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Aug 16, 2014

What We Eat Is What We See And Smell

As Singaporeans, have we ever wondered foodage "culture shock" to foreigners as a traditional practice at roadside or open-air hawker food eating experience since the early days in Singapore?

Why do first-time curious visitors or tourists to Asian countries would watch while their food are prepared and cooked right on the spot at the roadside hawker pushcart or food center in a building?

For cooked food, the hawkers are showing off their cooking skills, the ingredients included in the food, the recipes openly to the customers.  While waiting for the food to be cooked, the customers are given the aroma and smell of the food which they have ordered.

Have we seen the customers and the hawkers sneezing in public and loudly when frying the "chilli belachan" in the frying pan?

Have we ever thought that the food stalls was in effect an "open kitchen" and we know the chef who cook the food?

With the courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board photos archived at the National Archives of Singapore to share on related blog topic here.

For seafood stalls, the customers have the choice to pick the size of the items and whether the seafood is fresh and the cooked flavor they prefer.

Cooked food prepared in the presence of the customers

Tributes to the Hawkers of Singapore

The bronze sculpture of the pedler hawker with his "kitchen" and utensils from place to place to serve the customers.  Photo credit: Remember Singapore blog.

Later, the pushcart hawker stalls are congregated in a convenient place such as the "Glutton Square" at Orchard Road, a carpark in the day and an open-air "hawker center" in the evening.  This was once a popular food place for visitors and tourists.

Business was brisk and the long queues in front of the stall to wait for their food for "self-service".  In the meantime, the customers could watch for the hawkers to perform their culinary skills, "free smelling" as plates after plates or bowls after bowls to prepare and cook their piping hot favorite food to serve the customers.

Life as a hawker was tough.  To stand for long hours in front of the "stage with kitchen" and the customers would complain if the cooking was too slow or have heard the wrong orders ...  too much or too little chilli,  too much or too little "si hum" (cockles) for "char kway teow" or don't want "si hum", to add "towgay" (bean sprout) or not to add, want leek or not ...

The hawkers have to stand for hours when business is good and no time to rest ... working non-stop.  Their arms to stir with strength on the frying pans until his job for the last customer was done.

Photo credit:  keropokman   

Taste of Yesteryear's "Our Hawkers, Our Food" videos to share their experiences:


What is the difference between a cook or chef in a restaurant and a roadside hawker stall or food center?

Customers in a restaurant would not see how the food is prepared or to see and smell the food before they are ready to be served by the waiter to the table.  Everything is hidden and cooked in privacy with secret recipes and the ingredients they used.  If the food is good, the customers would just tell the waiter, "Please send our compliments to the chef for his excellent cooking".  The action are done behind closed doors in the kitchen.

No public performance for the customers.  The customers just enjoy the food and no direct interaction as in the case of the pushcart hawker stalls. The chef in the restaurant could work in peace without complaints or comments directly from the customers.  No tension, no pressure  ... and the ambience to work in aircond comfort.

Hawkers in the Past

PM Lee Kuan Yew watching a street hawker stall in Paya Lebar on 24 Feb 1963
A hawker in a coffee shop in 1980

A hawker stall in Smith Street in 1963
A hawker preparing carrot cake at his stall in 1977
A portable hawker stall on tricycle at Prince Philip Avenue in 1963



Blogger Lam Chun See said...

Thanks for sharing. Love all the old photos.

August 16, 2016 at 1:03 PM  

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