and even fresher, better quality. Many hawkers make arrangements
with their own suppliers. The orders are delivered
sometimes on a daily basis. One tip, if you see packages lying around, it’s likely the hawker
will do business that day. A common, sometimes,
overlooked ingredient is taugeh or bean sprouts. Very perishable, it has to be delivered daily. Supplying to hawkers for decades
is Chiam Joo Seng. They’ve been sprouting
their business since the 1960s. From the rural parts of Singapore, the company supplies taugeh to restaurants, supermarkets and hawkers. One of the very few farms
remaining on the island. That wasn’t the case in
pre-refrigeration days like in the 50s, when farms were plenty and farmers peddled their own produce. They intermingled with
cooked-food hawkers who bought supplies from them. I remember certainly as a child that when I went to Tiong Bahru, you would have itinerant hawkers selling their fresh foods, alongside itinerant hawkers
selling their cooked foods, remembering that this was a time when refrigeration wasn’t altogether that common. So, that co-location
has now taken on a different form. The fact that you have a vibrant fresh market next to a very vibrant hawker centre, is very often paired with an open space close by, where there are all kinds of activities. Marketing was a daily activity in the 1950s, and with the demand came the supply. That decade saw the hawker population
shoot up to 30,000, which included both fresh and
cooked-food hawkers. In fact, at that point in time, there were so many hawkers
on the streets that they were deemed
a little bit of a nuisance, that they were causing traffic congestion, there were hygiene issues and so forth. So the municipal government
at that point in time was actually quite vexed about what to do with these hawkers. A commission report led to
some form of decision. It recognised that the hawkers
were needed to feed city workers. But they were to be swept off
the main streets into the side and back lanes. To give hawkers more options, the municipal authority
built shelters in open spaces for hawkers to congregate. Some of the older hawker centres today sit on the former sites
of these original shelters, like Tiong Bahru Market. At 30 Seng Poh Road, some hawkers even built their own stalls using thatch and wooden beams. It opened for business in January 1951. Seng Poh Road Market
was one of the earliest six public hawker shelters in the city. But elsewhere,
many other shelters were set up by private landlords. Out in Joo Chiat, for example. They squatted on our land and we didn’t want to drive them away. We asked them to pay 30 cents a day and they were quite happy. It’s like a wet market
as well as a hawker centre. They were selling vegetables, fish,
fresh from Marine Parade and also pork from the abattoirs, and some that
they had slaughtered illegally. Besides those, there were cooked-food stalls. Philip Chew is an active retiree. For decades, he was
a public health inspector, in other words, a “teh gu”. “Teh gu lai leow!” “Teh gu” is Hokkien.
“Teh” is land, “gu” is cow. How did it come about? I don’t know. “Teh gu” meant the law. And as far as the hawkers
were concerned, it meant people like Philip who checked for licences and food-handling methods. When there was a vacancy for
public health inspector, I applied and I got it. A public health inspector’s job varied because there were so many departments. For example, abattoirs were one of them, where I did make inspections
for a few years. I was in enforcement as well. I had a number of hawker inspectors
who went around inspecting licenced premises, checking hawkers for food handling, food hygiene, and insect infestation. Of course we also did
raiding of unlicenced hawkers. In the early industrialisation of Singapore, there were a lot of factories, but a lack of eating outlets. As a result, a lot of illegal hawkers
capitalised on this. During lunchtime, they were
always waiting at the gate, waiting for the workers to come out. There were thousands of workers, and it was very hard for us
to raid them too. In spite of the police escort, because the crowd and
the illegal hawkers, some of whom were armed, even the police were scared. They told us to quickly get things done. We knew we couldn’t offend the hawkers. On one occasion, an inspector
didn’t offend the hawker, but just asked him
to comply with the rules. The hawker wasn’t happy and used a knife to stab him. We did whatever we could because the crowds were for the hawkers as well. This photo from the 1960s shows illegal hawkers on the run. Right up to that time frame, many hawkers were still unlicenced. Artist Koeh Sia Yong saw it all. He painted the scene which now hangs at the National Art Gallery. These are vestiges of the past because within a decade or so, the days of roving hawkers
