Singapore Wants Its Hawkers to be Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage

Singapore, gastronomy, heritage, UNESCO

Hawker centre Maxwell Road in Singapore (photo: flickr)

Singapore’s hawker culture will be nominated for inscription into UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong last Sunday on August 19.

In his Mandarin speech at the National Day Rally, PM Lee described hawker centres as the nation’s community dining rooms and a unique part of Singapore that “reflects our daily lives”.

If successful, he said the Unesco inscription – which will be Singapore’s second after the Singapore Botanic Gardens was declared a Unesco World Heritage site in 2015 – will help to safeguard and promote hawker culture for future generations, reported local newspapers.

The Prime Minister said that hawker centres are a unique aspect of Singapore’s identity and heritage, calling them “community dining centres” that have become a “cultural institution.” He also called them the “best cure for homesickness” for overseas Singaporeans, declaring in his speech that “Every time we hold ‘Singapore Day’ in other cities, hawker food always attracts a large number of homesick Singaporeans.”

Furthermore, hawker centers underline the nation’s multicultural heritage, said Prime Minister Lee, noting that when the Singapore Botanic Gardens were included as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, it was a moment for national pride.

While Singaporeans all agree about this nomination, their Malaysian neighbours seem rather upset about this potential nomination. Malaysians have expressed anger after Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announcement last Sunday, voicing their surprise on social networks. Most Malaysians believe that the most authentic hawkers’ culture can actually be found in Penang while Singapore is only a pale -mostly sterile- copy of the ones existing in Malaysia…

Malaysian Kevin Chan declared on facebook that “Singapore Hawker culture is far different of Penang Hawker one. Penang Hawker is built from old traditions of pushing the stalls from home to the street instead of building a new structure for the hawkers to sell. You can find Penang hawkers on the street, dirty, dark, rats running around, speaking multiple languages, etc… This is the best hawker experience visitors can get!”

Singapore hawkers will indeed definitely not have any rats surrounding the stalls. That might also be a good reason to see its potential UNESCO nomination.