Hawker Tales: From Pushcarts to Hawker Centres
Hawkers by definition are just vendors who transport around their goods to sell them; in Singapore, these hawkers mainly sell the native food. The concept of street hawkers in Singapore started in the early 1800s, after Sir Stamford Raffles founded Singapore and started to turn it into a bustling port-city.
There was a huge influx of immigrants; mostly the Chinese in the region as well as from southern China, Malays from the Malay Peninsula; Indians from the British infantry; and Eurasians from Britain and other Commonwealth states. The total population of Singapore rose sharply, and naturally along with the immigrants came their food with them. At this time, restaurants were still considered rare in Singapore and hence you would find many people on the streets, carrying about all sorts of fruits, vegetables and snacks on their shoulders in trays or baskets. Eventually cooked food was also brought along and sold on the streets, with all sorts of cuisines coming together – the soup and noodles of the Chinese, the spicy dishes from the Malays, the aromatic curries from the Indians, and many more. Of course the best thing was the food was not only delicious but very cheap as well! A couple of cents would enable one to purchase a good meal at that time.
From the hawkers who would walk around to sell their food, those who served tastier food and were more popular would eventually setup their own roadside stalls, so as to serve more customers, cook more food, and have their own portable kitchen. Bit by bit, these roadside stalls would slowly congregate together, taking advantage of the crowds that would come around them for meals. In this way the people would have a greater choice of food to eat.
As Singapore modernised from the early 1900s onwards, the government took note of these unofficial gatherings of hawkers and built hawker centres to house them and provide better amenities for both the hawkers and their customers. Famous hawker centres came into existence, such as the Adam Road Food Centre, Maxwell Food Centre, and the Old Airport Road Hawker Centre; although they were made famous by the famous hawker stalls inside.
However these days’ hawker centres are a dying breed, and they will get rarer as even more modernisation takes place, giving rise to new air-conditioned food courts which some say are too clean and lacking the soul and character of hawker centres. So while they still remain, go out and enjoy the food at your nearest hawker centres! The best hawker food for an affordable and delicious meal Check out more local favourites like orh luak and kway teow here
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OpenRice SG Editor
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