Singapore’s hawker culture now on UNESCO heritage list

Showcasing Chinese, Malay and Indian cuisine, hawker centers serve as a reflection of Singapore as a multicultural city-state.

The Singapore Tourism Board in the Philippines recently announced that the hawker culture in Singapore — which the island nation has been most proud of and has been a major tourist draw for decades — was recently inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity at the 15th session of the Intergovernmental Committee (IGC) that was held online.

The nomination of hawker culture in Singapore fulfilled all five evaluation criteria used by the IGC, with Singapore commended for the active involvement of various communities in the nomination process, and preparing a nomination file that highlights an intangible cultural heritage that is thriving in a highly urbanized and culturally diverse environment.

As described by UNESCO, hawkers prepare a variety of food that is served to patrons at hawker centers. These centers serve as “community dining rooms” where people from diverse backgrounds gather and share the experience of dining over breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Locals and tourists alike have long enjoyed the diverse cuisines and the vibrant ambiance that hawker centers offer. / PHOTOGRAPHS COURTESY OF the singapore tourism board

Activities such as playing chess, busking and art-jamming also take place. Evolved from street food culture, hawker centers have become markers of Singapore as a multicultural city-state, comprising Chinese, Malay, Indian and other cultures.

“We are incredibly honored that Singapore’s hawker culture has been officially recognized by UNESCO and shared with the world today,” said Edwin Tong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, Second Minister for Law, and chair of the Singapore National Commission for UNESCO. “Hawker Culture holds a special place in the hearts of Singaporeans from all walks of life, and is a living heritage that reflects our everyday experience and identity as a multicultural society. The nomination journey has also brought Singaporeans closer together and instilled a greater sense of pride for our Hawker Culture.”

Hawker culture in Singapore was recently inscribed on the UNESCO Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Since the announcement of Singapore’s intention to nominate hawker culture in Singapore for UNESCO’s Representative List of Intangible Cultural Heritage, there have been numerous initiatives by the public and private sectors as well as community groups and individuals to show their support for hawkers and their love for hawker culture. More than 850,000 pledges of support and over 31,000 messages have been registered across various platforms.

Meanwhile, a social movement, #OurHawkerCulture, invited Singaporeans to express support for the nomination by submitting personal stories and photographs of their experiences of hawker culture in Singapore through Facebook and Instagram (@SGHawkerCulture). It has generated over 810,000 “likes” and “comments.”

To further celebrate the hawkers in Singapore, which are deemed at the core of their community culture, the SG HawkerFest is ongoing in Singapore till 11 January 2021.

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