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Maxwell Food Centre in Singapore (DavidNNP / Shutterstock.com)

CNA’s piece on hawker food fails to see the bigger picture, comments netizens

In a commentary article written by Channel NewAsia's Bharati Jagdish dated 26 December, she said that those of us who can afford it shouldn’t complain when they raise their prices due to rising costs especially when so many of us recognise the skill and the hard work that goes into making a good hawker dish.

She noted that some hawkers have managed to earn handsome incomes for their food and even recipes, however, observers say many continue to toil and their cuisine might be eventually lost to us altogether if no one learns from them and this has been a long-standing problem.

Food blogger, Leslie Tay of ieatishootipost said, "People are unwilling to pay more just because you’re at a hawker centre."

"Nowhere else in the world, in any developed first-world country, can you get a S$3 meal that’s substantive," he said, adding that he believes we have a "culinary prejudice against our food."

"Why are people so happy paying S$15 for a bowl of ramen, and complain when the bowl of bak chor mee goes up by another S$0.50 to S$4.50?" he asked.

Ms Jagdish then said that hawker food is meant to be affordable food for the masses, "but we have to accept that just as Singaporeans deal with the higher costs of living, so do the hawkers."

"Hawkers, just like other business people, have had to deal with higher business costs as well - rents, manpower costs and the costs of raw ingredients among other things," she wrote.

"So why are consumers, even those who can afford it, often unwilling to pay more for hawker fare?" she asked.

Many netizens commented on the CNA article, saying that it is yet another piece of propaganda.

Swee Meng Ling wrote, "Hawker is not getting less. Those who are good either work very few hours, or are making tonnes. We do have hawkers who don't make much, but mostly the cause is not with the price people are paying, it is mainly due to high rent food court, coffeeshop or the stall re-subletter is charging. For the high rent-paying hawker, however much the price, the benefits shall go to the rent-collectors.
In conclusion, this is a fiction, or a fake-piece, and since it is CNA then it is likely a propaganda piece."

Nafiz Hamza wrote, "Nah I do not complain about them. I complain about government who increase the price of the rental. Everyone knows it's not their fault for rising the price but government."

Hap Gu wrote, "Ya, I believe the government has deprive them from making a decent living! Omg, imagine the chain cycle it have when u increase water by 30%. All raw materials prices went up, the utility fee went up, and so many other things from this water increased could have attributed to reduced income. Goodness, Jagdish. Write on that instead."

Marcus Yan wrote, ""Why are people so happy paying S$15 for a bowl of ramen, and complain when the bowl of bak chor mee goes up by another S$0.50 to S$4.50?" .... because McDonald's is charging $5.00 for a full meal. Coupled with having to move your own tray, the government is simply hastening the demise of the hawkers. In the west, McDonald's and other large corporations have since driven smaller players out of business. There are many ways to handle this issue, increasing taxes on large F&B corporations to protect smaller players is one (though that will delay the problem not solve it). But obviously the government will be unwilling to do this. It goes against their philosophy. But it blows my mind that the response to this issue is to blame the consumer. Head shakingly stupid."

Russel Chin Yee wrote, 'MSM is at it again. The relentless, rapid food, and drinks price increases at our hawkers since 2010 has nothing to do with appreciation, lack of manpower, as what MSM have been falsely insinuate for their PAP masters. The hikes are all due to rent increase propagated by free mart NEA stall biddings by large PAP cronies owned S11, defunct Kuofu, Kopitiam, etc."

HK Loh wrote,

"Hawker centre was built to accommodate the street vendors, whose target customers were and would still be the mass lower income workers. For those who could afford more they should go patronise the higher priced cafes and food courts. BTW, would Bharati understand that when the GST increase by 2%, food prices increase by many folds?

Could Bharati and the authority educate how GST impact CPI? Better still, CPI is nothing but a statistical tool to simply measure prices - simply looking at the price tags, but never perform any qualitative analysis.
Although the prices for many hawker foods don't seem to have increased, in actual fact the portions have shrunk and we the consumers have to pay more to have the same filling satisfaction - so wouldn't it be better to use the PPI (Purchasing Power Index)?

Could Bharati and the authority provide more detailed information to prove to me that our living standard with regard to food prices have kept pace with the CPI the last 20 years?

Please use the PPI. It's very deceiving to simply show inflation for hawker food have not risen a lot, but in actual fact we need to fork out a lot more to get the same filling satisfaction according to the PPI concept."

