There’s no doubt that Singapore is known for our hawker culture—we even submitted a UNESCO bid to inscribe hawker culture on the UN agency’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. Which is why, it’s more important than ever for us to keep it alive.

National Environment Agency (NEA) and SkillsFuture Singapore jointly developed the Hawkers’ Development Programme in a bid to help aspiring hawkers start their business. The programme also has a mentorship programme in which experienced hawkers will mentor the aspiring ones.

“If your food is good, Singaporeans will travel from across the island for it. For aspiring hawkers, it can be a struggle to get your dish from good to great,” Senior Minister of State for the Environment and Water Resources Dr Amy Khor said.

A hawker centre in Singapore.

This is why the advice from veteran hawkers can be invaluable, said Dr Khor at the event held at Ci Yuan Community Club in Hougang.

“NEA and the People’s Association’s Hawker Fare Series have been bringing in veteran hawkers to share their recipes and nifty cooking tips with aspiring hawkers.”

The programme will also provide training, where participants are educated on basic food safety and hygiene, culinary skills, as well as business management skills.

They will also learn how to leverage social media and food delivery apps to further their customer outreach, one training aspect that existing hawkers can also tap to upgrade their business, said Dr Khor.

Once the participants have completed the training and apprenticeship stages of the programme, they can then try their hand at running their business under the incubation stage.

Also read: 5 Things You Need To Know Before Starting Your Own Business

This complements the Incubation Stall Programme that was launched in February 2018, which aims to reduce the upfront costs that aspiring hawkers often face.

Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, who attended the launch, said the local hawker culture has been an important hallmark of Singapore’s cultural identity. Singapore has nominated its hawker culture to Unesco to be inscribed on the United Nations agency’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

The new programme, he said, was launched to address the hawker trade which may be waning in Singapore.

“As much as hawker culture and hawker culinary art are thriving in Singapore, it does not necessarily mean that people want to ply the trade for a living.

“There are challenges that make people hesitate—long hours, hard work, business risks. So just passion alone, though a very good starting point, is not enough.”

The programme aims to mitigate challenges through its comprehensive mentorship curriculum.

One mentor that signed up for the programme is 28-year-old Syafiq Lee, who was the winner of CLEO Most Eligible Bachelors in 2019.


Four years ago, he co-founded Burgs by Project Warung, a burger joint at Golden Mile Food Centre. Last year, he left the company to start his own business at the same place, with a different brand: Ashes Burnnit.

Also read: 7 Cool Burgers You Never Knew Existed In Singapore

“Figuring out how to operate a business with no experience was one of the biggest challenges, so I would really like to help others ease into the stage of setting up.”

Starting out Burgs by Project Warung was a huge risk for Syafiq and his two friends, with the trio pouring their life’s savings into the company, with no guarantee of success.

After leaving his director role at Burgs, he now manages Ashes Burnnit alone, Syafiq said his monthly revenue is currently a five-figure sum.


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Syafiq mentors Gary Lim, 39, who was among 26 aspiring hawkers who completed an abridged version of the programme earlier.

Syafiq (left) with his mentee Gary.

He hopes to set up a hawker stall in the next three to six months.

Gary declined to disclose what he intends to sell but said he wants to recreate traditional hawker food that he feels are important to the local heritage.

The former chemical engineer, who had worked in Australia, said he was inspired after discovering that some of his favourite hawker stalls were disappearing from the scene.

On Monday, the Federation of Merchants Associations of Singapore—which represents stall owners at NEA hawkers and markets—and the Nanyang Polytechnic-Asian Culinary Institute signed a Memorandum of Understanding to promote a greater awareness of the programme.

Also read: 12 Local Celebrities You Didn’t Know Own Businesses

Images:, Joel Lim/Calibre Pictures, ST Photo/Kelvin Chng
Text: Cheryl Tan / The Straits Times / January 2020
Additional text: Hidayah Idris