Singapore’s tradition of dining at hawker centers – open air food courts – has been recognized by UNESCO for its cultural significance.
UNESCO announced late Wednesday that it had added the city state’s “hawker culture” to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, nearly two years after the state submitted a bid.
“Singapore is tremendously honored to have our hawker culture as our very first inscription on the UNESCO representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity,” said Edwin Tong, Minister of Culture, Community and Youth, in a video shown at the meeting after Singapore got the committee’s approval.
“Hawker culture is a source of pride for Singapore. It reflects our living heritage and multiculturalism and is an integral part of the daily lives of everyone in Singapore, regardless of age, race, or background.
Tong added that the state will continue to celebrate the cultural practices of the hawker trade, and ensure that future generations of Singaporeans can continue to appreciate, enjoy and cherish the hawker culture.
Shortly after the announcement, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong commended efforts to get Singapore’s hawker culture on UNESCO’s list.
“Many have worked very hard to get our hawker culture inscribed on that list. Thank you all – it has been a long but fruitful journey,” he wrote on Facebook.
Singapore’s hawker centers were set up to house former street vendors or “hawkers” in an effort to clean up the island in the early 70s, according to Reuters. The place has since become popular among Singaporeans of all ages, making it a rendezvous for gastronomical adventures or just simply hanging out. Foreign travelers coming into Singapore also complete their trip with the hawker culture experience.
“These centers serve as ‘community dining rooms’ where people from diverse backgrounds gather and share the experience of dining over breakfast, lunch and dinner,” UNESCO said.
To maintain its status in the UNESCO list, Singapore must submit a report every six years to show its efforts in safeguarding and promoting the hawker culture.
But while it considerably remains popular among locals and foreigners, and the fact that it was highlighted in the 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians, the hawker culture of Singapore is facing challenges.
The average age of the current hawkers is 60, and many young Singaporeans are increasingly opting for office jobs than sweaty, open-air kitchens.
The coronavirus pandemic has also affected the business, with the usual crowd reduced and locals prevented from dining out.
“We pledge to do our part to safeguard our intangible cultural heritage, as well as to contribute to the dialogue and collaboration in line with the spirit of the convention,” he added, referring to the Convention for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage which Singapore ratified in 2018.