Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Did you Kill Singapore's Hawker Food Culture? JK1439

Singapore-Hawker-Food-Culture
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Yes, you.

Let's face it. Singapore's heritage hawker food is heading towards more serious trouble.

Because of you.

Higher rent, higher labour cost, higher ingredients cost, utilities, cleaning costs, fewer customers especially the young, and list goes on....

But, most critically, we are not able to get enough new generation hawkers.

The main reason?

We are not short of passionate young men and women who are willing to slog it out in stuffy small kitchens and keep our heritage hawker food alive, and not just cloistered in homes and on display only at cooking demonstrations. There are young people who are willing to make the sacrifices to keep our heritage hawker food part of Singapore's every day life.

Trouble is, they can't make a decent living out of it.

It's because most of us kiasu 怕输 (fear of losing out) Singaporeans are not willing to pay the true price for something even as valuable as our heritage and Singaporean identity. If we can squeeze a discount from somebody even if it means the business going bust, we will.

We only want to pay the same price or at most a very little bit more for artisanal hand crafted hawker food as compared to mass produced generic factory food - and so, condemned ourselves to it.

If our heritage hawker food disappears from Singapore, Singaporeans only have ourselves to blame.

Singapore-Hawker-Food-Culture
Not all fish balls are made of these

Because, we refused to appreciate the difference between a fishy ball made with some unknown fish and lots of don't know what compounds, and a fish ball made with 100% fresh Yellowtail fish or Ikan Parang fish.

(I am using the fish ball example but this applies to all hand crafted hawker food from chwee kway to char kway to chee cheong fun to otak otak. You get the idea.)

Many of us even judge how good a fish ball is by how high it can bounce - we might as well eat rubber balls then. (Not quite, but some fishy balls have so much starch they nearly are, rubber balls.)

What I am saying is - eat your fishy compound balls - I do that most of the time because I also go for the most affordable, acceptable option. We need such mass produced food to keep food prices affordable and the businesses are doing a great job of it. I am grateful to them for it.

What I am also saying is - know that fishy compound balls and genuine fish balls are different things.

Fishy compound balls are made with cheaper compounds and machine made in the millions in automated factories. Artisanal fish balls are hand made with costly 100% fresh fish with a bit of salt and each hawker makes just a few hundred balls a day. 

Therefore, they have to be priced differently.

Singapore-Hawker-Food-Culture
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Support our young hawkers who are putting their heart and soul into making food the old way. Support their business even if their hand made fish balls cost a little more than fishy balls because it is worth it. Our hawker food heritage is worth it.

You are getting the real thing, a more tasty, healthful fish ball and you are doing your part to keep the young hawker in business, and keep Singapore's heritage hawker food culture alive and kicking for our children.

Make a commitment to appreciate the difference between mass produced food and artisanal hand crafted hawker food.

Singapore-Hawker-Food-Culture
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If we continue to be indifferent as we are today, in the not-too-distant future, everybody will only get to eat fishy compound balls. And, no one knows what a real fish ball tastes like anymore.

Please share with us your valuable views.

Disclaimer: This is written tongue in cheek, to bring attention of a serious malaise undermining Singapore's hawker culture. If this indifference goes on for a bit longer, Singapore's heritage hawker food culture will be in worst danger. My sincere apologies, if I offended you inadvertently.

Date: 22 Mar 2016

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16 comments:

  1. Very true. You can give a lecture already or a talk at suitable forums. (Pn Chong)

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    Replies
    1. Just good for beer talk at kopitiam :-D

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  2. The sad thing is, Singaporeans who're born after 1980 never had the chance to experience how good "real" hawker food was. When street hawkers were forcibly removed from the streets and put into food centres, many old masters chose to hang up their woks for good at the time.

    Many modern-day Singaporeans regard Singapore hawker fare as "fuel for the stomach" - they're not concerned over the taste & quality anymore, but more on the convenience of the place/location.

    But I still think the "killer" is the cost of running a business in Singapore, especially the rental. Most top street hawkers in Penang run their business *on* the streets themselves - no rent to worry about.

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  3. A very common refrain among Singaporeans is that "this stall's food doesn't taste as good as before" - as cooking skills honed through the years by the "old masters" generally do *not* get passed down to the younger generation, as many Singaporeans do not see selling street food as a viable career option.

    My take? Singapore hawker food has been on the wane *ever since* the early 1980s, when the government moved all the hawkers from the streets into the so-called food centres (called "hawker centres" then). At the time, some itinerant hawkers continue to peddle their wares illegally - preferring the freedom of moving around different neighbourhoods where they have their regular clientele, playing hide-and-seek with the cops. But the number of old hawkers who hung up their woks, pots and pans were too numerous to count. Within a decade, much of Singapore's hawker heritage was wiped off.

    What we have today - the so-called "Hawker Masters" scattered here and there across the island were mere stragglers, left over from a more vibrant, richer era of street food hawking.

    *No* food blogger or food writer in Singapore who hasn't lived through at least the 70s era deserve to comment on what I'd term *real* Singapore hawker food - a time when charcoal braziers hold sway, pork lard were dispensed freely, and hawkers refined their trade through decades of back-breaking work. Most younger food bloggers in Singapore today are more interested in pointing their DSLRs at the food anyway.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. i had an idea to write a post about "extinct" flavours from memory... but my memory fails... and things are a blur... that 1960s street side char kway teow at Toa Payoh lorong 5 etc

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    2. There is prawn hokkien mee that is at Toa Payoh Lor 4, Kambing soup at Whitley Food Centre (Underneath the flyover), Toap Payoh rojak with a generous portion of grounded peanuts..the list goes on....

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  4. Its a chicken and egg thing. When rental pressure increase, the first thing the hawker does is to change to an inferior ingredients or inferior cooking method. This directly leads to death of old school food. Additionally, there are negative wage growth in the middle low class consumers, how do you expect them to fork out 50~100% more price, especially on the already no standard food?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. support those hawkers who kept the faith despite the multiple pressures lo.. yeah, i know consumers face pressures too... i eat factory food and instant noodles often... just don't want that to lead to the death of our heritage food. give them my support as much as i can, within my means..

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  5. Replies
    1. do our little bit to change things for the future

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  6. The even sadder fact would be that consumer is willing to pay the higer price of artisan food but factory made ingredients raised their price to the same level. It is a rat race and chain effect.

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    Replies
    1. Consumers have to be smarter lo.. no hawker can do that in Penang, Ipoh, or JB and thrive.

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    2. i mean factory food hawker

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  7. Tony stop bashing us, we can tell the difference between Vietnamese rubber fishball in Australia and local fishball.

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  8. Nobody likes changes. And the taste is really subjective. When our food scene changed in the name of hygiene, all people say the taste was no longer the same. We really need to stop giving nostalgia so much weight and be objective to support the willing new generation of hawkers, chefs and food providers. And please don't expect 1980 prices, either.

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  9. Why don't you flame NEA(formerly HDB) for the hawker bidding system that jack up rents like makansutra did instead of blaming us?

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I firmly believe that taste is subjective and so, warmly welcome differing viewpoints :-D But, I disapprove negative comments that are anonymous or hide behind fake identities. I feel that that is the same as speaking ill of others behind their backs. I look forward to all your comments :-D Thank you. (Date: 18 Dec 2015)

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