Why It Matters

Spicing up hawker trade

An artist’s impression of the second floor of the hawker centre that will be opening at Pasir Ris Central in Nov 2017.

It is good news that instead of wringing their hands and bemoaning the death of hawker culture here, NTUC Foodfare is opening a new, two-storey hawker centre in Pasir Ris Central with the upper floor designed like a hipster cafe and devoted to "creative cuisine".

The idea is to encourage young people to go into the hawker trade by providing an environment that appeals to them. The concept also makes it easier for new entrants to the food business because it has a lower start-up cost than, say, a cafe, which requires a hefty rental rate and more staffing.

Also, you need only a few good dishes to set up a stall. In some cases, even one good dish would do.

Those who are successful and wish to expand can later move to bigger premises - vacating the stall space for another new food entrepreneur to step in.

Also a good idea: keeping the lower floor for traditional hawker food. This would draw a mix of customers, who will perhaps explore the various options that they may not otherwise be exposed to.

Hawker food will also be sold at various price points to suit various budgets, meeting the need to keep food affordable for the cost-conscious, but also allowing hawkers who provide better-quality food to charge more and make a decent profit.

That is the way of the future. Like everything else, the hawker trade has to evolve, and places such as Timbre+ prove that this mix of old and new can work.

Being a hawker is tough work that requires long hours. Profit margins are often small. So to get people to join the trade, the returns must be enough to justify the work.

At the same time, many aspire to own cafes because they are hip and allow them to exercise their creativity. NTUC Foodfare's new hawker centre will allow them to achieve their dreams without too much of a risk.

And for the customer, it means new flavours and more choice. Who knows, the new centre may be the birthplace of a new hawker dish that will become the next Singapore icon.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2017, with the headline Spicing up hawker trade. Subscribe