Singapore Wants to Protect Its Hawker Centers with UNESCO Status

By On August 21, 2018

Singapore Wants to Protect Its Hawker Centers with UNESCO Status

Ask a Singaporean what you should do on your upcoming trip to the city-state, and the first thing on their list will undoubtedly be "eat." And, before you ask, there's absolutely no question as to where to engage in that most Singaporean of pastimes: the almighty hawker centers, where stalls specializing in single dishes dole out food reflective of the ethnic patchwork that is Singapore. It's cheap, it's fast, and that three-dollar plate of char kway teow might just be the best meal you've had in your life. Now, Singapore wants to officially recognize the pivotal role hawker centers play in Singaporean culture by appealing to UNESCO for inclusion in the organization's list of "Intangible Cultural Heritage."

The UNESCO list, with additions decided on by a committee every year, is a global collection of practices and traditions deemed worthy of the same protection and recognition as the monuments and regions that make up UNESCO's World Heritage list. Past entries include Neapolitan pizza-twirling, boatbuilding on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, and the Dikopelo folk music of Botswana. In all, some 470 practices from 117 countries have made it onto the list since it began in 2008.

The bid for inclusion on UNESCO's list was announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on Sunday at a celebration of Singapore's National Day, commemorating the country's independence from Malaysia, the Straits Times reports. While the actual benefits of the list are a bit...well, intangible, UNESCO's aim is to raise awareness and increase visibility of traditions to ensure their longevity. As we reported last year, many Singaporeans are worried about the future of hawker centers. Younger generations don't necessarily want to take over the unglamorous, hard work of running a hawke r stall from their parents, who in some cases have had recipes handed-down by generations dating back long before the present-day food centers were officially incorporated out of street hawkers in the 1970s. With its inclusion as part of UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, the Singaporean government hopes to inspire pride in Singaporeans. "It will also let the rest of the world know about our local food and multicultural heritage," the prime minister added in his remarks.

A lot of bureaucracy has to happen before a piece of heritage can make UNESCO's list though. First, the country has to demonstrate there's public support for the inscription. As such, Singapore's National Heritage Board has started an online petitionâ€"as of press time it has 2,802 signatoriesâ€"and once enough public support has been registered, a national committee will officially submit a proposal to UNESCO by March 2019. If all goes according to plan, Singaporean h awker culture will join the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage by the end of 2020.

Hey, if it means we can keep getting our chilli crab fix, consider us supporters.

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