iPhoneOgraphy – 10 Aug 2016 (Day 223/366)
A hawker centre or cooked food centre (Chinese: 小贩中心; pinyin: xiǎofàn zhōngxīn or Chinese: 熟食中心; pinyin: shúshí zhōngxīn) is an open-air complex in Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong and the Riau Islands, housing many stalls that sell a variety of inexpensive food. They are typically found in city centres, near public housing estates or transport hubs (such as bus interchange ct or train stations).
Hawker centres were set up as more sanitary option to street-side outdoor alfresco hawker dining places. Instead of mobile food hawker carts, permanent stalls in open air buildings are provided for the hawkers. Either common shared or stall dedicated tables and chairs are provided for customers. This concept has totally eliminated street hawkers in Singapore and reduced the numbers of street hawkers in major cities in South East Asia. This phenomenon is also helped by hawker licensing laws. However, it hinders new low capital hawker entrepreneurs from starting business resulting in high prices for established hawker centre stalls. Albeit, hawker centres can provide a one stop good variety of high quality and sanitary food at down to earth prices for every one.
Hawker centres sprang up in urban areas following the rapid urbanization in the 1950s and 1960s. In many cases, they were built partly to address the problem of unhygienic food preparation by unlicensed street hawkers. More recently, they have become less ubiquitous due to growing affluence in the urban populations of Malaysia and Singapore. Particularly in Singapore, they are increasingly being replaced by food courts, which are indoor, air conditioned versions of hawker centres located in shopping malls and other commercial venues.
In the 1950s and 1960s, hawker centres were considered to be a venue for the less affluent. They had a reputation for unhygienic food, partly due to the frequent appearance of stray domestic pets and pests. Many hawker centres were poorly managed by their operators, often lacking running water and proper facilities for cleaning. More recently, hygiene standards have improved, with pressure from the local authorities. This includes the implementation of licensing requirements, where a sufficient standard of hygiene is required for the stall to operate, and rewarding exceptionally good hygiene. Upgrading or reconstruction of hawker centres was initiated in the late 1990s in Singapore. At the same time, hawker centres were renamed food centres.
The hawker centres in Singapore are owned by three government bodies, namely the National Environment Agency (NEA) under the parent Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR), Housing and Development Board (HDB) and JTC Corporation. All the centres owned by HDB and NEA, in turn, are regulated by NEA with the individual Town Councils managing the HDB owned centres. JTC owned centres are self-managed. On 5 March 2010, NEA launched http://www.myhawkers.sg, which is an interactive web portal that offers useful information on hawker centres and food stalls. The portal allows registered users to review or recommend hawker stalls or hawker centres and to provide feedback to NEA on hygiene matters in hawker centres.