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Singapore’s hawker culture given UNESCO recognition

The United Nations’ cultural agency announced it had added Singapore’s tradition of communal dining at hawker centres, open air food courts, to its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Singapore’s hawker centres were set up to house former street vendors, or “hawkers” in an effort to clean up the island in the 1970s and serve a variety of cheap, no-frills dishes to locals as well as providing a social setting.

The successful nomination means Singapore now has its first item on the intangible cultural heritage list, which currently has 463 entries including yoga in India and Belgian beer.

It is also the country’s second entry to any Unesco list. The first came in 2015 when the Singapore Botanic Gardens was designated as a Unesco World Heritage Site.

“These centres serve as ‘community dining rooms’ where people from diverse backgrounds gather and share the experience of dining over breakfast, lunch and dinner,” UNESCO said.

Celebrity chefs have effused over favourite hawker centre dishes such as chicken rice. The 2018 film Crazy Rich Asians showed its stars tucking into heaped plates at a famous night market, and some stalls even gained Michelin stars for meals costing only a few dollars.

Singapore must submit a report every six years to UNESCO, showing the efforts made to safeguarding and promoting its hawker culture.