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Why It Matters

Helping hawker culture thrive

Sighs of relief were heard across the island when the Bib Gourmand list for Singapore's inaugural Michelin Guide was released on Thursday: Its inspectors had not unearthed many of the gems in our food scene.

These are places only food-mad people who live here will know about, and which they can continue to patronise without a surge in crowds.

Thirty-four eateries were given Bib Gourmand status in the gastronomic guide put out by the French tyre company. This rating recognises places which offer good value meals. In Singapore, the price of those meals must be under $45 a person.

Foodies were quick to criticise the Bib Gourmand choices, saying the list left out local favourites like char kway teow. Others laughed at how chye tow kueh, made with radish, was described as "turnip pudding" instead of carrot cake, which is what Singaporeans call it; and curry puffs labelled "deep fried puff".

Singapore's food scene is wide and deep with riches. A group of inspectors from different countries - there are no Singapore inspectors yet - who swoop in once a year and fan out to eat will be hard put to make sense of it. The struggle is plain to see on the Bib Gourmand list. Yet, to dismiss it entirely would be to lose the opportunity to use the list in a very shrewd way to market Singapore food to the world, and to help the hawker culture thrive.

People lament the imminent death of hawker culture as old hawkers retire without successors. Young hawkers, still raw at their craft, chafe at the critical Singapore eater, who think they are upstarts.

If being on the Bib Gourmand list helps hawkers draw curious diners, either here or from abroad, maybe their daily struggle would mean something.

If the prospect of being on the list galvanises more young people to get into the hawker trade or follow in their parents' footsteps, that cannot be a bad thing. In fact, this is one way Singapore can have its turnip pudding and eat it too.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 16, 2016, with the headline 'Helping hawker culture thrive'. Print Edition | Subscribe