SINGAPORE: The country’s itinerant ice cream vendors, more popularly known as ice cream uncles, were once a part of every Singaporean child’s daily life.
But now, spotting them selling their sweet treats perfect for Singapore’s hot climate may soon become nothing but only a nostalgic childhood memory.
The loss would be felt by Singaporeans and tourists from Indonesia, South Korea, the Philippines, and other countries who make a side trip to the ice cream uncle as part of their itinerary in the city. On recent visits, some even posed with Uncle Chieng, featured in The Straits Times and CNA.
Despite Facebook accounts and TikTok videos about them, concern over how long the tradition will last continues.
Part of the reason why the trade may go the way of the dodo, so to speak, is because there may no longer be younger people who want to carry on the tradition. After all, it is physically taxing work, and the uncles are not getting any younger.
“I’ll try to buy ice cream and support them when I can. It’ll be sad if there are no more ice cream seller uncles in the future. There are not many places in Singapore where you can find such affordable and nostalgic ice cream,” a 26-year-old local was quoted as saying in Business Insider earlier this week.
The other reason is Singapore’s stringent regulations regarding street hawkers, whose licenses must be renewed yearly and cannot be transferred to others.
A 2019 CNA report said that there were 13 street hawkers allowed by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) to sell ice cream on any “public land.” Among them were seven uncles who sold the sweet treats on Orchard Road, each with his designated spot.
The same piece quoted the SFA as saying around 200 street hawkers sell ice cream, but the majority only have licenses to sell their wares within the town council where they live, with BNN pegging that number to around 150 today.
The future, however, is clouded with uncertainty as the current generation of sellers grows older and the issuance of new licenses remains stagnant.
There are genuine fears that this cherished facet of Singaporean culture may disappear within a few years, leaving behind a void in the city’s vibrant heritage,” adds BNN.uncles /TISG