Street Hawker Food in Singapore
Street hawkers were a common sight in colonial Singapore. Cooking at home was rare so there was a big, and steady, market for quick, low cost meals sold at the roadside. And the hawkers were an entrepreneurial bunch. They made their daily rounds at regular times, carrying food in wheelbarrows, carts, pots or baskets balanced on a bamboo pole and alerting potential customers to their presence with a clatter of bamboo sticks. The food was served in wrappers made from recycled paper, fresh banana or dried palm leaves.
By providing cheap, nutritious food to the masses, these travelling hawkers met a vital need, but the colonial government regarded them as public nuisances who threatened public order and health. It's true that some of their food hygiene practices left a little to be desired (hawkers didn’t have access to portable water, for example, and disposed of their waste in the streets), so attempts were made to clamp down, but it was only after Independence in 1965 that hawkers began to be successfully regulated. By 1986, all 18,000 street hawkers had been relocated into 135 open air complexes.
Hawker centres can still be found right across the city and much of the food on sale has evolved from dishes created by the itinerant vendors who preceded them. Pig’s blood pudding may have all but disappeared, but ‘Popiah’, a savoury spring roll filled with braised turnip and vegetables, is still widely available. Street food is a delicious part of daily life in Singapore and if you want to get a real taste of this city’s rich, multi-cultural heritage then a meal or two at a Hawker centre is the way to do it.
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