Deemed as a culinary haven by locals and tourists alike, hawker centres house food ranging from traditional dishes to old-school treats with a twist.
Singapore, known to be a country of modern marvels, is also home of the so-called national treasure, hawker centres. Be it 1915 or to new and improved food shelters, this melting pot of culture and food is the food embodiment of what Singapore is – a racially harmonious country.
Back in the day, hawkers were considered as food shelters for locals to rest at and dine in. It is a place full of humble beginnings and every hawker has a history of its own.
The Birth of Hawker Centres
As for the question– where did hawker centres originate from, well, each hawker has their own beginning, no matter where they are located at. Be it in Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore or anywhere at all, all hawker centres serve the the same purpose- to be a safe and sanitary shelter for all street push-cart vendors.
Instead of having mobile hawker carts parked in every corner of the streets, hawker centres gave these push carts a permanent location, providing a more sanitary location for both the vendors and customers to dine in.
However, hawker centres weren’t always as popular as they are today. Licensing and registration for the hawker push-carts was massively implemented back in 1968, but was continuously ignored by the vendors till 1973. After taking a tougher stance, the government was able to place majority of the push cart hawkers into uniformed pavilions by 1986.
Hawker centres from around the world have their own stories to tell and that includes Singapore. The self-proclaimed national treasure of the Lion City is a local staple and would be forever more despite the various global ambitions we try to achieve.
Reminiscing one of the oldest hawker centres in Singapore
People’s Park Food Centre is considered as one of Singapore’s first ever hawker centres, having been built in 1923. Its opening was a hit amongst the locals and was soon turned into a 24/7 market in 1930 due to its fast growing popularity. Before people knew it, People’s Park Food Centre had over 300 food stalls! Their long running night market gave them the legacy of being Singapore’s first and oldest pasar malam (night market).
Hawker stalls with origins as old as Singapore
Some Hawker’s may have been closed down or renovated throughout the years, but some food stalls still remain the same as they were before.
HarriAnn’s Delight @ Tiong Bahru Market
Try out HarriAnn’s Delight located at Tiong Bahru Market! Coming from humble beginnings, HarriAnn’s Delight started out as a pushcart in the 40’s and was soon transferred to Seng Poh Road Market, now also known as the Tiong Bahru Market. First set up by Madam Chia Nga Eng, it has now been passed down from one generation to another. Recipes were handed down to each generation with complete care, so that the original Kueh flavour stays the same.
Lao Wang Chicken Rice @ Chinatown Complex
Let us not forget the national dish of Singapore—Chicken Rice. There are countless chicken rice stalls around the country but Lao Wang Chicken Rice at Chinatown Complex is one of the best! The tender chicken served with fragrant rice topped with some out-of-this-world chili sauce is a dish that cannot be missed!
Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh @ Tanjong Pagar Complex
Founded in 1973 by Madam Gwee Peck Hua, Ya Hua Bak Kut Teh is more than 40 years old. Despite its humble beginnings in Outram Park Estate, one of the first HDBs in Singapore, the store evolved to become a behemoth franchise chain that serves up dozens of Bak Kut Teh bowls per day. Madam Gwee and her sister Guek Hua work tirelessly to perfecting their recipe for the finest bowl of Teochew Bak Kut Teh with broth that is robust in flavour with a slight hint of pepper to give it a kick.
Housing stalls that serve dishes such as Bak Kuh Teh, Nasi Lemak, Briyani and so much more, these iconic food stalls and centres have become a household name for many for generations and has done the same for some tourists as well.
Hawker centres are almost a daily must-go for locals and a perfect place for tourists to get the ‘Singapore taste’. The sociocultural identity of these food centres have imprinted themselves into the lives of the locals and the places they are situated in, making it one of the best places to have a food history lesson in.