would come to a definite end. You could tell what hawkers peddled by the way they moved. Pushcarts, usually for heavy items
like soybean milk. Pushcarts with heating elements,
for kueh tutu. Modified bicycles,
for breads and Chinese rojak. Poles with fire housings, for food to be fried or grilled like satay. Poles with suspended pots, for laksa. Tall man with tray,
lots of goodies inside. Today’s hawkers don’t roam but are just as mobile. Break? We’ll sit down here. When there are customers,
we’ll take the orders. When there are no customers,
we’ll probably sit down there, play games on our mobile phones. You can actually mingle with your neighbours, learn about their products. We actually have a lot of friendly neighbours. We actually went to the Indian stall
to cook our own mee goreng. They actually taught us a lot. He actually taught us how to cook, what the ingredients were, how to fry the mee goreng. How to peel and keep the vegetables, how to run our operations, how to place the wok. Sometimes, community bonding
leads to serious relationships. One gave us the Ang Moh Kia. Prem Prakash Singh. Everybody calls me “Ang Moh Kia”. Because I look like an ang moh. Prem makes Teochew fishball noodles. His sister Eileen helps. They are of Bengali-Chinese mix. But grew up with
a Teochew stepfather, who married Prem’s mum,
a fellow hawker. At first, my stepfather had a stall
on the right-hand side. My mother had a stall
on the left-hand side. Behind Robinson Road was Cecil Street, which was behind
the Sin Chew Jit Poh back lane. They sold the same fishball noodles. At the time, we got the licence for the back lane from the government. So we paid $10 per month. We operated from
8 in the morning to 2 pm. Then we closed our shop. So we pushed our cart illegally, to sell outside the back lane
for another few hours. I didn’t want to study. So, my mother said,
“If you don’t want to study, “you’d better learn something.” Then she asked me to learn
to cook Teochew noodles. Fishball noodles originated in Swatow, China. We made fishballs with real fish at that time. We blended the paste and made the fishballs ourselves. One by one, we used a spoon to form the paste into balls. In the past, when fishballs dropped,
they bounced. Now they don’t. If it drops, it just rolls away. It’s usually in the form
of kway teow soup, but you can have
many configurations in Singapore. You order mee pok dry,
she’ll tell me “pok tah”. Kway teow is “kway tah”. Bee hoon is bee hoon. Mee tai mak, “mak tah”. Then the mee kia
in short form is “kia tah”. If you don’t want vinegar,
it’s “cheng hiam”. You don’t want oil, it’s “mai yiu”. “Mai kio” means no tomato sauce. In short form.
No need to say it in full. Fishball noodles is still sold a lot
by Teochew hawkers. Teochews and Hokkiens made up the bulk of
street hawkers in the past, and each sold
their own traditional food. In the early days when
the first migrants came, there was quite a lot of that. And it’s entirely
understandable because it is through food that
you remember your home. And so, too, for the early migrants. So, there was a certain
division of food, if you will, along ethnic lines, along dialect lines. A little stereotypical, but these were early
immigrant food guidelines. Tamil, Malay, Caucasian, Eurasian. Peranakan, Teochew, Cantonese, Hokkien, Hainanese. The ethnic lines still exist today. This hawker centre
is known for Indian food. This one for Malay food. This one for Chinese food. But over time, you also find
a lot of hybridity in the food. So the inflections of
one culture on another have allowed for the movement of particular characteristics,
particular ingredients from one group to another. One ingredient that
passes through multicultures is the yellow mee or sek mee, or Hokkien mee, not to be confused with the dish. Made with wheat flour
and yellowed by alkaline salt, the noodle is a speciality
of the Hokkiens. Emerging from Chinatown’s Hokkien enclave, the noodle was used in
soupy prawn mee, also known as hae mee. The essence of the dish
lies in the soup stock, made from pork bones,
skin and prawn heads. Prawn shells, the head,
because of the “ko” (prawn butter) brings out the sweetness. And we believe in only using
wild-caught sea prawns. Hae mee was eaten
usually after midnight. Today, it’s cooked after midnight, by a young lady,
and she’s Hokkien. I know of a few hawkers
selling prawn noodles. They are also Hokkien and
we actually share the surname. But more about her later. Hokkien mee is sometimes confused with the version
cooked by the Teochews. It’s also known as
Teochew-Hokkien mee or Rochor mee, named because it was created
in the area by Teochews, if you believe urban legends. Curiously, many
