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How Singapore Street Food became a UNESCO Heritage to preserve - Part 2

Here is how Singapore made it into the UNESCO List

Singapore, formerly Singapura in 1819, was populated by Malays starting from 1,000. In 1830s, many Chinese men migrated to Singapore to trade and work in plantations and docks. This is joined by Indians who moved over to do construction or serve in the military. As a result, the island's population became multi-fold. These workers needed a fast, filling meal to fill their stomachs before proceeding to their laborious work and this sprouted an array of hawkers selling comfort food adapted from their home countries. These itinerant hawkers carried poles balanced on their shoulders from one place to another, selling skewered meats, noodles, curry etc.

“The satay man, usually Malay, would bring his skewers and peanut sauce to Chinese communities, just as the Chinese noodle man would appear in Indian-dominant enclaves,” says Lily Kong, author of Singapore Hawker Centres: People, Places, Food.

This myriad of food selection leads to the birth of different cultures and traditional food spawning across Singapore's Cuisine.

By the early 20th century, the sudden rush of hawkers was causing street congestion in the commercial areas near Raffles Place and the Chinese areas along Singapore River. Pedestrian corridors in the shophouses around the Rochor-Kallang River had become packed with businesses and customers. “In the past, hawkers roamed the unpaved streets. Later, they tended to congregate, often in the open, by roadsides, with moveable carts and wares,” Kong says.

Unfortunately, the over congestion made it hard to upkeep proper hygiene standards. Discarded leftovers attract pests and insects. A lack of clean water led to unsanitary conditions. To organize the hawkers, the municipal government set up six temporary covered markets between 1922 and 1935.

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Preserving Hawker culture in Singapore

Even for Legendary or Contemporary Hawkers, the challenge to preserve its brand remains. The cost of labour has raised as younger and educated generations are unwilling to work in a job with long hours and requires physical endurance. Ageing hawkers, on the other hand, are retiring with no successor in line for their business. Historians and foodies hope that the UNESCO recognition will help raise the status of hawkers and inspire new cooks to join the fray. “We need to honor our hawkers,” says Tay. “We need to put them on a pedestal and make them our local cultural heroes.”

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