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Singapore's hawker culture one step closer to being on Unesco list

Singapore's hawker culture one step closer to being on Unesco list
The evaluation body recommended that hawker culture here be added to the official list.
PHOTO: The Straits Times file

SINGAPORE - Hawker culture in Singapore had its chances of being inscribed as an official Unesco intangible cultural heritage boosted on Tuesday (Nov 17), with an expert body recommending to the official panel that it be put on the coveted list.

An evaluation body comprising 12 experts around the world - appointed by the 24-member intergovernmental committee that will give the final verdict in December this year - said in a highly anticipated report that Singapore's application satisfied all criteria.

The evaluation body recommended that hawker culture here be added to the official list.

In the past, the final decision in December has not always adhered closely to what has been recommended by the evaluation body. However, The Straits Times understands that those which have been approved by the evaluation body are typically given the nod.

The report recognised that hawker culture provides Singapore "a sense of identity and continuity for people across the generations and in a context of urbanisation".

"It plays a crucial social role in enhancing community interactions, fostering an inclusive society irrespective of the diverse social, religious and ethnic backgrounds of its people," it added.


The Unesco convention for the safeguarding of intangible cultural heritage, or “living heritage” which changes over time, has been around since 2003. It includes practices as varied as performing arts, festive events, rituals and oral traditions.

The convention hopes to make sure these are transmitted to the next generation and also promote intercultural dialogue and mutual respect for other ways of life. 

Singapore submitted its bid to have hawker culture internationally recognised in March last year, in hopes that it be added to the 463 items currently already on the list.

Ms Chang Hwee Nee, the National Heritage Board’s chief executive officer, said that with the affirmation by the expert panel, she hopes to hear good news during the intergovernmental committee meeting to be held online from Dec 14 to 19.

She added: “We hope the successful inscription of hawker culture would further raise awareness and appreciation among Singaporeans of the importance of intangible cultural heritage in our daily lives, and continue to promote dialogues among our communities.”

Mr Tan Meng Dui, chief executive officer of the National Environment Agency, said Singapore’s bid shows its commitment to the preservation of hawker culture, and that his agency “remains steadfast” in its efforts to attract new entrants and work with current stakeholders. 

The application, uploaded online, had included letters, photographs and videos demonstrating community support for the bid.


Over 850,000 people, through various means such as attending travel exhibitions and singing letters of consent, gave a strong signal to the evaluation body that there is public awareness and "significant vitality" to hawker culture, according to the report.

The photographs submitted featured an Indian Muslim hawker preparing briyani, a Chinese hawker demonstrating a chicken rice recipe, and a father and his children enjoying the chendol dessert, among other snapshots.

A 10-minute video was also produced.

Hawker culture in Singapore has evolved significantly through the years, from individual hawkers selling their fare on the streets to the more built-up hawker centres of today.

There are currently about 6,000 hawkers spread over 110 hawker centres. 

There were 42 submissions in this year's bid, including mechanical watchmaking by Switzerland and France, Budima dance by Zambia and tree beekeeping culture by Poland and Belarus.

Among these, 25 were recommended to be inscribed on the official intangible cultural heritage of humanity list, including Singapore's bid.

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This article was first published in The Straits TimesPermission required for reproduction.

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