S'pore hawkers hope inclusion in Unesco's intangible heritage list will keep sector thriving

Some hawkers are hoping the Unesco nod will bring more tourists to their stalls and keep the sector alive and thriving after the Covid-19 pandemic. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

SINGAPORE - Singaporeans hailed the news on Wednesday (Dec 16) that the country's hawker culture has been inscribed on the Unesco intangible heritage list, with some hawkers hoping it will bring more tourists to their stalls and keep the sector alive and thriving after the Covid-19 pandemic.

The historic moment has been hotly anticipated for nearly three years, and at around 10pm on Wednesday, it was announced by the intergovernmental committee in charge of the final verdict.

Hawker trainee Lim Min Jie, 34, said the inscription would put Singapore's hawker culture on the world food map.

"Once the Covid-19 pandemic has passed, people are going to start travelling, and through this inscription, more might visit Singapore to discover our hawker culture. It will definitely benefit us in the long run."

Mr Lim said experienced hawkers have taught him new skills and he now better understands the relevant practices.

"The hawker culture is not alien to me, as I have seen hawkers in my family cooking since I was young. My mentors helped me understand how to address such aspects as e supply, finance and manpower," he added.

A two-minute video aired after the announcement featured hawkers and patrons sharing what hawker culture meant to them.

Ms Karney Ngai, chairman of Yuhua Village Market & Food Centre, said: "Hawker centres are more than just an eating space. They are community dining rooms where Singaporeans from all walks of life come together."

Another hawker named Mrs Sheikh, who runs O'Braim Express at Our Tampines Hub Hawker Centre, said: "As a young hawker who is passionate about hawker culture, I hope this Unesco recognition inspires others to join me in carrying on this important part of Singapore's cultural heritage."

Dr Jack Lee, president of the Singapore Heritage Society and a member of the nomination committee, said the inscription highlighted the value of the hawker trade in Singapore.

"Although hawker culture is something we may take for granted, the inscription helps us recognise that hawker culture in Singapore is valuable and worthy of recognition. I'm hoping this will spur people to think about joining the industry and consider its sustainability in the future," he added.

CIMB Private Banking economist Song Seng Wun, who regularly links local food to his social media posts on the state of the economy, said the recognition could help in branding and monetisation efforts for hawkers.

While hawker culture can be advertised in a global context as a unique aspect of Singapore, he said it was important to consider how locals could play their part in boosting the sector amid a pandemic.

He added: "Hawker culture has gained traction even prior to this recognition, and it is important to consider how this can be a viable career alternative and locals can appreciate paying for it as an intangible cultural asset."

SPH Brightcove Video
Singapore's hawker culture is poised to be inscribed on Unesco's intangible heritage list.
ST meets three hawkers helping to pass on their skills to others through an apprenticeship scheme.

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