A visual feast of Singapore’s hawker centres
A photo of Pasir Ris Hawker Centre (above) is one of the many photos in this photo series titled Our Hawker Culture: Built For Great Taste, which presents Singapore’s iconic hawker centres through the lenses of four local photographers. (Photo: Fabian Ong)

A visual feast of Singapore’s hawker centres

Many have waxed lyrical about Singapore’s hawker culture through stories and pictures that spotlight its tasty gastronomic offerings. The buildings dedicated to keeping hawker culture alive, however, have received less love, until recently.

The new online photography exhibition, Our Hawker Culture: Built For Great Taste, features more than 100 photographs of popular eating spots such as Tekka Market, Tiong Bahru Market and Pasir Ris Hawker Centre. The pictures shot by Singapore photographers Fabian Ong, Khoo Guo Jie, Lee Yik Keat and Rebecca Toh, seek to uncover the hidden beauty of hawker centres by drawing attention to seldom noticed architectural details of these communal dining spaces.  

Read on as the photographers share how they found art and beauty in everyday hawker centres.

a neglected corner by rebecca toh hawker centre
A neglected corner of Tekka Market and Food Centre by Rebecca Toh.

What do you find special about Singapore’s hawker centres?

Toh: I’m always amazed at how beautiful our hawker centres are, even though people seldom think of them as beautiful in the conventional sense. For me, the beauty arises from the fact that a hawker centre does exactly what it is built to do, and it does it so well – feed the people. There are dozens of stalls to choose from, food prices are extremely affordable, and the architecture of the hawker centre allows all these functions to happen, without any fuss.

Khoo: Hawker centres are a major place for social gatherings, especially for the older generation. It is a place where everyone is welcome, and the food is delicious yet affordable.

East Coast Lagoon Hawker Centre_Fabian Ong
A unique roof design of East Coast Lagoon Hawker Centre by Fabian Ong

How has this project made you see hawker centres in a new light?

Ong: I became aware ofthe typology of standalone hawker centres. They typically have a big roof or canopy structure to shelter the food stalls, and their design allows fresh air to flow through and hot air to escape.

Toh: I am in love with the design of the Tampines Round Market, it looks almost like a UFO landed in the heartland. The hawker stalls form the core and the seats and tables fan out, making it easy to survey the stalls and find one’s bearings; you simply walk in a circle. The building also strikes me as a little whimsical with its courtyard in the centre.

Geylang Serai Market hawker centre
A bird’s-eye view of Geylang Serai Market and Food Centre by Khoo Guo Jie.

What was a memorable moment you had working on this project?

Lee: I was photographing a stall that sold eggs at Commonwealth Crescent Market and Food Centre when the owner approached me to show me pictures of her stall taken by students previously. I tried to explain our project to her, and though we had a difficult time communicating because of my limited vocabulary in Mandarin, the sincere conversation made me feel right at home.

Khoo: Uncles and aunties hanging out together at hawker centres were often curious as to why I was photographing the space, and they would ask me not to take pictures of them but then end up posing for the camera.

Replies were edited and condensed for clarity.

Learn more about Our Hawker Culture: Built For Great Taste here.

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