Why It Matters

Give hawkers sustained help

Food Editor Tan Hsueh Yun. PHOTO: ST FILE
People having lunch at 51 Old Airport Road Food Centre on April 12, 2016. ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH

On social media, over meals and at hawker centres, people love to complain about how hawker culture in Singapore is dying. Old hawkers, who have done back-breaking work for decades, can hold out for only so long.

But talk is cheap. And that is why any initiative to groom the next generation of hawkers is to be lauded.

Last Wednesday, this paper reported on the fruits of one of these initiatives - the Entrepreneurship Programme run by Fei Siong Food Management, which runs Ci Yuan hawker centre in Hougang. It took 18 hawker wannabes under its wing and paired them with retiring hawkers to learn the ropes.

The rookies have gone on to operate their own stalls in the hawker centre.

Although there are no plans to run the programme again for now, I hope Fei Siong will change its mind.

Its programme is not the only one. Others do not just lament, they take action. There is the Hawker Master Trainer programme, started in 2013 by the Singapore Workforce Development Agency, National Environment Agency, property firm Knight Frank and The Business Times, and Street Food Pro 360 in 2014, initiated by K. F. Seetoh, founder of the Makansutra street food guide.

The newly opened Timbre+ near Fusionopolis, a hip hawker centre, has two incubator spaces for first- time entrepreneurs. Those who take up the spaces can tap the expertise of the hawkers and chefs there.

But one-off programmes are not enough. These need to be sustained efforts, no matter how tough it is to get veteran hawkers to pass on their secrets and to find young people willing to put in the hard work.

The stark truth is that there is no other way to preserve Singapore's hawker culture.

Wags who wonder if the young 'uns are up to the challenge of running hawker stalls should consider this: Even veteran hawkers were young once, with wobbly skills that they honed over years.

Give these young hawkers time. Even better, give them opportunities.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2016, with the headline 'Give hawkers sustained help'. Subscribe