Sunday, February 20, 2011

Singapore Street-Hawker Calls And Elvis' 'Crawfish'

Street Hawkers (from theddosage.wordpress.com)
Elvis Presley sings 'Crawfish' 
(from Paramount Studios/Elvis Presley Estate)

Street Hawker
 (from National Heritage Board Archives Singapore)
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Singapore Memories:

Singapore street hawkers or vendors in the 60s have been highlighted as being unique and special. Many stories have been written about them and one author, Chan Kwee Sung in his book, One More Story To Tell, highlights the street laksa (page: 44) sold in the Katong area in the East Coast and the hot porridge (page: 49) in downtown Chinatown. These memories are etched forever in the minds of those who have lived the period and seen the food-sellers.

I remember my own encounter with these street hawkers along Geylang Road in Singapore where they advertise their food using their own unique/special hawker calls to draw out customers from their homes.
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The meat-bun man will shout, "Char siew pau..." as he pushes his cart filled with hot, steaming buns in containers balanced over a charcoal fire. Then there's the chicken porridge man selling his, "Kaiiiii choke."
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The won-ton noodle hawker's assistant who strikes a small bamboo piece with a stick, using a rhythmic beat to announce his delicious meal for 30 cents a bowl. "Tock, tick, tock, tick, tock, tick, tick, tick, tock..." I even recall the Indian rojak (spicy salad) who shouts his ware along the pavements of Geylang with, "Rojak, rojak..." Street sounds we call them. Or food sounds?
Elvis Presley singing 'Crawfish' as the lady hawker on the streets of New Orleans sells her food.

Connection:
The food hawkers mentioned by our local writers are not uncommon in other parts of the world (images). There are street hawkers everywhere and Singapore is no different. In fact, the opening scene of the Elvis Presley movie, King Creole (Paramount: 1958) depicts street hawkers selling their wares in downtown New Orleans in the 50s. (please watch the video above). After the film title, Elvis duets with singer Kitty White to sing Crawfish.

Elvis describes the catch:
"I went to the bayou late last night
There wasn't no moon but the stars were bright
Put a big long hook on a big long pole
And I pulled Mr Crawfish outta his hole

The street call:
Crawfish, craw-aw-aw-feeesh!
See I got 'em see the size
Stripped and clean before your eyes
Sweet meat look good
Fresh and ready to cook...
Craaawfeeesh!

The sales pitch:
Now you take Mr Crawfish in your hand
He's gonna look good in your frying pan
If you fry him crisp and you boil him right
He'll be sweeter than sugar with every bite
Crawfish..... crawfish...
(Song credited to Fred Wise/Ben Weisman, King Creole Album 1958)
How cooked food from a street hawker is carried from the ground-floor up, with ease and dexterity. Thanks to Michael Lee for the picture.

Whether it's food culture or otherwise, the world has been connected a long time ago. Like the funeral bands in New Orleans and our own Singapore funeral marching bands - the similarities are astounding.
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Perhaps there is one difference between Singapore's street vendors and those from the West; they are more imaginative and sing their wares.
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Can you remember other popular 60s songs with food as a theme?
A crawfish street hawker in the 1950's calling out to sell her fresh seafood, like in Singapore those years.

Images: 2. Paramount Studios/Elvis Presley Estate. 1/3. National Heritage Board, Singapore.
Original article: Andy Lim.
Book Quote: One More Story To Tell - Memories of Singapore - 1930s to 1980s (Chan Kwee Sung: Landmark Books, 2005).
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(This posting is for Derek Tait who's just joined as a Follower. Thanks, Derek. Welcome home!)
SINGAPORE HAWKERS' FOOD.

26 comments:

Anonymous said...

I watched the movie King Creole as a school boy and Elvis' song Crawfish left a deep impression eversince because of the woman's hawking call 'Crawwwwfiiish' backing up Elvis. The movie was shown either at Rex or Alhambra Theatre. Great to watch that clip again.

KM

Andy Young* said...