older-generation hawkers of this dish are Teochews, like Mr Chia. The Teochew-Hokkien mee uses the same broth as Hae mee. Mixed with beehoon and fried, with gravy incorporated. No soup to be found. Served with sambal chilli and a squeeze of lime. A slight Peranakan-Eurasian tweak. Mee rebus is Malay for
blanched noodles. And, guess which goes
into the pot? The dish has Malay or
Indian variations. This is supposed to be
one of the best mee rebus in town. It’s family-run, with a recipe passed down by
their Javanese grandfather. Brother and sister run the show. My name is Ahmad Tarmizi. I’m 33 years old. I started helping my father
after I finished NS. At our stall we sell
noodles, mee rebus, mee soto, soto ayam, meehoon soto
and gado gado. The business was started by
my grandfather in 1976, then my father took over until now. My father will come here
about 5.30am, and I come here around
8am until night, long hours. The stall closes at night. I really want to learn to
make the kuah gravy, but I don’t have the time. The gravy is a complex mix
of sweet potato, prawn shells, fish and crabs. The meat stock is mutton. I must learn from
my father, bit by bit. It’s very hot inside the shop. Sometimes customers are fussy. Hokkien mee and bean sprouts are swirled around very quickly. Gravy goes over, topped with a hard-boiled egg, fried shallots, and fresh-cut chillies. Not really, I will take over. I’ve promised my father. At a time when people didn’t
venture very far from base, it was the roaming hawker
who brought the outside world to them. Like ambassadors of food, they enabled
different communities to mingle, mix and meld. Because you have itinerant hawkers who precisely because
they want to sell their food to as large a
clientele as possible, would travel from
location to location. While in the past, there was a certain
ethnic, and dialect segregation, the itinerant hawkers
didn’t stop within their locality. They would move to other localities. So, I think the first introduction
to other foods came about with the
itinerant hawkers. It’s circular in shape,
I remember that. Because it was considered
a little bit more “atas” (high-class). Right where the two “durians” stand, there once was an experiment. They called it the Esplanade, or the hawker shed. I remember that.
Individual stalls, open-air, and they usually
operated at night. During day time,
the shops were closed. It was a popular favourite
with courting couples, a special treat. Built by the municipal government, the Esplanade, officially opened
to the public in 1952, was meant to be a test bed of a
modern hawker outlet. The 21 stalls were built of concrete and hawkers served
38 different kinds of food from a multi-racial selection. You had waiters dressed in white,
serving at the tables. The Esplanade was a forerunner
of the hawker centre concept, which didn’t really take off
until 20 years later. The 1970s hawker centre was
a less lyrical structure, built with more industrial urgency, because this was going to be the final solution for
Singapore’s street hawkers. They started appearing
from the 70s, in tandem with the
changing landscape. Hundreds were built
to meet a deadline. By mid-decade, all hawkers
were to be licensed, moved off the streets
and into their new premises. In what seemed like
a mass migration, all hawkers were moved, from spaces, streets, and back-lanes. They left familiar surroundings, but sometimes,
with familiar company. So, many of the hawkers in
hawker centres today would have been relocated from their earlier locations, where they might either
have been itinerant, or they had a particular spot that they always went
to on a daily basis, but without a structure that
was built for them. So, they were relocated in groups. Ayer Rajah Food Centre,
built in 1975, accommodated hawkers who had previously gathered
in an open space near the former
Singapore Polytechnic. They called it Shenton Way. So, all the entrepreneurs
from Shenton Way moved to Ayer Rajah Hawker Centre. And even today,
you can see it in all the signboards, Shenton Way Mee Goreng, Shenton Way Indian Rojak, Shenton Way Mee Siam, and so on. So these were the stalls
that moved from Shenton Way. My father also did the same. He moved to
Ayer Rajah Hawker Centre. Some other hawkers didn’t move very far, almost within walking distance from
where they used to be. One of them is Mdm Chua. Mdm Chua has never
been interviewed before, and is curious. She sells kway chap, a dish originating from
Swatow in China. Broad strands of rice noodles served in a braising liquid. But in Singapore, the dish made its own
organic development. The ingredients include big and
small pork intestines, fish cake, egg,
tau pok (tofu puffs), pork belly and pork skin. Hard to see because they’re in a braising liquid until Mdm Chua picks them up. Mdm Chua sold in the streets, in the shadows of flats
