By Tessa Oh
December 16, 2020
SINGAPORE — After a journey of more than two years, Singapore’s hawker culture has made it onto a prestigious list of international treasures, alongside Indonesia’s angklung musical tradition and South Korea’s kimjang, the making and sharing of kimchi.
The decision to inscribe hawker culture in Singapore onto the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list under the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) was announced by the international body's intergovernmental committee on Wednesday (Dec 16).
This comes five years after Singapore’s successful bid to have the Botanic Gardens listed as a Unesco World Heritage Site.
The nation's hawker culture joins the more than 463 items already inscribed on the list of intangible culture heritage. This is Singapore's first attempt at making this Unesco list.
Unesco recognises intangible cultural heritage as “living heritage” where traditions and practices are passed from one generation to the next.
Last month, in recommending its inclusion, a 12-member evaluation body noted that hawker culture is integral to Singapore’s way of life and provides a sense of identity and continuity for people across the generations.
It announced its recommendation after deeming that Singapore’s Unesco submission had fulfilled all the criteria required.
Singapore’s bid to make it onto the coveted list began in March 2019, when it made its submission to Unesco.
The organisations involved in the submission — the National Environment Agency, National Heritage Board, and The Federation of Merchants' Associations — highlighted several aspects of hawker culture.
These included hawker centres as community dining spaces, the culinary skills of hawkers, hawker centres as a reflection of Singapore’s multicultural society, and a “thriving culture” in a highly urban environment.
In a recent interview with TODAY, Mr Victor Yue, honorary treasurer of Singapore Heritage Society, said that the Unesco spot will give stakeholders greater impetus to improve the infrastructure and cleanliness of hawker centres.
Indeed, in 2011, Dr Vivian Balakrishnan who was then Minister for Environment and Water Resources announced that 10 new hawker centres were to be built over the next decade, mostly in new housing estates such as Pasir Ris and Punggol.
Food blogger Leslie Tay said that making the Unesco list will also improve the profile of hawkers here, with the Government putting in more resources to upgrade hawker centres and attract more patrons.
One hawker, soya bean stall owner Low Teck Seng, said that the recognition by the international body will also draw tourists to hawker centres once the tourism industry recovers from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Darren Teo, co-owner of fish soup stall Seafood Pirates at Yishun Park Hawker Centre, told TODAY that with Unesco requiring state parties to update the committee on measures they have taken to maintain their intangible heritage every six years, there will be more impetus for the Government to attract new blood to the trade and keep it going.