17 hawkers in initiative to serve those with swallowing difficulties

They have been trained to prepare food for those with dysphagia - a condition affecting mostly seniors

For seven years, Madam Lina Ang prepared easy-to-chew food for her husband, who had swallowing difficulties after a stroke, until his death in 2011.

Now, the 64-year-old hawker painstakingly does the same for customers who have problems swallowing, by cutting up noodles and ingredients in other dishes that she sells at the Xing Guang Vegetarian stall she runs at Alexandra Village Food Centre.

The condition, medically termed dysphagia, affects mostly seniors and can arise from Parkinson's disease, stroke or general ageing.

An estimated 15 per cent of the elderly population in Singapore suffer from dysphagia, according to Alexandra Hospital (AH).

People with dysphagia have to eat soft, cut-up food to reduce their risk of choking and food entering their airway.

Madam Ang was one of 17 hawkers trained in August and last month to prepare food for those with dysphagia under a campaign called Smaller Bites to Swallow Right.

Between them, they offer a range of local favourites such as herbal mutton soup, fried carrot cake and yong tau foo at Alexandra Village Food Centre and ABC Brickworks Food Centre.

Customers with dysphagia can ask these stallholders for their food to be chopped, minced or pureed at no extra charge.

Initiated by two speech therapists from AH, the movement aims to provide dysphagia patients with a variety of food to enjoy, while easing the burden on their caregivers.

The idea came to Mr Samuel Chi, 31, and Ms Tey Jo Ching, 33, in August as they were eating at a hawker centre.

Mr Chi said: "I realised that my patients would also love to eat hawker food, but some are not able to due to their swallowing difficulties."

The two hawker centres were chosen as the pilot locations for the campaign, as they are near AH and are accessible to its patients.

Madam Ang said helping people with dysphagia reminded her of how she used to help her husband mince his food for all his meals. "Now, when I serve customers with dysphagia, I think of my husband. I think he would be proud of me because I'm doing this with love."

Tanjong Pagar GRC MP Eric Chua launched the campaign yesterday at Alexandra Village Food Centre and put up Smaller Bites to Swallow Right decals at the nine participating stalls there. Decals were also placed at eight stalls at ABC Brickworks Food Centre.

Both food centres are in Mr Chua's Queenstown ward, where three in 10 residents are aged 60 and above, he noted.

"Dysphagia affects our seniors more than it affects others in the population. So I am thankful that we have this project going on to help our seniors."

The initiative has also been welcomed by caregivers.

Queenstown resident Wee Gek Suan, 82, said her 90-year-old husband started exhibiting swallowing difficulties three years ago.

"My husband has to have a soft diet, and I would always cook for him. Sometimes, it gets difficult to think of what to cook. I also know that he longs for good old hawker food," said Mrs Wee.

"I am very touched that so many hawkers have agreed to go the extra mile and help those with dysphagia. This will help us more than they know."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 15, 2021, with the headline '17 hawkers in initiative to serve those with swallowing difficulties'. Subscribe