SINGAPORE - Seventeen hawker stalls at Ayer Rajah Food Centre were recognised on Saturday (Feb 20) for serving up delicious heritage meals, as part of a campaign to promote hawker culture.
The hawker centre was the first of about 110 hawker centres across the island to have stalls receive the Singapore Top Heritage Food award given out by the International Business Federation (IBF).
The stalls were chosen after three days of judging at the food centre by a panel of food ambassadors last week, said IBF president Frederick Yap.
The next phase of the campaign in April will allow the public to vote for their favourite hawker stalls.
Mr Yap said the results will be published in a guidebook listing the Top 10 hawker stalls for each Singaporean heritage dish, such as Indian rojak, wanton mee and nasi lemak.
He added: "Our goal is to highlight the best heritage hawker food at each hawker centre in Singapore."
Last December, Singapore's hawker culture was added to the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
It followed three years of work by the National Heritage Board, the National Environment Agency and the Federation of Merchants' Associations, Singapore.
New schemes have also been introduced to lower the barriers of entry for young aspiring hawkers, and make it easier for retiring hawkers to handover their stalls to non-relatives.
On Saturday, Mr Yap said members of the public who want to recognise the best hawker stalls can volunteer to become food ambassadors with the IBF, which will provide the necessary training.
"It is not an easy task. They will have to go to the hawker centres during non-peak hours to do tasting," he added.
Among the 17 stalls recognised on Saturday was Mr Dum Briyani (No. 78), a family-run briyani stall.
Married couple, Mr Abddul Rauf, 53, and Madam Masitah Mohamad Salleh, 48, received the award from Mr Yap and Minister for Communications and Information S. Iswaran, who is also the MP for West Coast GRC.
Madam Masitah said: "We were surprised because it is the first time we've received an award for our briyani."
Since its opening in 2015, the stall has been frequented by loyal customers like retiree Mr Han Hai Kwang, 70, who orders a plate of chicken dum briyani at least once a week.
"The rice is not oily and it is fluffy. The only problem is sometimes when we come, the briyani is sold out."
Another stall that was recognised was M. Mohamed Ismail (No. 57), an Indian-Muslim stall known for its mee goreng.
It is run by Mr Mohamed Sunaidu Mohamed Nooru, 42, who, in 2005, took over from his father, now in his 70s.
He said: "I started training at 16 years old when I was in secondary school. I would come down after school to help my father and watch him cook.
"The most important thing is the sambal belachan. It cannot be too spicy, but it also cannot be too mild."
Meanwhile, Xing Tian Yuan Restaurant (No. 40) was recognised for its zichar, which features 64-year-old Lim Sea Cheoong's signature fried rice.
His son, Mr Lim Teck Seng, 40, who sometimes helps to cook after nearly five years of training, said: "My father has been cooking for more than 40 years. We are quite happy about the award and will try to improve our food even more."