Singapore plans to get hawker culture officially recognized in UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list

Maxwell Food Centre. Photo: David Berkowitz/Flickr
Maxwell Food Centre. Photo: David Berkowitz/Flickr

Aside from complaining about the weather and/or the government, another Singaporean hobby involves talking up the local food culture (the late Anthony Bourdain could have testified to that). Yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong elevated the love for homegrown cuisine to the echelons of the world stage by announcing that our beloved hawker culture will be nominated to be included in the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

During his Mandarin speech in the National Day Rally last night, PM Lee brought up how hawker centers are a “cultural institution” and how the “community dining rooms” are a unique part of the nation’s heritage and identity.

“Every time we hold ‘Singapore Day’ in other cities, hawker food always attracts a large number of homesick Singaporeans,” he mentioned, highlighting how it’s the “best cure for homesickness”.

Describing how the inclusion of the Singapore Botanic Gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage site was a proud moment for the nation, the prime minister stated that the UNESCO inscription for hawker culture will help to safeguard and promote the unique facet of Singaporean life for future generations.

“It will also let the rest of the world know about our local food and multicultural heritage,” he said.

Should the nomination turn out to be a success, Singapore’s hawker culture will be joining the ranks of other intangible heritage elements of the world, including Indonesia’s Batik, Japan’s Kabuki Theatre, Spain’s Flamenco, and more. Singapore has yet to be represented in the list.

“It is not just about the food,” wrote Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu in a Facebook post echoing PM Lee’s sentiments.

“It is also about our hawker centers, being social and community spaces for people from all walks of life. It is also about our hawker food heritage, and the people behind the food — our hawkers.”

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