Makansutra founder and celebrity food critic KF Seetoh took to Facebook on Monday (16 November) to ask if government agencies such as the Housing Development Board (HDB) or the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) would celebrate the over 20,000 “private” hawkers around Singapore that do not come under the National Environment Agency (NEA).
In his post, Mr Seetoh recalled being part of a National Heritage Board focus group last year with other foodies—including chef Violet Oon and restaurateurs Aziza Ali and Koh Seng Choon—to discuss the next thing to be nominated for the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, following Singapore’s Botanic Gardens being made a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Mr Seetoh said: “I raised my fat finger and uttered “Hawker Culture” (not food, but culture) and the group had a lively discussion on the merits,” adding that the idea “checked out swimmingly” against the UNESCO Heritage Award criteria.
“So in August that year, PM Lee suggested a nomination to UNESCO for our Hawker Culture,” he added.
Mr Seetoh then said that he was told in early 2019 that would take about 1.5 years before UNESCO will meet to decide on the nominations.
Noting that he can sense Singapore being on the cusp of receiving the award, he says he has heard the “buzz” on agencies like the NEA purportedly working on organising a celebration event for the impeding award, adding playfully, “How can we not get it la?”
The prominent foodie then went on to say that the NEA is “rightfully proud” to be supporting and creating a shout-out campaign for some 6,000 hawkers in public hawker centres.
“Bravo. And I fully support their actions. I also hope they can champion the wet market hawkers who are also hawkers and are clients of NEA too,” he said.
“A lot of us still love to buy at and chat with these wet market vendors who are a big part of our and our parent’s upbringing. They can teach us all more than a thing or two about ingredients and how to use them,” said Mr Seetoh.
He urged the NEA to highlight these particular hawkers as well “before they slowly and surely fade off due to lack of interest in the field.”
Beyond that, Mr Seetoh also mentioned the thousands of other hawkers in kopitiams, canteens, food halls, food shops, and kiosks all over the city who do not come under the purview of the NEA.
“I ask if the other agencies like HDB or URA would be as proud of these “private” hawkers and place them on a pedestal with a campaign of their own.”
“After all, these humble and ordinary folks made our living spaces so much more lively and meaningfully delicious,” he elaborated, adding, “They form the biggest chunk of our Hawker Culture that our PM is proud to recognise.”
Mr Seetoh expressed his hope that in the course of Singapore receiving the UNESCO Heritage Award for “hawker culture”—if it does—that these “private” hawkers are not marginalised.
“Among them are top world award winners that have travelled and participated at worldwide at events like SG Day and World Street Food Congress, touting the SG food brand and making us all proud.”
He wrapped up the post by wondering if maybe he missed a “big campaign in its advanced stages” to these particular group of hawkers coming up, and asking if the various Hawkers’ Associations have an interest in this at all.
Correction: This article referred to KF Seetoh as a celebrity “chef” — it has been amended to celebrity “food critic”. We apologise for the error.