Singapore's fading food hawker heritage

Hawker Derrick Lee, 30, sells chicken rice in his stall at a hawker centre in Singapore. PHOTO: REUTERS
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Singapore's famous food hawkers face an unappetising future as market forces threaten their long tradition of cheap cuisine.

SINGAPORE (REUTERS) - Singapore's lively food culture faces a dying future.

So-called hawkers serve up cheap fusion cuisine for as little as US$2 (S$2.70).

They're a staple for locals and a draw for tourists who've come to eat in Asia's foodie paradise.

However Reuters' Christophe Vanderperre reports as they retire that heritage is under threat.

"When I arrived in Singapore 10 years ago, the only thing I personally wanted to eat was hawker food. But now when we go to a hawker centre, we see more shops that are closed or more shops that are offering something different. I've seen French cuisine being offered in hawker stalls which is much more expensive than your usual plate of noodles.

"When we speak to hawkers, there was one particular one who has been trying fried koi teow for over 40 years. He was just a little bit sad that he could not find anyone to replace him," said Mr Vanderperre.

This year the government stepped in - moving to save the trade after celebrity attention like chef Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain.

"One of the initiatives where they pair all the hawkers to teach young, aspiring hawkers for two months and they work together afterwards. That seems to be working. We spoke to one of those younger hawkers that went through that course and he said he's very happy with his chicken rice stall. He thinks more initiatives such as those ones should be available because he is sure that people will go into it," added Mr Vanderperre.

For many it comes down to cost.

The old hawkers are subsidised, part of a 1960s programme to get them off the streets.

Any new hawkers must pay market price in one of the most expensive cities in the world and still compete to serve up the same cheap dishes.

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