Singapore—The hawker culture is an integral part of Singapore’s daily life, but even before the coronavirus pandemic struck, many hawkers were already having difficulties and fewer young people are willing to enter the trade.
And with circuit breaker restrictions in place since April, disallowing dine-in options for patrons, hawkers face a new set of challenges in keeping their heads above the water, being limited only to delivery and takeout meals.
Older hawkers, it seems, had a harder time of it, as one needs to be tech-savvy to navigate around this new normal. And given that the average age of a hawker is 59, there were many who needed help.
Enter Melvin Chew, whose business suffered a two-third loss, according to this Al-Jazeera article. Mr Chew created a Facebook group called Hawkers United – Dabao 2020, which has grown to 285,000 members since it started in early April. Dabao means “takeout” in colloquial Cantonese.
Mr Chew told Al-Jazeera that he began the group because “a lot of hawkers and people in food and beverage won’t be able to survive. If you want to survive you have to accept the use of technology, you have to engage in social media and you have to do home delivery.”
The Facebook group provides a one-stop portal for Singaporeans to see what hawkers are offering. As it says, “Hello, Members! We are Hawkers United, and to combat this circuit breaker we bring you Dabao 2020 edition.”
Hawkers have the opportunity to show their specials for Mother’s Day and Vesak Day, and even for netizens to promote their favourite dishes, to help hawker ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’ out.
A May 2 post announced a collaboration between the group and DFS, Singapore Changi Airport, which they called “a generous outpouring of support via voucher redemption on selected HU members’ hawker stalls.”
Customers who spent S$250 on iShopChangiWines.com are given S$5 vouchers for food at participating hawker stalls, for a total of S$10,000 worth of vouchers.
But as helpful as the Facebook group has been to hawkers, not a lot of people are opting for takeout services. A number of Singaporeans, like many people under lockdown around the world, are whiling away their time becoming accomplished home cooks and bakers.
Singapore’s ambassador to the World Food Travel Association, Lionel Chee, is quoted by Al-Jazeera as saying, “After this lockdown we’ll have a lot of Michelin-starred chefs. Everyone is cooking at home.”
Compounding hawkers’ problems is the rising prices of food items. Import heavy Singapore relies on goods coming from other countries. As the coronavirus crisis has affected the transport of food, prices of staples such as eggs and red onions have risen.
Perhaps what has suffered most is the very thing that hawker food is known best for—it’s reasonable price point. The rising costs of ingredients, plus delivery fees and takeaway packaging have jacked up prices, resulting in another hurdle hawkers must face. —/TISG