Serving up a solution to Singapore's retiring hawker sellers

Mon Jul 4, 2016 1:35am EDT
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By Christophe Van der Perre

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore is cooking up new methods to find the next wave of hawker sellers amid fears the city state's signature street-food delights could fall off the menu with chef retirements.

Singapore has more than 100 hawker centers and 6,000 stalls selling popular multi-ethnic meals for as little as S$2.80 ($2), but enticing new chefs to the small, basic kitchens is proving tricky against the riches offered by modern restaurants.

Chen Fu Yuan, a 72-year-old hawker that has been cooking Char Kway Teow (fried flat rice noodles) since 1969, is struggling to find anyone to take over his stall after his children and grandchildren took up other careers.

"I will definitely be very heartbroken," Chen said. "It is a waste that no one wants to take it on."

In April the government set up an advisory Hawker Center 3.0 Committee, charged with sustaining a trade that is a source of pride for locals and regularly draws visiting celebrities, like British chef Gordon Ramsay.

The government will open 10 new hawker centers over the next 12 years but many of these venues come without the government subsidies that have kept some monthly stall rents as low as S$320 ($238). New rates can be S$1,800 a month.

"We can build hawker centers but who is going to man them?" Singapore food blogger, author and Hawker Center 3.0 Committee member Dr Leslie Tay asked.

Tay said most hawker stall owners were in their 50s and 60s with a wave of retirements expected in the near future but new initiatives to find replacements were showing signs of promise, such as pairing aspiring hawkers with experienced hands.   Continued...

Hawker Derrick Lee, 30, sells chicken rice in his stall at a hawker centre in Singapore June 30, 2016. REUTERS/Edgar Su