that were just beginning to appear
on the landscape. Her stall was a fixed pitch. Assisted by her two sons today, Mdm Chua dominates
the service end. Ready at breakfast, the food’s all gone by 2pm. The business is now
in the hands of her sons, while Madam Chua spontaneously
picks up a new skill. Madam Chua’s stall is located at a tiny hawker centre
in Havelock Road. She finally settled here
after being moved 3 times since becoming
a licensed hawker. That’s what happened
throughout the 70s and 80s. Lots of people
uprooted and relocated into new residences
up in the sky. Built within these estates were hawker centres which
came in all shapes and sizes, situated in
compass points of the island. This grand design gave
families in the estates easy access to
quality meals at low cost. An official document showed the diffusion of the
hawker culture. Previously numerous
in the urban areas, within 3 decades, hawker centres were found
throughout the island, bringing street food culture to a large number of people. Early-day hawker centres
had a different look. It was different. In the early days
in the hawker centres, the hawkers had individual stalls, but no electricity and
no washing area. But they had a common washing
area for all the hawkers. In the early 70s, the common washing area
had a standpipe. Stalls reminded hawkers
their wandering days were over. Designed in pushcart forms
without the wheels, and firmly cemented
into the ground, the poles which once held tents now held up signage. No longer nameless cooks, the hawkers used the space
for personal signatures. Customers no longer gathered
around each stall to eat. They sat at a common seating area, where tables weren’t fixed and the chairs weren’t free. In the old days, the tables and chairs
were movable. So, each hawker had their own tables and chairs, and quite often they
quarrelled over these. Because certain stalls
had better business, they would make use of
those of the neighbouring stalls. But it was the customers who did it. The owners quarrelled
among themselves. Hawkers were invited
to ballot for stalls. And depending on the location, rent was anywhere from
$11 to $25 per month. Balloting of stalls was
a ceremonious event. VIPs were invited to pick the
successful applicants. Centres housed anywhere
from 20 to 200 stalls, and had to offer
a multi-racial selection of food. Altogether now, in a cacophony of
sounds and action, street food fed a lot of people, and was stitched into
the social fabric of Singapore. But when the hawker
centres were set up, and you had all the food
co-located in one location, it really facilitated people
coming to a hawker centre, and having different foods from different origins
at the same time. When I first tasted hawker food, I remember it was actually
a beehoon goreng. It was unique and different for me. How come they mixed
everything together? It’s like just one… How come they don’t have
different elements in it? There’s no curry, or any other sides
to go along with it. Once I tasted it and
got the hang of it, I really enjoyed it. Abdus Salam’s father used
the move to a hawker centre as an opportunity to grow an idea. Initially he was working
as a Teh Tarik man. He wanted to do
something for himself, because he was working
under someone. He wanted to do
something for himself, and that’s when
he started Indian rojak. One of the underlying features
of hawker food is the single dish concept. This is a legacy from
street hawking days. Indeed, part of the reason why they tended to focus on one dish was because when you
were an itinerant hawker, you only had that
one pot of boiling water, that one bit of a stall, where you were making everything in that little bit of space. So, to have a variety of foods would have been difficult physically, because many of them literally carried their stall
on their shoulders. Unable to
move to customers, hawkers moved customers
to their stalls, by switching to dishes
that sold well. Through this business logic, popular items started appearing in centres throughout the island, eventually creating
national favourites like this rice dish, and this noodle dish, together with this one
and that one, they are the four most common hawker centre dishes today. The hawker centre, social leveller, made available food from different pockets
of society and cultures. The food we eat reflect desperate times, new hope, individual ethnicities, and a sharing of ideas. A paradigm shift
of street food culture, the hawker centre was
showcased to the world. It sustained a new generation, and then was rejected by the next. As older hawkers leave the scene, what is the future for those
waiting in the flanks? Our story about the next
generation continues in Belly of a Nation.

