Singapore wants to conserve its long-established hawker food culture with an attempt to get it recognized in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Malaysians and Malaysian celebrity chefs seem to have a problem with that because they think that Singapore’s trying to claim hawker food and hawker centers as a uniquely Singaporean thing.
Thing is, that’s not what Singapore’s doing. The effort to get it nominated into the list is to help safeguard and promote the unique facet of Singaporean life for future generations. Also, it’s more than just the food itself (which we have to agree that Malaysians have us beat).
“It is also about our hawker centers, being social and community spaces for people from all walks of life,” said Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu. “It is also about our hawker food heritage, and the people behind the food — our hawkers.”
Yesterday, the National Heritage Board (NHB) chimed in the discussion, putting out a video that delivers some low-key shade seemingly directed to outraged Malaysians who believe that Singapore is trying to claim hawker food as their own.
“Although similar hawker food and food centres can be found in neighboring countries, how they operate and what they mean to each nation differ greatly,” NHB wrote in a (sponsored) Facebook post.
“Hence, this nomination focuses on Hawker Culture in the Singapore context, and is not meant to ascertain similarities or differences between countries”.
That’s a nice sentiment and all, but as Makansutra founder KF Seetoh pointed out, it’s hard for hawkers to sustain themselves in Singapore if the people that manage hawker centers keep making bad decisions that’ll run vendors out of the industry.