Hawker Colours


Stacey Yip, Kwa Li Ying, Jieying Xiao

In Plain Words

Website Development
Shaun Tung (lead developer), Kent Limanza, Srikesh Sundaresan, Choo Yuan Jie

Photography and Videos
The Loaf Collective, Cai Rui Rong

Book Design

Book Photography
Lim Zerherng

Vibrant and diverse describe not only Singapore’s hawker food but also the tableware that holds them. Colourful melamine plates and bowls have been the standard at hawker centres since the government started a programme in the 1970s to build such cooked food centres across the country to rehouse hawkers that used to ply the streets. Every hawker picks their own tableware and colours mainly to distinguish what is theirs from what is not, giving rise to the use of blue, green, red, purple, yellow and many more coloured tableware in one hawker centre. Few places in Asia boasts such density of melamine tableware usage and colour variety across the country.

This phenomenon is, however, changing. New generation hawker centres built from 2015 onwards, have adopted centralised dishwashing and standardised tableware along with it. They typically use just two or three different colours to differentiate the tableware for Halal, non-Halal and vegetarian stalls. The attempt to tackle a longstanding manpower crunch in the hawker and cleaning industries, inadvertently threatens to dilute a very colourful and prominent aspect of Singapore’s hawker culture.

Should tableware colours be considered as part of Singapore’s UNESCO-inscribed hawker culture? Do consumers associate their favourite hawker dishes with particular colours? To explore these questions about our relationship with hawker food and the coloured plate that frames it, a visual anthropological online study surveys the public. The ongoing survey data can be visualised, and results are published in a book.

Besides the survey, the website and book also features stories about the cultures and histories surrounding hawker colours. They include hawkers and consumers sharing their colour choices, a history of melamine tableware adoption in Singapore and how the phenomenon gave rise to one of the largest local manufacturer of such tableware.

This project was awarded the Good Design Research Grant from DesignSingapore Council.

Learn more and participate in our survey at: www.hawkercolours.com (mobile only)

The Hawker Colours book can be purchased from inplainwords online.