Time To Award Singapore Hawkers Their Own “Stars”
The post below was written in 2013. In retrospect, still pretty relevant. The Michelin Stars has descended in Singapore in 2016, and is not without its fair share of controversies.
Singaporeans criticise that the queues to their favourite stalls will get even longer, and on the flipside ALSO comment that their favourite hawker stalls did not make it for the Bib Gourmand.
Moral of story: You cannot please everyone. It is just a ‘game’ right? Anyway…
[Original Entry] There has been some food buzz online questioning if Singapore hawker food is Michelin star worthy? It started with HungryGoWhere asking “Are Singapore hawkers not Michelin-worthy?”, followed by food blogging guru ieatishootipost questioning “Can Singapore Hawkers take on Michelin starred chefs?”.
How should we even begin with this apples versus oranges comparison?
Let’s start with the Michelin guide, started by a tire company (nothing related with food), that anonymously awards restaurants on a three-star system based on food quality, mastery of technique, personality and consistency of the food.
Note that interior décor, table setting and service quality are not included in the rating criteria.
1-star Michelin restaurant Tim Ho Wan and its barbecued pork buns
The recent thrill that arrived to our sunny shores is the one-starred Michelin Tim Ho Wan Singapore, sending frenzied crowds to a 2-3 hour queue.
Frankly, only their barbecued buns gave that tasty feeling when eaten. The rest of the dishes were okay-good but not exactly exceptional.
So, if a shabby hole-in-the wall dim sum place in Mongkok can get one star, why not some of our Singapore food and restaurants? Some also seem to forget that even xiao long bao makers Din Tai Fung has one star for its branch at Tsim Sha Tsui.
3-star Michelin restaurant Lung King Heen serves humble wanton noodles.
The thing is Singapore is not one of the cities under the Michelin guide, unlike Hong Kong and Tokyo. We will NEVER get the Michelin star no matter how good our food is.
The guide will award establishments with at least two to three culinary specialties. Even if the Michelin guide does come to Singapore, it would be the usual suspects such as Andre, Waku Ghin, Jaan and Les Amis getting the stars. This is the rule of their game.
So where do our humble Singapore hawkers stand, some spending their lifetime perfecting their craft of coming up with that one dish?
While some of the more popular ones earn a tidy profit, most do not get much recognition. The skilful hawkers have few or no disciples they can pass their skills to; many choose to retire after rising costs of rental and labour force them to shut down.
Singapore chicken rice can also be ‘atas’.
There are some other problems I see that are against hawkers in Singapore going further ahead.
1) There is no island-wide reputable recognition for them. Yes, they may have won some “hawker king” award here and there through voting or judging, but there is no single award which stands out from all the rest. If Japan’s “Ramen King” can be national pride and glory, why not our very own “Bak Chor Mee King”?
2) There are celebrity chefs in Singapore, but not really celebrity hawkers. Can you name the chef who cooks the famous Tian Tian chicken rice?
3) Few or no restaurants are bringing Singapore street food to atas high-end status. If a 3-star Michelin restaurant in Hong Kong can serve ‘simple’ fare such as wanton noodles and fried rice, why aren’t many fine dining restaurants “posh-ing” our Singapore food up?
Perhaps it is time to upkeep, uphold and upmarket our Singapore hawkers – upkeep traditions, uphold our culinary heritage, and upmarket their status.
Why not award our own “Michelin Stars”? If a tire company can award stars, perhaps our very own Telcos or the Singapore Tourism Board can honour the best hawkers and food with a system. This is also an opportunity to discover hidden gems that are present just near our doorsteps.
Divine laksa with abalone, is this worthy of a star?
How many you know can fry up char kway tiao with brilliant wok hei, hand-make popiah with the perfect skin and shape, or flip prata like a pro? These are all legitimate skills to be recognised.
Singapore is always waiting for others to give her awards of any sorts, why not provide recognition for your own talents first?
If we claim we want to save our hawkers, but is all talk but no action, nothing is going to really happen.
So Dr Leslie Tay asked if a Michelin Star Chef like Gordon Ramsay can fry a plate of Char Kway Teow as good as Hillstreet’s Mr Ng? Well, even though Chef Ramsay has 14 stars under his belt, the answer is maybe (with no offence intended) no.