The humble hawker center is the great equaliser. A public space that doesn’t give a damn about who you are and what you do, but only that you are hungry for local eats. Anyone, from the gray-haired auntie who sells tissue to the corporate ang moh during his lunch break is not only welcome here, but is also treated the same way. The only special care is given to the one commodity that can be enjoyed by everyone: food.
I’ve always admired how the love for affordable, yet delicious food transcends race or class in Singapore. Sure we Filipinos love our food, but our food is still segregated by the principle of the 99 and 1 percent. Not every sosyalite eats kanto food or grabs lunch from the sari-sari store, unless you’re in Boracay. And no, choriburgers don’t count.
While in Singapore this open-air food court is literally a melting pot of different cultures for different cultures.
Endless stalls of dishes representing the 3 main ethnic groups in the country – Malay, Chinese and Indian. Chicken rice is for noobs and tourists. Pick your MSG poison in the other foodporn worthy dishes. Nasi Lemak. Beef hor fun. Ayam Penyet. Prawn mee.
Seating is first-come, first-serve, with absolutely no reservation nor pretension. Navigate your way through the maze of stalls during rush hour, past the tables that are marked by the packet of tissue paper – the local symbol for ‘this area is occupied.’ Never in your wildest imagination will you ever expect to feel the hangry rage towards the trivial tissue paper, which stands between you and ordering your food.
For the longest time I tried really hard to discover the other side of Singapore, beyond the manicured façade of Orchard and industrious skyline that expats and tourists flock here for. (Read: The Unlikely Character of Geylang)
I wondered who the Singaporean was without the kiasu, on their day off from work when they aren’t busy with being busy.
One Sunday morning I finally discovered my answer at the tip of my chopsticks, while devouring my plate of wanton mee and sipping my glass of teh tahrik. Hawkerism is the kind of consumerism that I can stomach. No politics or money. Only the love for good food.