In the heart of hawker centers, Singapore’s abundant culinary halls

A Victorian legacy of the British presence in Singapore, the eight star-shaped aisles in Lau Pa Sat’s octagonal hall are filled with delicacies. Under the fan blades that try to ventilate the equatorial heat, families, students and tourists gather in front of more than a hundred benches, before taking a seat at one of the many tables that dot the galleries. Bright amber of ducks and pork belly, woks where the Nasi Goreng (Indonesian fried rice), soup bowls overflowing with pork ribs or seafood, sweet smell of beef Rendangthis Malaysian beef stew with sweet spices… Beneath the large, brightly colored signs, the stalls embody the city-state’s melting pot.

If four official languages ​​are spoken (English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil) and more than ten religions are practiced, appetites are also polyglot and multi-religious. In the United States, we would call the place food court, in France, a “food court”. In Singapore, appetite vibrates to the rhythm of what we call street vendor centers.

Lau Pa Sat is one of those approximately one hundred and twenty centers » What does the city have? At night, the frenzy spreads onto the sidewalk, to the point that, at the foot of the market, Boon Tat Street turns into a satay street. Clouds of smoke escape from the Malaysian barbecue grills on which you grill, in the satay, thousands of small beef, lamb, chicken or shrimp kebabs (sold for around 50 cents each). Marinated in a mixture of lemon balm, garlic, chives, ginger and fresh turmeric, palm sugar, chili pepper, coriander and cumin powder, they are then caramelized on the coals, before being served, accompanied by a thick sauce based on tamarind, coconut milk and roasted peanuts. Once devoured, all that’s left is a pile of spikes, like a dirty game of Mikado.

Those who only have an image of Singapore as a sanitized financial center would be surprised by the sensual profusion and mix offered by these hawker centerspopular with gourmets International. Installed in the heart of old or air-conditioned buildings, these areas, and their culinary practices, were also included in 2020 by UNESCO on the representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity..

The Jin Ji Teochew Braised Duck & Kway Chap stall at Singapore's Chinatown Complex Food Center.

The expression “hawker center” It’s almost an oxymoron. In fact, it evokes the sedentarization of traditional street vendors (street vendors). Their number increased after 1819, when Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles took possession of the Malay island of Singapore for England. The rapid expansion of this trading post led to the massive arrival of a workforce mainly from southern China and India. First carrying bamboo baskets and then pushing carts, the street vendors They fed this hardworking mass by offering snacks adapted from their regional traditions.

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