The pandemic has exposed vulnerabilities in Singapore’s famed food hawker culture, where the average age of an operator is 60. Young Singaporeans are turning to social media to save it.

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The island of Singapore is dotted with open-air spaces where hawkers serve flavorful local dishes in a no-frills manner. These hawker centers, as they’re called, have become a strong cultural emblem in Singapore, and several hawker stalls have earned Michelin stars.

Newton Hawker Center was featured in a much-talked-about dinner scene in Crazy Rich Asians, catapulting local hawker fare to Hollywood fame. Singapore submitted a bid for hawker culture to be recognized on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list this year; the nomination will be discussed by the Committee in December.

Yet on the ground, the reality is a bit less bright for hawker culture. Even before the pandemic, hawkers were facing trouble appealing to younger consumers who want to eat more international, hybrid, or gourmet food at air-conditioned restaurants. Now, social distancing measures limiting the number of diners who can eat in have brought added challenges to a vulnerable industry where the average age of an operator is 60.

Social media is helping keep the hawker scene alive throughout the pandemic

With more people staying home, young Singaporeans have turned to social media and online platforms to bring their neighborhood hawker stalls to dining tables across the country.

Melvin Chew, 42, is a second-generation hawker who runs Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck and Kway Chap Stall at Chinatown Food Complex with his mother, Lim Bee Hong. When the government announced circuit breaker measures limiting in-person dining on April 3, Chew took to Facebook that night to establish the group Hawkers United. 

Chew told Business Insider his vision was to create “a platform where hawkers can announce to the consumers that they are still operating, what type of delivery they have.”

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“[The] objective is to help hawkers to survive. Consumers can find food and drivers can earn some income,” he added.

A full 70,000 members joined the group in the first 24 hours. The group currently has 274,400 members with active postings every day and is moderated by a group of seven volunteers. Each post contains photos of the food along with prices, the location of the stall, ordering instructions, payment and delivery options.

Scrolling the feed, which feels like a virtual hawker centre with islandwide offerings, one can find all sorts of local delicacies: Roe crab bee hoon from Toa Payoh starting at 20 Singapore dollars (US $14.72), Mian Jian Kueh (a type of Singaporean pancake) from Bendemeer Market for 1 Singapore dollar (0.74 cents), Hokkien Prawn Mee from Beach Rd for 3 Singapore dollars (US $2.21), Fuzhou oyster cakes from Maxwell Food Centre for 13 Singapore dollars (US $9.57).

One of the volunteer administrators for the Facebook group is Jill Sara, 43. Sara shared with Business Insider that “the general consensus is if you post on Hawkers United you will see a spike in sales” but admitted it continues to be “very tough” for elderly hawkers to use the Facebook group.

“Sometimes they don’t even have a touchscreen phone so they’re not on Facebook, they don’t have a social …read more

Source:: Business Insider


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