Here’s my thought: Most of us live near a hawker centre. It might be walking distance or maybe a drive or a bus ride away. On some ‘imagine this and that’ chats with friends, I would compare the folks at the hawker centre as our extended family member cooking for us on demand.
Many of us have relatives that in our opinion makes the best food around. For example, Mum will be the one that can always prepare a long list of dishes that will satisfy your cravings. Aunt Annie recipe for her homemade carrot cake that uses real radish is the best. Aunt Christine makes very nice Itik Tim and other Peranakan dishes. Uncle Roland’s sambal belachan is totally out of this world.
Most of us who frequent the same hawker centre will have our own personal favourites. Some of our favourite stalls have long queues, but some favourites do have short queues. The short queue is because some hawkers prefer not to have ‘awards’ pasted all over their stalls. The so called ‘only for locals’ know and we keep quiet. Some of these stalls also only operate a few hours a day, some only on certain days!
We live near the Bukit Timah Food Centre and we visit it when no one at home feels like cooking. Although we are not related to any of the hawkers, we call them ‘uncle’ and ‘aunty’ as if they are our real uncle and aunty. I am sure many of you call them ‘uncle’ and ‘aunty’ instead of boss / lao ban ya?
My brother loves He Zhong’s Chai Tau Kway. The ‘uncle’ used to cook it until recent years when ‘Ah Boy’ took over. Sometimes when we see ‘Ah Girl’ cooking, we change our minds. (Hint hint!) For me, I like the Assam Fish from the stall managed by the 2 curly hair ‘aunties’ at Swee Kee’s. The two aunties knows that I will have Assam Fish 95% of the time! My wife likes the fish soup cooked by the ‘uncle’ from Leng Kee. The ‘auntie’ taking her orders knows what she wants even before she orders.
We all like the BBQ chicken wings from the stall opposite the ‘chwee kueh’ stall. The 2 or 3 ‘ah boys’ used to have super long fringe and heavily tattooed limbs. Not sure why, but it’s mostly a pleasant looking ‘aunty’ takes the orders now instead. On cold days, we like the soups made by this ‘rosy cheeks aunty’ from HK Yummy Soups. On days that I feel I want to have lots of carbo, I think of Sin Chew Satay Bee Hoon. The ‘never smile aunty’ is always there to take order, we know she’s like that so we don’t think she’s unfriendly.
Michelin stars are awarded on quality, mastery of technique, personality and consistency of the food. It’s not based on interior décor, table setting or service quality. Based on the criteria, don’t you agree that our hawker food stalls can be awarded Michelin stars too? Some of our hawkers are really master in their preparing their food. These ‘uncles’, ‘aunties’, ‘ah boys’, ‘ah girls’ have preparing the same food day in and day out. We also noticed that some are getting better as they experiment with better ingredients as Singapore gets more diversified in our food supplies.
As more chefs from overseas Michelin star restaurants set up in Singapore, maybe one day our hawkers might formally be recognised as Michelin quality too. You think it will happen?
What are your thoughts of hawker food? Do you think quite a number of our hawker food is Michelin worthy? I know some are just horrible and we wondered why they are still operating.
(To be logically correct, Hawker Centres should be called Food Centres. Hawkers go around hawking food, to putting the word ‘centre’ beside it is kind of an oxymoron. Many ‘hawker centres’ if you noticed has been renamed Food Centres. We like Singlish, so we shall still call it Hawker Centres.)