Photo credit: Wikipedia
Bumped into the famous Dr. Watch while having brunch at Havelock Road Hawker Centre in Singapore. He is one of the watch experts Singapore courts tap on when they need a professional assessment on the authenticity of ultra luxury watches. He said that it is very difficult for a layman to discern between a $250,000 watch and a $500 clone.
Chewing on a tenderly springy hand made fish ball, I wondered if the situation is similar between artisanal hawker food and their clones.
In recent years, more and more Singapore luminaries such as Professor Tommy Koh have added their voices to the opinion that Singapore hawker centre food is too cheap and that that is the cause of the decline of Singapore hawker culture.
One school of thought posits that there is a kind of cultural snobbery among Singaporeans who think nothing about paying $25 for a serving of ramen but balk at paying $15 for bak chor mee. Bak chor mee goes from $3 to $8 today depending on serving size and location (of the hawker centre).
Other experts expressed that Singapore hawkers are unfairly shouldering the social burden of keeping cooked food affordable for the masses (which is the raison d'être of hawker centres at its inception in the 1960s).
“The price of a plate of chicken rice or wanton mee is S$4 in Singapore, in Malaysia it is easily 5 ringgit or 6.5 ringgit in Kuala Lumpur” said Wong Chiang Yin, who served on a public consultation panel for Singapore hawker centres.
If you go to a Singapore hawker centre today, you will find two types of food - artisanal hawker food and clone hawker food with mass produced, factory made bulk ingredients. The balance between artisanal hawker food and clone hawker food has been tipping in the clones' favour steadily for years.
Examples of hawker dish ingredients which are often factory produced include all forms of noodles, fish balls, pork balls, chee cheong fun (rice rolls), pre-mixed sauces, pre-mixed spices, factory fried shallots, synthetic flavourings etc.
My observation is that it is the
The prices of food at Singapore hawker centres are benchmarked at the level of clone hawker dishes (the floor price, so to speak). The profit margin is attractive for clone hawker food vendors but less profitable for artisanal hawkers as hand made food is hard to scale i.e. unlike mass produce processed food.
The thing about
Right now, the problem is many people are not willing to pay more for lovingly hand made artisanal food with better ingredients - that is a nice-to-have luxury, the important thing is to fill the stomach within budget.
My concern is the louder and more frequent calls to rise the price of hawker food may lead to raising the price of hawker centre food across the board - clones and artisanal in one fell swoop.
Raising the price of clones (mass produced, factory made, processed food served at hawker centre) deprives many people of affordable
To answer the question, is Singapore hawker food too cheap?
For artisanal hawker food, it is indeed too cheap.
For clone hawker food, it is definitely not cheap.
We need to find a way to pay our artisanal hawkers more to preserve our heritage hawker food (and it is also what they deserve). But no, paying more for clones, mass produced, factory made, processed bulk food sold at hawker centres is not the way.
What others say about price of Singapore hawker food 👉
Cultural snobbery 👈 click
Culinary Prejudice 👈 click
Social burden 👈 click
Mental block 👈 click
Hawker food must be cheap mindset 👈 click
Hawkers underpaid 👈 click
Hawkers underpaid 👈 click
Hawkers and related workers underpaid 👈 click
Social enterprise model 👈 click
Some experts now say modern manufacturing has made it more or less impossible to spot a fake Rolex.