Singapore is widely known as a food haven, home to an eclectic array of global cuisines. Since the 1800s, hawkers have been peddling their wares on the streets and selling scrumptious favourites. It was only in the 1960s that the licensing of hawkers through an island-wide hawkers’ registration was conducted. The government also constructed markets and hawker centres between 1971 and 1986. With locals moving to HDB flats and living conditions improving, hawkers adapted accordingly, finding ways to retain their customers and satiate their cravings for tasty local grub. Over the years, hawker culture has become an integral part of Singapore life, so much so that in 2019, Singapore submitted a nomination to inscribe hawker culture in Singapore on the Unesco Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
Oral History Interviews
1. Oral History Interview with Vincent Gabriel, Former Consultant in Food Business
Acc No. 2909
Hawkers and their uniquely differentiating calls
2. Oral History Interview with Brian Richmond, Former Radio and Television Host
Acc No. 3155
Reminiscing about the days of meeting up with friends at hawker stalls
Declassified Government Files
1. Title: Policies & Procedures:
(A) Re-siting of Hawkers, and
(B) Allocation of Stalls
Period: 4/1/1970 - 1/8/1975
File Reference: ENV 066/72 Pt 2 Vol 1
Creating agency: National Environment Agency file
The file covers mainly discussions regarding hawker control in Singapore, allocation of stalls in markets and food centres, policies on hawkers, and correspondences between Hawkers Department and other government departments in Singapore. Find out more about the development of our beloved hawker centres in this declassified file.
2. Title: Development of Markets and Hawker Centres
Period: 1/8/1975 - 6/30/1976
File Reference: Hawkers Branch H No 810-002 File No 3
Creating Agency: National Environment Agency file
The file covers mainly correspondences between Permanent Secretary Environment and Hawkers Department, between Engineering Services Department, Ministry of the Environment, Principal Architect, Urban Renewal Authority and PWD; Hawkers Department and HDB Principal Architect, Building & Development Division on “Planning & Development of Markets & Hawker Centres”. There is also a map on ‘Parliamentary Electoral Divisions of Singapore’ dated 13 Aug 1976 by Ministry of the Environment (Hawkers Department, Allocation and Resiting Section) and a list showing “5 years’ programme on the Development of Markets/Food Centres”. Find out how many hawker centres were in your beloved vicinities in this declassified file.
3. Title: Statistics on Hawker Licences
Period: 9/26/1974 - 2/6/1979
File Reference: Hawkers Dept H No 090-3 Vol 1
Creating agency: National Environment Agency file
This file contains interesting facts and figures that many of us may not be aware of, such as the number of hawkers in the 70’s by age group, and food items sold by different hawkers at that time. The file covers other interesting monthly statistics on the total number of markets/hawker centre licences, the total number of applications received, the total number of licences issued and cancelled each month. It also contains lists of all the public and private markets and their respective year of completion. Find out how many hawker centres we had in the 70’s and other interesting facts in this declassified file.
1. Home Economics - A Vital Force: You Are What You Eat
Acc No. 2007000355
Ministry of Education, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore
This programme teaches students the importance of having a balanced diet. It includes footage of Singaporeans tucking into a variety of local favourites at hawker centres, and features steps one should take to prepare a healthy meal in a proper and hygienic way.
2. Berita Singapura: Rebuilding the City
Acc No. 1982000299
Ministry of Culture, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore
Be transported back to 1960s Singapore, where itinerant hawkers were a common sight along roads and in narrow alleyways. Faced with overcrowding in the city, these areas were eventually redeveloped and the hawkers moved to dedicated markets and food centres.
3. Singapore 3
Acc No. 2018011927
Jenna Reed Burns Collection, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore
Recorded between late 1957 and 1960, this silent home movie features street hawkers and prominent landmarks such as Lido Theatre and Shaw House. Other buildings that have disappeared from Singapore’s landscape and are featured in this clip include the Globe and Sky theatres on Zion Road. Formerly owned by the Shaw Organisation, both Globe and Sky theatres were among the four theatres in the former Great World Amusement Park; the other two being Atlantic and Canton. The cinemas, which screened both Chinese and English films, ceased operations in 1978.
Back in 1970, the idea of eateries along Singapore River was vastly different from what we see today. Instead of restaurants, hawker stalls cluttered along the stretch and were bustling with people. Given that those were the days prior to the cleaning up of Singapore River, the idea of riverside dining in today’s context is probably a luxury to people in those years.
A J Hawker Collection, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore
A hawker stall selling Hokkien fried prawn mee at old Glutton's Square, opposite Cold Storage (now Centrepoint) at Orchard Road, in 1971. The space that the hawker stalls occupied at night was a car park by day, and is where Orchard Central is located currently.
Paul Piollet Collection, courtesy of the National Archives of Singapore