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"Hawker Centres — A way of Life"

Post on: March 10, 2020

We all swear by the hawker centres. The humble eating place binds all races — the Chinese, Malays, Indian and Eurasians together.

It’s no secret that one of our favourite pastimes is satisfying our gastronomical cravings. We need not sweat the small stuff and go searching for it to satiate our desires. The ubiquitous hawker centre is always a stone’s throw away.

The reasons why it’s part of our lifestyle:

The food is cheap and tasty — I once patronised an Indonesian restaurant in a posh shopping centre. The food was yummy and ambience was excellent accompanied by the attentive waiters. A fortnight later, I chanced upon the same dish at a hawker centre near my office. Out of curiosity, I ordered the dish. To my astonishment, it was a notch better than the fine dining I savoured at the restaurant. If you do not mind the hassle of self-service and sharing the ‘not so presentable’ table with a stranger, the hawker centre would be an ideal choice.

A family legacy – Many hawkers passed on their secret recipe to their children. It is not unusual to find the second generation or even third-generation offspring carrying on their family legacy – guarding the secret formula with great pride and prudence.

Run with minimum manpower — In times of a dearth of manpower in the food and beverage industry, the hawker centre comes out unscathed. We have oftentimes heard restaurants and café winding up because of exorbitant operating cost and sometimes the unenviable task of dealing with belligerent staff. However, the hawker centre does not face such a conundrum. A husband and wife team suffices to run it efficiently and with personalised service.

It has become chic — The days of hawkers being associated unfavourably is over. Millennials have changed the script! In recent times, the social media has been swamped by a story of a young couple – an Indian guy and his girlfriend running a “Bak Chor noddle” stall. The video has gone viral, translating into a steady stream of patronages. The guy is young and handsome and it was a novelty seeing an Indian whip up a Chinese cuisine. The couple met while pursuing their university degree and went on to pursue their career in the swanky marketplace. They subsequently swapped their professional suit for a hawker’s apron. The erroneously deemed notion that the social misfits would end up as hawkers is thrown out of the window – thanks to the internet and a more inclusive society.

Ownership of the stall – Chances are the person who manages a hawker stall is the owner of it. Although a modest setting with no-frills set-up compared to its classy restaurant cousin, in most likelihood, the hawker owns the stall. There is nothing so satisfying than owning the venture you are employed into.

Hawker centres give a unique flavour to the locality — Singapore is known to be squeaky clean with state of art buildings and infrastructure. But when world renowned-celebrities and dignitaries visit the country, taking a tour around exciting Little India or Chinatown is a sure must in their itinerary. And relishing a meal of local cuisine at the ever-present hawker centre completes the tour.

The hawker centre and its vibrant culture echo Singapore’s multicultural society – giving a sense of belonging to all races. I have witnessed and been privy to the camaraderie been forged over the innocuous cup of Kopi-O filled with its kaleidoscopic sound, smell and colour.

The crowd was deafening as I quickly finished my lunch and walked briskly out of the hawker centre, mindful that I’d be back for my afternoon masala tea and samosa. You can’t run away from it – the hawker centre is intrinsically interwoven into our lives.

By Shaji Thomas Varughese

#HawkerCentreAWayOfLife #JollyGoodTimes #ShajiThomasVarughese
Photo: George — JollyGoodTimes

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