Hawker Centre 3.0: Whipping up tasty ideas

Dr Amy Khor getting feedback from hawkers yesterday to help with the Government's plans for the future of hawker centres.
Dr Amy Khor getting feedback from hawkers yesterday to help with the Government's plans for the future of hawker centres.PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Hawkers offer food for thought to sustain and promote trade during dialogue

Laksa with Lady Gaga in the background? Hawker centres are now magnets for mouth-watering and affordable food but those of the future could also be venues for mini-concerts and night markets.

They could inject even greater vibrancy into a community if they were situated in lifestyle hubs with more amenities than those they are already near to - such as exercise and study corners just a stone's throw away, so as to attract more diners.

These were some of the ideas on how to sustain and promote their trade by 25 hawkers during a dialogue with Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources, yesterday.

Dr Khor heads the Hawker Centre 3.0 Committee announced in April, to look at how hawker centres can be made more vibrant and used as social spaces. It is also tasked with proposing ideas to attract young blood into the hawker trade, improve productivity and promote graciousness among patrons.

The average age of hawkers now is 59.

Demand for food sellers, however, is expected to grow with 17 more hawker centres to be built by 2027.

  • 17
    Number of new hawker centres by 2027

  • 59
    Average age of hawkers

There are currently more than 14,000 licensed hawkers operating in 109 hawker centres here, of which about 6,000 are selling cooked food.

Dr Khor said while the turnover is low, it is important to ensure the profession can attract the young, noting: "Hawker food is a common love and identity of Singaporeans."

In the 1970s, hawker centres were built to resettle street hawkers and improve hygiene levels.

In 2001, the Government started the Hawker Centres Upgrading Programme - the second iteration of the hawker centre concept now synonymous with Singapore.

Hawker Centre 3.0 hopes to evolve the concept even further. It has held eight dialogues so far, including yesterday's, and the 14-member committee, with representatives from tertiary institutions and organisations such as Singapore Press Holdings, is expected to have recommendations ready early next year, said Dr Khor.

The general secretary of the Singapore Kindness Movement and a committee member, Dr William Wan, highlighted issues such as the "low view" people may have of the hawker trade as a career as a reason that it is still not attracting the young and the new.

But it is not the only one. "It is also economics. We want to keep the food affordable and the profitability may not be as attractive," he said.

Mr Philip Tan, 59, who sells fishball noodles at Bukit Merah, said the Government could look at rebranding the hawker trade to improve its image. "Instead of using the word hawker, we should use another term, in the same way bus drivers are now called bus captains."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 28, 2016, with the headline 'Hawker Centre 3.0: Whipping up tasty ideas'. Print Edition | Subscribe