Singapore has announced plans to seek UNESCO world heritage status for its street hawkers -- a dining tradition the country's prime minister called "a cultural institution." During a speech at the National Day Rally over the weekend, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong described Singapore's street hawker culture as unique to the country's heritage and identity and said inscription on UNESCO's List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity would help safeguard and promote the tradition for future generations.
In the last few years, Singapore has seen the opening of seven new street hawker centers, and another 13 are set to open throughout the city-state. About 6,000 licensed street hawkers cook in 110 hawker centers. The flurry of openings reflects the modern household in Singapore, he added: Dual-income families who have no time to cook. Food stalls offer busy Singaporeans an affordable -- meals average about USD $3 or less -- convenient and authentic dining alternative.
"Hawker centres are our community dining rooms. Singaporeans of all races -- Chinese, Malay, Indian and Eurasian -- and of all dietary faiths and income groups, are able to eat together in hawker centres and enjoy our nasi lemak, char kway teow and roti prata," he said in his speech.
It's a tradition that even the venerable Michelin guide recognized as inextricable from the country's dining landscape. In the inaugural guide for Singapore, inspectors bestowed a star to two street food hawkers: Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle and Liao Fan Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice, a first in the guide's history.
Chef Chan Hon Meng of the latter restaurant soon grabbed headlines for serving the world's cheapest Michelin-starred meal -- about USD $2 a plate -- and soon partnered with a multinational culinary company to open a chain of his restaurants, Hawker Chan. The chef now has restaurants in the Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand and Australia.
Singapore earned its first UNESCO inscription three years ago, when the Singapore Botanic Gardens were deemed a World Heritage Site.