Singapore officially submitted its hawker culture nomination to Unesco with celebratory photos and videos – but some Malaysians aren’t too happy about it

The Straits Times

Singapore’s wholesome hawker culture, with humble hawker centres offering delectable yet affordable food, is something many Singaporeans hold close to their hearts.

So when Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced plans to nominate the city-state’s unique hawker culture for inscription into Unesco’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity last year at the National Day Rally, many were thrilled.

And that has just become reality. On Wednesday (March 27), Singapore officially submitted its nomination to inscribe “Hawker Culture in Singapore” to the list.

The nomination documents were jointly submitted by the National Heritage Board (NHB), the National Environment Agency (NEA) and The Federation of Merchants’ Association, Singapore (FMAS) – the three organisations co-driving the Unesco nomination bid.

The three organisations said in a statement: “The submission of nomination documents is a milestone in Singapore’s Unesco inscription journey to better recognise and protect our intangible cultural heritage.”

It added: “A successful nomination will demonstrate to the world how proud we are of Hawker Culture in Singapore, encourage greater appreciation for our hawkers, and show our commitment as a nation to safeguard hawker culture for generations to come.”

In 2015, the Singapore Botanic Gardens was made Unesco World Heritage Site. But this will be Singapore’s first submission in the category of intangible cultural heritage.

By July, the nomination documents will be available for viewing on Unesco, NHB, NEA and FMAS’ websites.

One of the nomination documents is a series of photographs, which include contributions by the public via social media, and entries to the #OurHawkerCulture photography contest organised by the National Geographic and the Ministry of Communication and Information (MCI).

Here are some of the stunning photographs that depict the uniqueness of Singapore’s hawker culture.

This photo shows an Indian-Muslim hawker cooking briyani (a mixed rice dish) captured by Brian Teo,

Brian Teo

According to the authorities’ official statement, this photo depicts people from diverse age groups, genders, ethnicities and religions dine in and socialise at a hawker centre – captured by Terence Tan Peng Hor, a contestant of #OurHawkerCulture Photography Contest 2019.

Terence Tan Peng Hor

Taken by NEA in 2017, this photo shows a hawker demonstrating techniques for making chicken rice. It was taken as part of the “Hawker Fare Series”, where experienced hawkers share their culinary skills and knowledge with aspiring hawkers.


A photo of a father enjoying chendol (a local dessert) with his children at a hawker centre – taken by David Sim, another contestant in the #OurHawkerCulture Photography Contest 2019.

David Sim

A few letters showing community support and revolving around Singapore’s hawker culture theme were also submitted.

An art piece by Jeileeana Glehsa Magbatoalog from Riverside Secondary School.

Jeileeana Glehsa Magbato Alog

This picture was drawn by Ling Jia Ci, another student at Riverside Secondary School.

Ling Jia Ci

Three other students of Riverside Secondary School – Kristen Teo, Ngu Yi Xuan and Muhammad Dani Mirza – also wrote poems about Singapore’s hawker culture.

Kristen Teo, Ngu Yi Xuan and Muhammad Dani Mirza

Ms Isa from Jurong Pioneer Junior College was credited for a piece showing the words “Singapore’s Hawker Culture” surrounded by hashtags of hawker centre food and drinks.

Ms Isa

There are also pledge tags written by the public in English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil in support of Singapore’s hawker culture nomination.

Mrs Ng

A few videos were also submitted as part of Singapore’s nomination documents – including one titled “Unesco Nomination – Hawker Culture in Singapore”, which runs for roughly 10 minutes long.

NHB, NEA and FMAS said in their statement that the video was created to give the Evaluation Body and the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage – which will be assessing Singapore’s submission – a better understanding of Singapore’s hawker culture.

Another submitted video features sit-down interviews with hawkers in Singapore, lasting for slightly over 21 minutes long.

While Singaporeans are celebrating its hawker culture nomination, neighbouring Malaysia – with street food similar to that in Singapore – isn’t sharing the joy.

Malaysians were already riled up when PM Lee first made the announcement last year. And Singapore’s official nomination submission brought those feelings back, it seems.

Read also: Malaysians comment on Singapore’s decision to nominate hawker culture for Unesco listing – here’s what they have to say

The majority of comments left on a Facebook post by Malaysian news site The Star pointed out that Malaysia’s hawker food is superior to Singapore’s.

User M S Sonny Rajamoney wrote: “Malaysia’s hawker food – second to none in the world! Hands down!”

Chong Mee Ling’s comment read: “No matter how they do… their food is not as good as Malaysian food because of their seasoning. For instance, the roaster chicken, duck and pork. Even the ice kacang or cendol also no good”.

Many Malaysian netizens have even said that Singapore “likes to claim everything as theirs”.

User Hulkamania Hulkamania wrote: “That small island likes to claim everything as theirs. Hope one day they will claim the 1 trillion debts of Malaysia as theirs and settle it for us. #fullofkiasucrap”

While Tan Yokechua wrote: “Singapore also claimed Mou San Wang durian as theirs. You won’t be surprised that one day they will say the water they drink is also from Singapore.”

Jimmy Lee’s comment read: “You don’t have to prove anything to anybody, the customers will know who’s who, what’s what & the origin. Somebody is trying to steal the show.”

Others are treating this issue in a more objective way.

Murali Blurz’s comment read: “Malaysia definitely has a larger variety of food and number of hawkers.. then why our (government) can’t do what Singapore just did? Why need to wait until Singapore does something before we start making noise.. Singapore was part of Malaysia hence no way we can say that they too don’t have the hawker culture.”

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