Much has been done to garner legitimacy and publicity for Singapore’s waning hawker culture. Michelin Guide’s recognitions of various stalls and a government-led bid for hawker culture to be recognised by UNESCO are putting these inexpensive dining destinations on the international stage.
But in this digital age, the lack of an online presence is quite nearly a death sentence. What’s putting modern restaurants up on the forefront isn’t doing any favours for the more digitally-challenged hawkers.
The latest collaboration between Google and various government organisations might just be the perfect solution for this.
By early 2020, stalls from all 114 Singaporean hawker centres will be listed on Google Maps and Search. Including immersive 360-degree imagery of hawker centres a la Street View, individual stalls will get their own ‘pins’ on Maps which will come with additional details such as stall numbers and food photos.
Most helpful of all, these ‘pins’ indicate the exact locations of stalls within each centre — a move that will save visitors frustrating moments of searching for specific hawkers.
The project will first start operations at Chinatown Market, followed by Geylang Serai Market, Tekka Market and others. A team of four or five operators will take Google’s latest Street View Trekkers, now armed with state of the art high-res camera systems, around each hawker centre and accurately locate more than 6000 stalls in Singapore.
With this, hawker centres are documented in exhaustive detail. Constant relocation and confusing names (ever wondered why Old Amoy Chendol isn’t at Amoy Street Food Centre?) have made hawker stalls notoriously difficult to locate. Google’s studious ‘trekkings’ will help to chart such movements and changes.
It’s bound to be beneficial for locals and tourists alike. The move is expected to draw more customers and increase footfall in hawker centres.
For the National Heritage Board, Google Maps will also provide a wealth of knowledge in studying the evolution of hawker centres and stalls. “We hope to create a comprehensive databank of all the hawker centres in Singapore so that we can better document and safeguard these hawker centres,” says Mr Alvin Tan, NHB’s deputy chief executive for policy and community.
It’s certainly not a cure-all solution in keeping alive Singapore’s hawker scene. As the older generation that once helmed famous stalls retire, there hasn’t been an enthusiastic renewal of fresh faces willing to put up long hours in cramped kitchens.
Whether the collaborative move might help change minds is up in the air, but in the meantime, what it will certainly do is to make the experience of dining in a hawker centre much more familiar and accessible for all.