Thank you KM. What would we do without those generous You Tube contributors.

Anonymous said...

Hawkers bring food to our doorsteps then. Now we have to look for them.

Home-delivery is expensive today. I remember another song related to food, No milk today, my love has gone away.

Andy Young* said...

There is a web-site that contains many songs with food titles in them. Go to:

http://www.mixedup.com/foodsongs.htm

Thanks for the visit.

Anonymous said...

I remember things from my growing up in Stratford, Ontario, where we lived since we came to Canada from Edinburgh, Scotland in June 1925. I was 3 l/2 years old 'way back then'!

When I told my grandchildren about things in Stratford, they laughed and just couldn't imagine it in today's world. For instance 'way back then' the Milkman delivered our milk from a wagon pulled by a beautiful horse.

The Tea Man ( specialty Teas) delivered it also in a wagon pulled by another beautiful horse.

The Iceman (no refrigerators back then, it was an icebox). The Iceman would know the size of our icebox and would get his great big grippers and chop off the necessary size and bring it into the house and put it in the top box of the Icebox. He knew it would last so many days as it drained into a basin under the icebox, and so he came on a regular basis.

Bread was also delivered by wagon horse. All the kids on the street loved when they came along because the horses were so beautiful, so gentle, and they never minded when we kids would pat them, stroke them and talk to them to tell them how beautiful they were. All those horses were so gentle!

Then the garbage wagons were also pulled by horses, and in the winter they would cross the Avon River on the frozen water to serve the north part of the small city of Stratford.

There was also another wagon that would come around. There was just the man by himself, and his horse ambled down the street, he is calling out "Rags, Bones" "Rags, Bones". And we kids would run out to pat the horse.
JD

Andy Young* said...

Thanks JD. Appreciate your contribution, which is huge, to help make this blog a more wholesome place for everyone to read and learn.

Anonymous said...

Feb 11
28The sounds of street hawkers
Posted by noelbynature under Food, Lifestyle
(1) Comment • (942) Reads • Permalink


It might be an entirely forgotten dimension of our food heritage, but when it comes to food we completely misuse the term
'hawker’.

A hawker is essentially a peddlar, someone who travels about while selling his or her wares, and so when we talk about street hawkers we are really talking about roving cooks who sell meals from their portable kitchens.

Another element of a hawker is the ‘calling out’, to announce the hawker’s presence in the neighbourhood and also the wares they sell.

Today’s ‘hawker centre’ is a bit of a misnomer since nobody actually travels about selling their food, neither do they really call out to customers.

Of course, to stand out from the crowd, and also as a signature, street hawkers of old usually had distinctive calls to attract customers.

To be fair, the term hawker centre is being used less and less in favour of the term ‘food centres.'

But the modern food centre in Singapore started out essentially as a collection of hawkers that were taken off the streets and settled into more permanent locations.

As a final sound bite, what do Singapore street hawkers have in common with The King, Elvis?

Anonymous said...

Posted by: MAcbook pro laptops MC373 on: March 2nd, 2011

YES!

Isabel said...

Hi!

I am from the Ministry of the Environment & Water Resources, Singapore. I came across your blog and this interesting post on street hawkers in Singapore of the past and would like to share it on our Facebook page (www.facebook.com/mewrsingapore) as we are featuring posts on street hawkers on our page this week. Would you be ok with us sharing information from this post? Let me know :) Please email me at isabel_ong@mewr.gov.sg. Thanks.

Andy Lim* said...

Hi Isabel,

You are free to use the posting for Facebook but please acknowledge it with my name 'Andy Lim' and internet connection @ singapore60smusic.blogspot.com

Thank you for the visit and do keep in touch.

Regards

bosna said...

