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Food Culture

Food has always been an integral part of Singapore’s culture and heritage. Our ancestors brought with them diverse tastes in food when they settled in Singapore and many of these are still enjoyed by Singaporeans today. The Singapore Food Festival was launched in 1994 to celebrate local food culture and share it with the world. In December 2020, the importance of Singapore’s food heritage was underscored by the inscription of our hawker culture onto UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

In conjunction with this year’s Singapore Heritage Festival, we take a look at the various kaleidoscopic facets that have contributed to our country’s rich food heritage: from traditional tiffin carriers (tingkat) and the sounds of itinerant hawkers, to famous dining venues of the past and the introduction of fast food to the local culinary scene.

Audiovisual Recordings

1. English For You: Eating At Hawkers' Stalls (ETV)
Date: 1976
Acc No. 2010010679
Ministry of Education, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

Opened in 1966, Glutton’s Square was one of Singapore’s most famous street dining venues in the 1960s and 70s. A carpark by day, it transformed into a hawker food paradise at night. This video introduces the wide range of local delicacies that was sold there, from mee goreng and murtabak, to oyster omelette and rojak.

2. Food - The Singapore Flavour
Date: 1987
Acc No. 1997004662
Mediacorp Pte Ltd, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

The Satay Club was another famous open-air dining venue. It was located at the Esplanade from the 1970s to the 1990s. While most stalls sold satay, patrons could also enjoy other dishes such as chilli crab. This video captures the sights and sounds of the food centre in the 1980s.

3. News 5 Tonight (01/07/1994)
Date: 1994
Acc No. 1994000364
Mediacorp Pte Ltd, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

The inaugural Singapore Food Festival (SFF) was launched by the Minister for Trade and Industry, Mr Yeo Cheow Tong, on 1 July 1994. Organised by the Singapore Tourist Promotion Board, Singapore Airlines and American Express International, the month-long event saw participating outlets from posh five-star restaurants to hawker centres whipping up a smorgasbord of local multi-ethnic fare to international culinary delights for Singaporeans and tourists alike to enjoy.
Other fun activities included cooking demonstrations, heritage tours and carnivals. There were also culinary competitions to establish records such as the longest spring roll, the longest satay and the fastest ketupat maker. Now into its 27th year, the 2020 SFF went virtual for the first time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of restaurant hopping across different venues, foodies were able to enjoy virtual tours, live masterclasses and exclusive food bundles from the comfort of their own home.


Malay Kueh Kampong

Malay “kueh” or cakes hawker carrying his wares and Malay boys in a “kampong” or village, Singapore.
Courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

Cuttlefish KangKong Hawker Stall 1970

In the 1970s, before we became concerned with the problem of Hepatitis, fresh cockles were sold on open-air hawker stalls. Also of interest, the dish of cuttlefish kangkong had been called Flat Fish Kang Kong by this particular stall.
Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

Malay Kueh Kampong

There used to be roadside hawker stalls by the Singapore River in the 70s.
A. J. Hawker Collection, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore

Oral History Interviews

1. Oral History Interview with Mrs Ann Wee nee Wilcox, Former Associate Professorial Fellow, Interviewed in 1995
Acc No. 1623

The role of the tiffin carrier in the past when it was not as common to cook at home or to eat at restaurants.

2. Oral History Interview with Aloysius Leo De Conceicao, Former Bank Officer at HSBC, Interviewed in 1998
Acc No. 2057

Street hawkers’ distinctive food calls and how food was received by customers.

Declassified Government Files

1. Policies & Procedures:
(A) Re-siting of Hawkers
(B) Allocation of Stalls
Period: 15/01/1975 - 25/05/1977
File Reference: ENV 066-72 Pt 2 Vol 2
Creating Agency: National Environment Agency file

The file covers mainly discussions regarding hawker licence for reservist cooks, vacancies in markets and food centres, the Hawker Policy, and hawker licences for hardship and disabled cases. There are also two newspaper clippings on ‘Hawker Licences’ and ‘Licences for Disabled’. Find out more about these aspects of the development of our beloved hawker centres in this declassified file.

2. Planning and Development of Markets and Hawker Centres
Period: 11/06/1971 - 11/09/1972
File Reference: Hawkers Dept H No 810-002 File No 1
Creating Agency: National Environment Agency file

The file covers mainly correspondences between the Ministry of Finance and Hawkers Branch, Public Health Division and Ministry of Health on “Development of and Improvement to Markets & Hawker Sites” and “Committee for Development of Hawker Centres”.