Ho See Lian wrote, "I say this PAP is using law to rob the citizen. Implement it, announce 2 more, rob on the 3rd day. Legal robbery."

Yvonne Jedidiah Tan wrote, "So sad that Ms Jagdish thinks this way. If people are really complaining, I think it is because most suspect that the increase in prices is just enough to offset the increase in rental fees by landlords. People are complaining that landlords are squeezing the common folk. I really haven’t heard of anyone complaining that hawkers are earning too much. In fact we feel bad when we see them moving out when they can’t cope with the rentals."

Kum Weng Lai wrote,

"Singaporeans in many ways are victims of their own stupidity. They would rather pay a higher price to eat at McDonalds, which serves the lowest quality of food possible, just above dog food grade, while at their doorsteps, they have one of the great street/hawker food traditions in the world. I do not give my Business to these western fast food chains, and I don't understand why a Singaporean will do so. I can understand eating there occasionally, but many people make it their second kitchen.

There is no doubt that the demise of the golden age of hawker food from the 70s and 80s can be traced to the greed of NEA/HDB in raising stall rental prices but also in the penetration of the singapore market by fast food chains like MacDonalds, KFC, etc. For the exorbitant amount of rent that NEA charges the hawkers, they could provide amenities that make dining at a hawker centre more attractive. eg. free wifi, more comfortable seats, better cooling or aircon, etc.

The lay out of the new hawker centres nowadays is atrocious and is not conducive to the dinning patron looking for food stalls. You have to meander through a complex floor plan to even figure out all the stalls in the hawker centre. NEA could not put maps around the hawker centres showing the locations and names of stalls? Maybe colour coded to show halal stalls, and different ethnic stalls? Really, why don't they do that?

Hawkers can also help their causes but for whatever reason have not done so. I have not heard of any hawker centres, whose hawkers have banded together to buy in bulk. I mean if 50 hawkers got together in the same centre and ordered pork together, or chicken or even the bowls and plates etc., I am sure they could achieve sizeable savings. They need to have some logistics and management science into their supply chain to make more money. Otherwise, NEA will always squeeze them for more money."

Allan teh wrote, "Rental is the highest cost to a hawker, so if anyone want to say "our hawkers deserve more " tell it to the govt. The moment anyone need to tell this to the poorest mass of her society, this is a sign of the need to change the fundamental wrong economic engineering."

Peter Lim wrote, "Please pay a visit to the Bedok Interchange hawker centre. Just a few meters from the centre is an aircon foodcourt selling so-called gourmet similar hawker food at prices much higher than those in the hawker centre. This is a good example of consumer choice made available to all. If one thinks that he can afford to pay more with better ambience, by all means go to the aircon food court. Do not force everyone to pay more. In another words, let the market decide."

Lawrence Ho wrote, "So those who cannot? And many outlets have already hiked their prices by ten PC or cut back on quantity and quality. So what talking this employed reporter?!"

Jimmy Beanie wrote, "Everything rise rise rise, as if everyone's salary also rise rise rise. So who should the lower income group complain to when inflation rises? Will Bharati Jagdish be footing the bill then?"

Kelvin Ang wrote, "I see chicken rice, fishball noodles and many other stall owners setting up stalls across hawkers centre and coffeeshops like franchise. More and more PRC owners too. Are they really unable to make a decent living? Bharat Jagdish must be an idiot."

Derek Siouw wrote, "Do anyone go and check on their Hawker earning? Most of the Hawker are well earning and they even can afford to buy a landed properties and drive Big luxury car? Where does these earning came from? Or they might have under declared Tax to IRAS."

Andy Wong wrote, "We Singaporeans need to upkeep a decent living too. If PAP did not mercilessly impose all those price hikes and upcoming tax increase, both Singaporeans and hawker need not fret about the price rise."

Yong Ching Goh wrote, "I do know that if a hawker sells quality food that taste good, most people is willing to pay more and even with Long queue. But if you are just another average hawker, then yes you will lose customers if you raise price to match the better ones."

Gip Ernest wrote, "The problem is government raise rental for these hawker that why they have to raise price. The only one that benefits are the government and the landlords."

Jason Loh wrote, "The problem is the rental. Why is there a need to raise rental so crazily when the land is owned by the government? Why can’t the government keep the rent low, so that food can remain cheap for all of us, and the hawkers can earn more from their sales? It’s the rental that takes away their profits, more than anything else."

Yan Van Gerek wrote, "How about lowering the rent and all those craps for our hawkers that really will help them even more than raising up prices and having less customer."