Singapore – Amidst the Covid-19 downturn, more young Singaporeans are setting out to be hawkers.
One aspiring Michelin chef is training as a hawker instead after the pandemic postponed his chances of working at a Michelin-starred New York restaurant. The 25-year-old is now an apprentice at a popular stall in Shunfu Mart called Leong Hainanese Chicken Rice.
“The local or traditional, iconic dishes would be disappearing if young people do not take over the stall or learn these dishes,” said apprentice Lim Wei Keat.
Newcomers like him will help existing hawkers pass on their legacy. “I’m getting older, and my children don’t want to take over, so if I don’t teach apprentices then the flavour will disappear from Singapore,” said the owner Neo Cheng Leong.
Hawker food critic K.F. Seetoh commented, “Back in the day, it (the hawker business) was really seen as a profession for those who have no route into life. So that has changed a lot today, but that perception hasn’t gone.”
He was referring to the perception that hawkers are in a low-paid profession, causing the young to choose to be baristas or bartenders instead.
“There’s still a school of people who would say ‘What, you want to be a hawker? What’s wrong with you?'” added Mr Seetoh.
On Jan 11, Senior Minister of State for Sustainability and the Environment, Amy Khor, announced a new work-study programme aimed at easing young people’s entry into the hawker trade.
“With the increasing recognition and appreciation of hawker fare, setting up a hawker stall can be considered as a gateway into the F&B sector, and there could be budding food and beverage entrepreneurs who may aspire to join the hawker trade,” said Ms Khor.
The programme is scheduled to be launched in March this year. It is a partnership between the National Environment Agency (NEA) and SkillsFuture Singapore (SSG) in collaboration with Temasek Polytechnic. The programme will be introduced as a new track under the existing Hawkers’ Development Programme started last year which aims to equip hawkers with the skills and competencies to run a hawker stall.
All recent graduates from polytechnics and the Institute of Technical Education may apply for the 12-month programme. It will include two months of classroom-based training, four months of apprenticeship and six months of mentorship under experienced hawkers./TISG
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