Singapore's iconic street food is well-known the world over, cited by no less a figure than US president Barack Obama during Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's recent visit to Washington.
But behind the scenes, many people don't see the sweat and toil that goes into making that delicious plate of chicken rice or char kway teow. Hawkers often have to spend long hours preparing and cooking their food in tough working conditions.
That is why Tiger Beer is continuing its Uncage Street Food Movement by inviting Singaporeans to celebrate and preserve the island city's unique street food culture, and express their appreciation for the tireless hawkers who make it all possible.
On Wednesday (Sep 14), diners at two Bukit Panjang coffeeshops were treated to a free dinner by the local beer brand. Residents were given $5 meal vouchers which they could then use on that evening to buy a meal from any stall at Kim San Leng Food Court or Zheng Chun Yuan, at Block 259 Bukit Panjang Ring Road.
Mr Lim Wei Ren, 21, told AsiaOne that he was pleasantly surprised when he received the vouchers as he had not heard about the initiative beforehand.
"I'm very happy because my meal is paid," he said laughing. "But more seriously, I think the campaign is a meaningful one as it focuses on street food and spreads awareness about the difficulties hawkers face."
The undergraduate, who counts carrot cake as his favourite local dish, said hawkers are still important and valuable in Singapore.
"I eat street food quite often. Living costs in Singapore can be quite high, so the reasonable prices for hawker food definitely helps Singaporeans and students like me," he pointed out.
Another patron at the coffeeshop was Ms Sabrina Tan, 35. She lives in the block just above the two coffeeshops, and had heard from her mother that Tiger Beer was giving out food vouchers.
"I think it is a very nice gesture. Being a hawker is tough, and the uncles and aunties work so hard every day so it is great that they are being recognised in this campaign," she said.
Speaking to AsiaOne while waiting for her takeaway food from the zi char stall, the finance manager said she enjoyed hawker food for its authentic taste.
"It's like comfort food. Nowadays there are so many restaurants and cafes around, but I still prefer going back to places like this because this is the closest we get to home-cooked food," she said.
Since the vouchers could be used for takeaway food as well, Tiger Beer provided the stall owners with items such as takeaway paper and boxes to help ease their workflow.
Mr Andy Hoon, 36, CEO of Kim San Leng, said that street food in Singapore has a long history and proud tradition.
Mr Hoon has been in the food and beverage business for 16 years, following in the footsteps of his father, Mr Hoon Thing Leong, who founded the Kim San Leng chain of food centres in Singapore.
However, he has observed that there are fewer and fewer next-generation hawkers taking over the business from their parents.
"Singapore is a young country, but our food is undoubtedly something that we are all proud of. I really hope the tradition of tasty, reasonably-priced street food in Singapore is something that we will be able to hold on to in the future," he said.
This initiative is the first of four weekly giveaways where diners can enjoy a free dinner on Tiger Beer. Upcoming events will be held at select coffeeshops around Singapore which will be announced on Tiger Beer's Facebook page.
Singaporeans are encouraged to play their part by snapping photos of their favourite street food experiences and sharing it on their social media platforms with 'thank you' messages using the movement's hashtag: #uncagestreetfood.
Singaporeans can also contribute to the Tiger Beer Street Food Support Fund, in which part of the profits from purchases of Tiger Beer will be channeled to Singapore's hawkers.
The local brew is launching the support fund for the first time as a way of encouraging aspiring hawkers to join the profession, and preserve Singapore's street food heritage. It is open to hawkers who have set up a cooked food stall in a hawker centre or coffeeshop within the last three months, or are thinking about entering the trade for the first time.
The new hawkers will receive up to $10,000 in funding via reimbursements, which can be used to offset any business costs except rentals. Up to 30 eligible applicants will be selected.
Applications run till Nov 15, and the recipients will be announced in January next year.
This story is part of a collaboration between AsiaOne and Tiger Beer's #uncagestreetfood movement.