Singapore Rallying Support for UNESCO Recognition of Hawker Culture

Geylang Serai Market in Singapore

Singapore is campaigning to nominate its hawker culture for UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage status, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced this week. The nation is famous for its hawker centers, which are indoor markets packed with traditional street-food stalls, where hawkers prepare and serve inexpensive, traditional dishes. The centers have come to be representative of Singaporean culture as a whole, with their multiethnic mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian specialties, among others, served and enjoyed in a communal space.
Singaporean officials decided to nominate hawker culture as the nation's entry on the UNESCO Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage after conducting a public poll. "Food heritage" was chosen as the most important aspect of Singapore's cultural heritage by thousands of respondents. To obtain that status for UNESCO's 2020 list, Singapore will need to submit the official nomination by March 2019. Acquiring public support for the initiative is a primary requirement; in part, the government is doing so via the SG Heritage website, through which people can publicly back the measure.
In part, officials are rallying for this recognition to preserve an element of local culture that doesn't convey high status -- and could, as a result, be in danger of dying out. "Our hawkers, comprising individuals of all races, gender and age, and their repertoire of skills, are central to our hawker centers," the site states. "Well regarded for their mastery of the hawker culinary traditions, it is important that our hawkers' knowledge, culinary skills and values are passed on through the generations." 

The SG Heritage Plan, backed by the National Heritage Board and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, was founded to counterbalance Singapore's economic success and meteoric growth in the global marketplace. "Singaporeans are faced with rapid shifts in our social and economic environment," a message on the site states. "Confronted with such changes, it is vital that we know our history as a nation, and take pride in what we have achieved together as a people, so that we can stand ready to respond to future challenges and opportunities."

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