Author: Kennedi Daugherty

61 thoughts on “Singapore’s hawker culture: how did it all start? | Belly Of A Nation | Part 1 | Full Episode

  1. I feel bad for singapore they dont really have much of a national identity, they have to resort to "hawker culture".

  2. The introduction is quite funny HAHA, the whole paragraph about what masses and urges.

    It’s basically:
    β€œAt 12pm, everyone goes for lunch”

  3. Singapore use to be very poor, so low cost street vendors are popular. Simple as that. Hong Kong used to be very poor too, but now its a colonial slave hub that looks down on all Asians but suks up to white men.

  4. Coming from across the causeway, one thing I'm jealous is Singapore's hawker culture. All races cook and do business under one roof- a sight rarely seen in Malaysia.

  5. Hope Government could build more Hawker Centres. Food sold at Coffee Shops are getting poorer and more expensive. The owners are more keen to make excessive profit than catering to the communities. Most working couples depend on hawker foods for their lunch and dinner. We need to set high standards to help our hawkers for good corporate image of our nation.

  6. I am a blogger and I have eaten almost all of Singapore hawker food. All I can say is there are still very good hawkers but the overall food quality has declined and food prices have increased significantly. For example, one stall in Bedok has increased Hokkien noodles prices from $3 to $4 (a dollar increase at one go).

  7. hawker culture, is a heritage, we all grow up eating all this authentic good food, hope the sg govt, will allocate special previlage, in term of rental, licences for them to carry on with this heritage,

  8. At 35min mark : This was going to be the Final Solution for Singapore's Street Hawkers.

    Why does this line sound so ominous? Haha

  9. America has a large problem with mostly empty shopping malls and IMO Singapore style hawker stalls could be a wonderful solution by not only renting now available space but also acting as a draw for other businesses [in that shopping mall].

  10. Mdm Chua is adorable! I would love to try her kway chap someday πŸ™‚ Singapore hawker culture is really one of a kind, and I really hope the government can help preserve this world heritage by making it easier for hawkers to continue their business. Great documentary btw!

  11. Food and culture history will confound ignorant indon who think that the most of their food are originally from their native ancestors. There are cultural influences and heritage, we can find the same food with different or same names, or food with the same name with different kind/modified taste and shapes… And Chinese food are almost everywhere in Asia

  12. I'm Indonesian but videos like this make me feel nostalgic. The food court style and food carts (which are still common in Indonesia) are very similar. Especially Madam Chua's stall. She reminds me of my grandmother who is also Teochew. And the Kwecap that you can still find in her hometown of Pontianak.

  13. Naofumi Iwatani is a prime example of a evil person who loves to incite and arouse wrath with their words. He shall die, even without wisdom, if he continues like this.

  14. Dr. Lily Kong sounds better than the narrator. The narrator needs to brush up on her pronunciation. She sound too singlish.

  15. Thank you ! Very clear and helpful narration – good job, no slang. Keep it up ! Appreciate that there is NO UNNECESSARY background "music". Well done !

  16. My understanding is for Service sector, generally, stall holders are not allowed to hire any foreigner. Usually allowed are citizens, PR , China workers , Malaysian workers, and some unlikely but allowed workers from SKorea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong. But these are unlikely to come here for such jobs because their country is pretty advanced.
    My point is hawkers suffer from hiring the help they need. If Vietnam, Myanmar are easily allowed without needing them to be PR , then we may see less elderly old uncles and aunties slogging away without getting the help they need

  17. How I was amusing of Singapore…. Hawker center…. Its creation…… Come to Malaysia then you know what is hawker center…

  18. Singapore hawker culture ? If not already gone..dieing…i am a Singaporean…sad to said…you want real hawker culture..go malaysia..thailand…Indonesia…

  19. Seems like hardwork but they all look happy & simple life (not like working in a corporate, they mainly stress and mean people)

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