Food paradise endangered

Trying to keep Singapore’s hawker culture alive

Published by Nikkei Asian Review, March 7, 2015

SINGAPORE — Kuah Yong Say started selling his specialty black carrot cake, a savory stir-fry with radish and dark soya sauce, as a street vendor back in 1964, his trishaw a kind of early-day food truck. He would serve his only dish not on a plate, but on a large plant leaf.

Now 75 years old, Kuah owns his own food stall in a government-built hawker center. He is one of the lucky ones: His two daughters, both in their 40s, quit their jobs in sales several years ago so they could take over the day-to-day running of the family business.

His is the exception, not the rule. As elderly street food hawkers retire, there are far fewer young people willing to carry on Singapore’s venerable street food tradition. Nor would many status-conscious Singaporean parents want them to.

Street food — the very thing that made Singapore a global food mecca — is threatened by the island-nation’s growing wealth and changing tastes. That has foodies, bargain lovers and even the Singaporean government worried about the fate of humble yet beloved artisanal and traditional foods. Efforts, including a government pilot program, are underway to preserve the endangered street food culture. Continue reading …

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