Photo credit: YOUTHOPIA/JAI

Singapore’s hawker culture added onto UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list

It is Singapore’s first entry onto the list, which has over 460 items including French cuisine and Thai massage.

Nigel Chin

Started writing for the passion. Now writing because it’s the only thing I can do.

Published: 17 December 2020, 10:18 AM

Love the hawker food and hawker centres in Singapore? Well as it turns out, the world loves it too. 

Singapore’s hawker culture is now on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list, alongside the likes of French cuisine, Thai massage and yoga. 

It is also Singapore’s first entry onto the list. The listing was confirmed at the 15th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage held in Paris this week.

This comes two years after Singapore announced its intention to nominate the hawker culture here for the UNESCO list at the 2018 National Day Rally. Documents for the nomination were submitted to UNESCO in March 2019. 

Singapore’s hawker culture was one of the dozens added onto the list this year. There are over 460 items in the list. 

The list recognises the diverse cultural practices and expressions of humanity, and seeks to raise awareness of their importance.

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong celebrated the listing with a Facebook post. He wrote on Wednesday (Dec 16): “So grateful to UNESCO for the honour of having Hawker Culture in Singapore inscribed on UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity! 

“We are proud and humbled to be chosen and it means a lot to us.”

[Our Hawker Culture!] So grateful to UNESCO for the honour of having Hawker Culture in Singapore inscribed on UNESCO’s...

Posted by Edwin Tong on Wednesday, 16 December 2020

The minister added that Singapore’s hawker culture “is as diverse as our people in Singapore”. 

“It is also a powerful representation of how we are, as a country.  Different stalls, from a multitude of races and cultures, serving a myriad of different people from all walks of life, all seated side by side, shoulder to shoulder.  Much like we are, in life, in Singapore.  As One People,” he wrote. 

He also said that the list is a “well-deserved” recognition at the highest level of the hawker’s craft. 

Minister of State in the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth Alvin Tan also chimed in with a post on Facebook, highlighting how the circuit breaker truly showed what Singapore’s hawker culture is about. 

Our Hawker Culture has been successfully inscribed on UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage...

Posted by Alvin Tan 陈圣辉 on Wednesday, 16 December 2020

He wrote: “In a challenging year, it was heartwarming how some have gone the extra mile to help hawkers during the circuit breaker period, like photographer Jeryl Tan, who volunteered free photography services to help affected hawkers level up their social media game; or hawkers-turned-restaurateurs Jason Chua and Hung Zhen Long of Beng Who Cooks, who provided free meals to anyone unable to afford them for the duration of the circuit breaker – no questions asked. 

“This is what hawker culture truly represents. More than just food, it’s this community spirit or gotong royong that reflects what Singapore is about. We may complain or grumble at times, but when it matters, we’ve got each other’s backs.”

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