Photo of KF Seetoh from KF Seetoh

Prominent food host KF Seetoh openly hit out at the Singapore government criticising them for “throwing money” at the problem of declining hawker entrepreneurs in Singapore. The Singapore food consultant did not held back on his criticisms in a state media interview and called the government “unfit and not qualified”:

“I think the Government should stay out of this. They are not fit. They are not qualified. Because they’re only throwing money at you. Hawker work is tough. Just because the Government wants to incubate you, doesn’t mean this job is easy. You have to cook well, know how to reach people, know how to cook a hundred portions an hour and so on. A short course is not enough and pumping money into the industry to fire this up may not be helpful. It gives people the impression that it is so easy. They say, ‘Let’s go and do a ‘try, try’ thing’. It’s easy to walk out when you are funded by somebody else’s money, but if it’s your own and you realise that this is good, this is what you really want to do, it’s a different story.”

The former host of popular TV series Makansutra in the late 90s, said that only people who ventured into the business on their own will be able to handle the obstacles in the business:

“Let’s attract the real ones. I’d rather encourage you to come out on your own because that will be more organic and you will be in it not because you got funding. It’s your own money. It’s your own belief. Go and learn as an apprentice. Go and work for a hawker for one year. The hawker may or may not teach you everything, but if you have slightly more than half a brain, you will be able to figure out the entire story and do it on your own later. If you just take some funding and go for some Government programmes, you will still wind up with not much. The more successful newer-generation hawkers are those who came out on their own and they are still around despite the failures. They took time to learn. They didn’t fall the minute they came across the first wall.”

KF Seetoh added in his interview that high rental costs is the key reason why lesser people would want to be food hawkers. The current average tender bidding price for a food stall in hawker centres is S$1,370 a month, double from 20 years ago. KF Seetoh said the government should just charge lower rents and advise on where to get food supplies:

“Just give people very good, reasonable rents and tell them where to get their supplies. Let them figure out on their own how to be good, how to be better.”

On the declining number of Singaporeans joining the hawker food trade, KF Seetoh said to let the situation be, even if it means “burning the whole forest down”:

“If it doesn’t happen organically, then let this food culture die. Then let the soil rot and let new shoots come out. Burn the whole forest down. Right now, the future looks bleak, but I still believe down the road there will be some kind of a sub-culture coming up. Somebody will realise that it’s not just about running a food stall. You can become the world’s best one-dish entrepreneur and your hawker store concept can go worldwide.”