Updated: Jan 4, 2020
Good food can be found all over the world.
So what makes Singapore's hawker culture our national treasure and pride?
Delicious food is just the foundation. An important must, but this is way more than that.
Beyond great food, there are many more layers beneath, each contributing in its own way - giving rise to the colorful and vibrant culture we witness today.
In our younger days, we have fond memories of our parents bringing us to the nearby hawker centre for breakfast on Sundays.
I missed those times. Fragrant wok-fried carrot cake, the blacker the better for me. Freshly-cooked roti prata with crisp burnt edges.......served with a spoonful of sugar because hey we were kids back then. Wanton mee tossed with a dollop of ketchup because we couldn't quite endure ingesting chilli just yet.
During my student days, I used to play soccer in void decks of flats and basketball courts after school. We’d get all hot and sweaty after a game under the scorching afternoon sun. I relished trotting to our favorite dessert stall in Tanglin Halt Food Centre afterwards and devouring a huge mountain of ice kacang or sometimes cheng tng.
As we grew older, I would occasionally meet old friends in a hawker centre to do some catching-up. With a kopi-peng in hand each, we would sit for hours chatting about almost anything and everything.
Now as a hawker myself, I consider fellow hawkers like family. We spend 12 hours seeing each other daily for years. As the Chinese saying goes, “远亲不如近邻.” (loosely translated: the neighbours whom we see everyday trump distant relatives.) The camaraderie between us fellow market hawkers is just amazing.
Whenever I run out of dark soya sauce, I would just head next door and ask, “Uncle, borrow some sauce leh.”
And with a warm smile on his face, he would say: “Take-take, no need to return.”
This is a mini kampong in itself. The “gotong-royong”, laughter, and friendships cultivated.
I feel alive here.
A part of Singapore’s hawker culture will always be inside all of us. It’s what we grew up with. Beautiful memories were made and future ones shall be created on our own terms.
This is our collective Singaporean culture. Our shared experiences.
PS: Let’s all pray and hope that Singapore's submission of a nomination yesterday to inscribe our hawker culture on Unesco's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity will be successful.