Foodways in Singapore embody the anxieties of the island-state—namely heritage, race, identity, and authenticity. Hawking in Singapore was initially seen as a nuisance that had to be tolerated and later regulated by both the colonial administration and newly independent government. The relocation of hawkers to centralized food centers marked the imposition of order and hygiene onto a squalid industry. Street peddlers, once an administrative problem, were refashioned into a potent symbol of Singapore's heritage. Hawker food has also been used as a trope of multiculturalism to unite a racially diverse people. The influx of foreign workers from the mid-1980s presented new tensions that shed light on the cultural power of food to articulate inclusion and exclusion. Markers of authenticity, namely historical traditions and artisanal expertise, map haphazardly onto the realities of actual foodways. Finally, a breed of connoisseurs, who grew up in a cosmopolitan nation-state, was birthed in the 1990s. Embracing the low culture of hawker food, local foodies impute new cultural meanings to hawker food that embody the tension between distinction and democracy.
Singapore Hawker Centers: Origins, Identity, Authenticity, and Distinction
Andrew Tam, like most Singaporeans, is obsessed with food. While pursuing a graduate degree in the Program of History of Science and Medicine at Yale University, he decided to consume hawker food in the form of articles, newspaper clippings, and photographs. More broadly, his other interests include how knowledge is transferred and created while interacting with recipes and replications. His MA thesis explored the material encounters of seventeenth-century chymists, focusing on the recreation of steel in a modern chemical laboratory.
Andrew Tam; Singapore Hawker Centers: Origins, Identity, Authenticity, and Distinction. Gastronomica 1 February 2017; 17 (1): 44–55. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2017.17.1.44
Download citation file: