Street-food peddlers selling authentic, affordable local dishes thrived in Singapore after the World War II, so much so that by the 1960s the number of peddlers, known as "hawkers," had grown to the point that they were obstructing traffic and threatening public health through the refuse they created, according to a report by the National Library Board (NLB).
As a result, the Singaporean government began moving street hawkers into purpose-build food centers where they could be more easily monitored. Hawker stalls continue to operate in those same centers, and some new ones, today, selling local favorites from before dawn until late at night.
According to the National Environment Agency, there are 107 markets and hawker centers across Singapore, housing 6,258 "cooked food" stalls, about half of which pay a subsidized rent for their space of between $160 and $320 a month.
"It is one of the places that is highly representative of the Singapore culture and lifestyle," the NLB's report explains. "It is also an important place for social interaction and family bonding. With a reputation for eating as a national past-time, it is a common sight to see Singaporeans queuing at their favorite hawker stalls across the island."
But long hours over hot dishes in un-airconditioned centers means that stall operators struggle to find workers among Singapore's highly educated and wealthy young populace. Couple this with a modern turn against "unhealthy" food - hawker meals often involve white rice or fried meats or vegetables - and the future has sometimes looked cloudy for the hawker tradition.
As high profile local chef Ignatius Chan told the Guardian as early as 2014, "Hawker food is a national treasure, but an endangered one, as the well-educated kids of the uncles and aunties who cook these dishes rarely wish to carry on the tradition – there's just so much hard work involved."