What does it mean to "preserve our hawker heritage"?
In my humble opinion, our hawker heritage has two essential elements.
Food and people.
I feel it should be people first, then food.
Giving everyone access to daily sustenance is part and parcel of our hawker heritage. Cost of everything from rental, utilities to ingredients etc are kept low. (There is an imbalance between cost and price now, but that's another discussion for another day.)
Gratefully, our hawkers did marvellous things with simple ingredients and created the wonderful hawker food we now enjoy and value. Preservation of our hawker heritage obviously includes the tastes and flavours that we now so love.
Indeed, the discussion on preserving our hawker heritage has focused on the fabulous flavours and tastes of our hawker food, at times overshadowing the people aspect - the dimension of accessibility for all.
The direction has been to make eating hawker food more enjoyable for young Singaporeans which are deemed to shun public hawker centres. Young Singaporeans are the future customers of hawker food. If they won't eat at public hawker centres, it will be the end of that public institution and along with it, our treasured hawker heritage.
Two approaches have been broached.
One, use premium ingredients like making "prawn mee" with lobsters. As our country progresses, young Singaporeans are believed to have more discerning tastes.
Two, install air conditioning in public hawker centres as young Singaporeans are known to avoid these places because of the stifling heat and perpetually near 100% humidity.
We should do both of these things; premium ingredients and air conditioning.
Premium ingredients address the taste, flavour and enjoyment aspects of preserving our hawker heritage. The higher margin also encourages more young people to enter the hawker trade. Air con addresses accessibility of public hawker centres for well-to-do Singaporeans. Oppressive heat is a form of oppression, no less.
Premium ingredients is a natural progression.
Some of us are old enough to remember that char kway teow of old comes in the premium "with egg" and ordinary "no egg" versions. Some of us may even remember bringing our own eggs to the char kway teow stall to cut costs ;-D As our average disposable income increased, now "with egg" char kway teow is the default.
Similarly one day, lobster "hae mee" could be the default when average Singaporean disposable income reaches that level.
In the meantime, perhaps we could address preserving our hawker heritage holistically, which means also addressing accessibility for all, including less well-to-do Singaporeans.
Air conditioning is an optional cost.
Let's consider options of "with air con" and "no air con" in tandem with the general level of disposable income of average and also low income Singaporeans. In any case, private food courts already provide the "air con" option for well-to-do Singaporeans who need a more conducive eating place. I have no figures - does anyone know whether there are now more air con private food courts than no air con public hawker centres in Singapore?
Likewise for food, in the meantime, we can have the premium lobster version for those who can afford it, and the shrimp version for most of us. For example, Wah Kee at Pek Kio food centre have versions of prawn mee ranging from SGD3 to SGD35 (
We should phase out "no air con" hawker centres and ordinary prawn mee when there are no more Singaporeans who need them. Then "no air con" public hawker centres and ordinary prawn mee will naturally go the way of "no egg" char kway teow.
Hope we can have a fruitful discussion by sharing your views in the comments below ;-D
Date: 20 Apr 2015
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