Hawker culture in the limelight in latest askST@NLB talk

Now that Singapore's hawker culture is included on Unesco's list of intangible cultural heritage, what is the impact on the country's food scene? The Straits Times Food online editor Hedy Khoo and Makansutra's K.F. Seetoh discuss on askST@NLB.
Makansutra chief executive K. F. Seetoh (right) and ST Food online editor Hedy Khoo speaking at the askST@NLB event.
Makansutra chief executive K. F. Seetoh (right) and ST Food online editor Hedy Khoo speaking at the askST@NLB event.ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Hawker culture was in the spotlight in the latest edition of askST @ NLB on Friday (Feb 26).

Singapore's traditional street food made the news in December when it was officially added to the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

It came as no surprise to Mr K.F. Seetoh, founder and chief executive of Makansutra, who felt that every local had an undeniable bond with hawker culture.

"Hawker culture is for, by and of the people. Food always played a role in making people feel they belong," he said.

During the askST @ NLB talk, which was live-streamed on Friday on The Straits Times' Facebook page, Mr Seetoh and ST Food online editor Hedy Khoo discussed whether Unesco's recognition of Singapore's local hawker culture is a big deal.

AskST @ NLB is a collaboration between ST and the National Library Board.

Mr Seetoh also spoke about the evolution of hawker culture and its sustainability in modern times. It has helped many to make a living when they had no jobs.

"People who had no way into society just cooked their family recipe and today, they put their children to school so that they (can become) leaders in society," said Mr Seetoh.

As generations pass, Singapore began to see more occurrences of the reverse too.

"They studied, they have their degrees, their masters - I also know some of them got PhDs - gave up all of that, and they go and hawk," he added.

In response to a question on why locals will pay $20 for a bowl of ramen but not $10 for a bowl of wonton mee, Mr Seetoh replied that hawker food was not meant to be expensive, saying: "It was a food of the masses... It's hard to break off that mentality."

Mr Seetoh said that, ultimately, it is a big deal that hawker culture made it to Unesco's list because "no (other) country can make a claim like this".

Those who missed the live stream can find a recording of it at ST's website. Past askST @ NLB sessions can be found using the same link.

Those who wish to know more about Singapore's hawker culture can refer to resources from ProQuest Central, a database subscribed to by the National Library Board, using the keywords "Singapore hawker food".

A myLibraryID is required to access this database. If you do not have a myLibraryID, you can sign up for one at this website using your SingPass or NRIC/FIN.


Suggested titles for reading:

- Singapore Culinary History by Vincent A. Gabriel, 2020;

- Makansutra Singapore 2021 online edition, available here upon free registration.

In the next askST @ NLB session on March 26, ST deputy business editor Poon Chian Hui will talk about how Budget 2021 will shape Singapore's recovery from Covid-19. Submit your questions here.