Singapore's famous street food markets face an uncertain future

Since the 1950s, Singapore has had a vibrant street food scene that draws on the many cultures of its varied inhabitants. While early on the city had vendors dotted on the street corners, they eventually consolidated into over 100 hawker centers, where stalls offer enticing foods ranging from Cantonese barbecued pork to Javanese tempeh to kopi tarik (sweet and rich pulled coffee). However, as Atlas Obscura reports, this food paradise might be on the brink of extinction.

curry laksa

Street food was born of necessity in the rebuilding years following, World War II, providing jobs in a city where employment was scarce. By the end of the 1960s, there were over 24,000 hawkers in a city of just under two million people. The food was inexpensive, plentiful, and delicious. It was a true melting pot of flavors and textures, drawing the foods of its Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian residents. 

This incredible food scene is facing some major obstacles, however, One is the rise of air-conditioned mall food courts, where the offerings are not as rich and varied but you can enjoy them in comfort. The bigger problem, however, is that experienced hawkers are retiring without training the succeeding generation. People aren't picking up the trade, and several items are already in danger of dying out. As the EYB Member who alerted us to this story noted, the situation seems to present a tremendous opportunity for a cookbook. 

Photo of Curry laksa (Malacca nyonya laksa) from Serious Eats

5 Comments

  • sir_ken_g  on  1/20/2019 at 8:56 PM

    We ate in an number of Singapore's hawker markets a few years ago. Luckily we were accompanied by local friends because there was an overwhelming number of choices. It would be a shame if they were lost.

  • love2laf  on  1/21/2019 at 7:38 AM

    "might be on the brink of extinction" link is broken. Would love to read the original article, thanks for the news :)

  • sir_ken_g  on  1/21/2019 at 9:44 AM

    The original https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/singapore-hawker-centres

  • Jane  on  1/21/2019 at 10:32 AM

    love2laf - sorry about that. The link is now fixed.

  • annmartina  on  1/21/2019 at 1:06 PM

    It's one of the things that draws people to Singapore. They would be very short-sighted to let it die out.

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