Singapore Seeks UNESCO Status For Hawker Centers – Malaysians Not Amused
Investvine, A Company of Inside Investor, Ltd.
Aug 26, 2018

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his speech at the republic’s National Day Rally on August 19 said that the city state will be nominating its rich hawker culture for UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

He said Singapore’s hawker centers were its “community dining rooms” and a unique part of the country’s heritage and identity.

If the bid is successful, Singapore”s hawker culture will join the likes of Malaysia’s Mak Yong theater from Kelantan, Indonesia’s batik and India’s yoga on the world stage.

Started in 2008, the list, which has about 400 elements to date, sets out to demonstrate the diversity of world heritage and ensure their protection.

Lee described the Singapore Botanic Gardens’ inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2015 as a proud moment for the country, adding that putting Singapore’s hawker culture on the list of intangible cultural heritage will “help to safeguard and promote this unique culture for future generations”.

“It will also let the rest of the world know about our local food and multicultural heritage,” Lee was reported saying.

Singapore’s hawkers started out as migrants who peddled their food on streets and sidewalks. They were moved into more sanitary purpose-built facilities by the government from the 1970s. Hawker centers are still being built today and by 2027, a total of 127 hawker centers will be in operation.

However, not everyone is impressed by the move. Malaysian chefs are “frying” Singapore’s bid to nominate its hawker culture for the UNESCO list.

While every country has its own unique street food identity, the move by Singapore suggested a lack of confidence and “arrogant behaviour” by the city state, said celebrity chef Redzuawan Ismail, better known as Chef Wan.

“People who lack confidence in their food will go all out to do these things for recognition,” he said.

“It’s not necessary to announce to the world that you have this or that. By taking this route, it’s a bit of arrogant behaviour. Food is meant to be enjoyed by everyone and not for us to pick fights over who owns what. We already fight about everything else, such as territorial claims, oil and water,” he argued.

Another celebrity chef, Ismail Ahmad, said the Singaporean hawker culture was usually confined within buildings while in Malaysia, it was widespread and could be found in both urban and rural areas.

“Ours are very original and diverse. If you go to a hawker center in Malaysia, the food is to die for because of our sensitivity in using fresh ingredients and efforts to sustain the originality of our dishes,” he said.

“That’s the uniqueness of ours compared to theirs. Theirs is monotonous. Their hawker centers are beautiful but tasteless,” he added.

Company Investvine, A Company of Inside Investor, Ltd.
Contact Imran Saddique