NDR 2018: Singapore to nominate hawker culture for UNESCO listing

Vernon Lee
Senior Editor
A vendor serves at a stall in the Old Airport Road Food Centre in Singapore on September 17, 2016. (Getty Images file photo)

Singapore will nominate hawker culture for its second UNESCO inscription, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced on Sunday (19 August).

Speaking during the Mandarin portion of the National Day Rally 2018, Lee said hawker culture is “Uniquely Singapore” and reflects the daily lives of Singaporeans. The move to have hawker culture inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity has widespread support from Singaporeans based on various consultations, he added.

“Hawker centres are important not just to keep the cost of living low. They are a cultural institution, a unique part of Singapore’s heritage and identity,” Lee told the audience gathering at the Institute of Technical Education Central in Ang Mo Kio.

Calling hawker centres Singapore’s “community dining rooms”, Lee said that Singaporeans of all races, religious faiths and income groups are able to eat together in hawker centres and enjoy nasi lemak, char kway teow and roti prata, soto ayam, yong tau foo and thosai.

When Singaporeans travel overseas, they crave for local hawker food, said Lee, adding that it is the biggest draw at Singapore Days overseas. He quipped, “Hawker food is the best cure for homesickness!”

“The UNESCO inscription will help to safeguard and promote this unique culture for future generations It will also let the rest of the world know about our local food and multicultural heritage,” he added.

Singapore aims to submit the nomination documents to UNESCO in March 2019. The results are expected to be announced in end 2020.

Among the cultural heritages that have been inscribed on the UNESCO list are the Mbende Jerusarema dance from Zimbabwe, Nôgaku theatre from Japan, traditional Korean kimchi-making and Indonesian batik.

The announcement by Lee comes after Singapore Botanic Gardens was chosen as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2015, the country’s first ever UNESCO inscription.

Next month, a nomination committee led by The Federation Of Merchants’ Associations, Singapore, the National Heritage Board and the National Environment Agency (NEA) will be formed to direct the efforts to nominate Singapore’s hawker culture to UNESCO.

Ronnie Tay, CEO of NEA, said at a media briefing on Wednesday (15 August), “Recognising the key role that hawker centres play in the daily lives of Singaporeans, NEA will continue to sustain the hawker trade and ensure that our hawker centres remain a popular and well-loved dining location amongst all Singaporeans.”

Loh Teck Seng, a hawker selling soy bean milk in Tiong Bahru market, said in Mandarin at the briefing that the nomination was a “good thing” as hawkers will “feel proud”. “More tourists will come and business will improve,” he added. – additional reporting by Wan Ting Koh

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