Monday, March 14, 2011
This is the way we eat (Part 2) by Peter Chan
After the P.A.P came into power in 1959, the Hawker Department was amalgamated into the Ministry of Health until in 1972 when it was hived-off to the Ministry of Environment. Licensing started in 1968 but implementation was slow because of the British Military Pull-Out. Although the government intended to contain the street hawker problem, this could have been political dynamite. In many P.A.P “Meet the People Session”, the top two most sought after “needs” were getting a hawker licence, and public financial assistance.
Photo 1: Beef Kway Teow at Empress Place Hawker Center. It was built next to the present Asian Civilization Museum ( c 1972).
Getting hawkers to be re-sited into hawker centres and/or action by way of arrests, fines and demolishing structures usually draw the attention of Members of Parliament (MPs). This is because each constituency had its own peculiar hawker problems. For example in new industrial area like Redhill and Jurong, there were always business opportunities when there were factory workers. Lower-income families living within HDB estates took to illegal hawking to supplement income. Testimony of the “bureaucratic intelligence” when adhering to a public policy, the result was hawking licences were issued in places far from homes and inaccessible to public transport. Thus MPs appeal on behalf of their constituents by petitioning the Minister in charge of the Hawker Department, a Mr. Yong Nyuk Lin.
Photo 2: Left to Right – Eating on stools at a Ho Chi Minh City roadside; Bak So Mie Push-cart in Jakarta.
As part of the hawker development projects, 16 hawker centres by 1972 were under various stages of planning/construction. These hawker centres were meant to house re-sited street hawkers. Zion Road Hawker Center was completed in my second-year at the university. When I went dating, Esplanade Satay Club opened in 1972, Empress Place in 1973 and 7 mile Bukit Timah Hawker Center cum wet market was completed by the time I graduated. By the time I went to work Cuppage Center was opened.
By 1986 there were no more street hawkers and all stallholders in hawker centres were licensed by the Ministry of Environment. Since 1996 all the ENV market and food centres underwent upgrading works. Today, Singaporeans are very selective as to where they eat.
If we miss the ambience of street hawkers, we can always try our ASEAN neighbours. Rest assured this is very sedap man (aka Mo Tak Teng). When I was based in Hong Kong, I would take “short-cuts” through the alleys of Hong Kong to get from point to point. Not too far back, I revisited one of the routes (photo3). It looks like things don’t change that fast in Hong Kong.
Photo 3: Ah Chan and Luk Siew Fung at their stalls on Hong Kong Island.
Hmmmm ... maybe this is one of the reasons why I enjoyed Ipoh food. They have lots of roadside foodstalls. They also have lots of push-cart type food vendors at the wet market. Chun See