DAYLESFORD, Australia: “Singapore is very pathetic, no Singaporean restaurants around the world … Hawkers should be looking overseas.”
So said KF Seetoh, one of Singapore’s biggest proponents of hawker food, in a January 2021 podcast episode that I recorded with him. We were speaking about the importance of Singapore hawkers earning a spot on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
“To get international recognition, that was the social goal. The commercial goal was that now we can properly tell and sell our food culture overseas.”
It seems that Seetoh has accomplished his mission since the episode aired last year. Seetoh officially opened Urban Hawker in New York City on Sep 28, the city’s first “Singapore-style street food market”.
The 14,000 sq ft space houses 17 hawker stalls, offering familiar favourites such as chicken rice and satay in the Big Apple. But while some Singaporeans living there rejoiced, others cringed at the prices, taking to social media to voice their displeasure.
One stall in particular, Prawnaholic Collections, has been reported to sell prawn mee for the equivalent of S$26 – whereas in Singapore, a bowl goes for S$7.
SINGAPORE’S VERSION OF FAST FOOD
Singapore’s hawker culture has a long history that stretches back to the 1800s. Being a thriving port city, people from other parts of the world flocked to Singapore. Enterprising hawkers, toting their mobile kitchens on bamboo poles, made a living dishing up comfort food to immigrants hungry for a taste of home.