How Singapore's street food scene evolved

A timeline of how hawker centres went from being streetside stalls to food sellers getting hygiene grades. Michelle Ng traces the changes

Hawkers in Hock Lam Street in 1975. At that time, hundreds of street hawkers in the city were asked by the Environment Ministery to fill up empty stalls in existing hawker centres. These hawkers, many of whom have been operating for years in side str
Hawkers in Hock Lam Street in 1975. At that time, hundreds of street hawkers in the city were asked by the Environment Ministery to fill up empty stalls in existing hawker centres. These hawkers, many of whom have been operating for years in side streets and lanes, regarded the Government call as a death knell to their thriving businesses. PHOTO: ST FILE
Hawkers in Hock Lam Street in 1975. At that time, hundreds of street hawkers in the city were asked by the Environment Ministery to fill up empty stalls in existing hawker centres. These hawkers, many of whom have been operating for years in side str
Singapore’s popular Satay Club, after half a century of business at Beach Road, re-opened on the Dhoby Ghaut Green in 1952. Mr and Mrs S. A. Biggs and daughter Christine (above) enjoying a satay feast. PHOTO: ST FILE
Hawkers in Hock Lam Street in 1975. At that time, hundreds of street hawkers in the city were asked by the Environment Ministery to fill up empty stalls in existing hawker centres. These hawkers, many of whom have been operating for years in side str
A 1972 photo of Serangoon Gardens’ Chomp Chomp, which housed the hawkers who were relocated from the bus bay in Serangoon Garden Circus. The signboard was put up by boys from Serangoon Garden Secondary School. PHOTO: ST FILE
“Keep Singapore Food Clean” posters (above) at a hawker centre in Koek Road in 1974. PHOTO: ST FILE
Lunchtime crowd at a hawker centre in Raffles Place (above). PHOTO: ST FILE
A magnet that is a fun take on the hygiene grade that hawkers have to display at their stalls. PHOTO: ST FILE
Hawkers in Hock Lam Street in 1975. At that time, hundreds of street hawkers in the city were asked by the Environment Ministery to fill up empty stalls in existing hawker centres. These hawkers, many of whom have been operating for years in side str
Kampung@Simpang Bedok (above) which closed after a year of operations and Pasir Ris Central Hawker Centre, which opened in January this year. PHOTO: ST FILE
Hawkers in Hock Lam Street in 1975. At that time, hundreds of street hawkers in the city were asked by the Environment Ministery to fill up empty stalls in existing hawker centres. These hawkers, many of whom have been operating for years in side str
Kampung@Simpang Bedok which closed after a year of operations and Pasir Ris Central Hawker Centre (above), which opened in January this year. PHOTO: ST FILE
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Research suggests that itinerant street hawkers have been around since the 1800s, though there is no definitive record of when street hawking started in Singapore.

The Hawkers Inquiry Commission was set up by Governor F. Gimson to look into the problems relating to street hawking, including economic and health issues. The inaugural public meeting was held on April 20, 1950, at the Victoria Memorial Hall, now known as Victoria Theatre and Concert Hall.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 02, 2018, with the headline How Singapore's street food scene evolved. Subscribe