Hi Andy,
Stumbled over your blog while researching about Hawker Trade in Singapore.
I am a "modern day hawker" myself and my name is Erich-I operate a German Sausage Stall in Chinatown since 2004.
I find your blog entry most educational and a superb glimpse back in time.
May I ask your permission to link your blog to my FB group-Hawker Trade in Singapore revived.Our fellow members of the group will appreciate your documentation and maybe some are inspired to drive the Hawker Trade forward.
For sure you inspired me.
Tks and all the best
Erich.
I also can be reached on FB under:
Hawker Trade in Singapore revived-and
Friends of Erich's Wuerstelstand & Backstube-Chinatown,Singapore

Andy Young* said...

Not a problem, please link. You owe me your best wurst when I visit you? :-)

Andy Young* said...

DISCLAIMER:
I HAVE NO PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP NOR ANY BUSINESS AFFILIATION WITH MY BLOG READER ERICH (FRIENDS OF ERICH'S WUERSTELSTAND & BACKSTUBE-CHINATOWN, SINGAPORE), WHO WROTE THE ABOVE NOTE TO ME. I HAVE AGREED TO LINK MY BLOG TO "FB GROUP-HAWKER TRADE IN SINGAPORE REVIVED" ON A SOCIAL AND FRIENDLY BASIS ONLY.

ANDY LIM.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Frank, from the first floor window, we lower a container tied with a thin rope to the hawker below.
Fresh, hot, steaming Won Ton Meen in 2 minutes upstairs.
And the One Ton wasn't heavy nor Mean but delicious.
Cheers to nostalgia.

STEPHEN HAN (TOP CONTRIBUTOR TO THIS BLOG) said...

In the 50's and 60's,street hawkers used push-carts to ply their wares.I remember the Hainanese laksa man carrying a pot of hot laksa gravy and a basket of mee on his shoulder.The chee Chun fun lady would make her round near my house knowing I eat it.Then there was a red bean cake seller pushing his cart near the Cathay Cinema.I also used to eat the soup or dried mee hoon and kway teow. This hawker would use the bamboo stick and striking tick tick to signal his arrival.Those were the makan day’s.

Anonymous said...

This story was featured in Ministry of the Environment & Water Resources, Singapore Facebook page by officer Isabel Ong in 2011.
TELL US YOUR STREET HAWKER STORIES. A
prelude to today's PMD carted meals.

That's interesting Stephen. And each one has his own special call when selling his ware. Thanks for your contribution to the blog. It's immense.

This post has gained so much weight, it's been re-posted on Facebook.
It grew fatter.

FOO JONG FOOK said...

Foo Jong Fook
I was born in Albert Street currently Albert Food and Hawker Centre.
In those days at night Albert Street was very busy pasar Malam every night.
There were many make shift stalls selling everything we needed.
Also record stalls were blasting away music from many records of our local bands like Stylers, Travellers, Melodians etc.
We kept hearing same songs every night when those LPs and EPs were hot stuff.
Hawker food were at every corner but I was too poor to eat night snacks.
Only on special occasions then we had extra pocket money for snacks.
Furthermore I used to save up pocket money to buy records at Kwang Sia.
Those were the days my friend.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Nostalgia is hot with hot food.

Thanks Fabian.
You guys are so nice to tell your stories.
And you connected the food stories with music stories using the Pasar Malam as a connecting link.
Nobody talks about night markets today.
Singaporeans forgot their simple years.
Cheers.

Peter, Rose and Ann. Thanks for the early bird comments. I owe you each a bowl of won ton mee.

STEPHEN HAN said...

I remember a delicious wanton mee stall in Albert St.There were more hawker stalls in Queen St and Bugis St.I have recollection of a popular local who did his opening car doors of potential patron of Fatty Weng in Albert St.

FOO JONG FOOK said...

Those days without internet were so different. Everything you do it by hand. Our childhood sure has lots of memories.

DAISY KOH said...

Used to do that in Circuit Road ... either lower the basket or yell out m the wanton mee was brought up.
Had a Denon set too... playing those 78s and 33rpm at full blast 😁

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Yes thanks Daisy.
You connected too: delicious food with delicious music.
Cheers. :-)

facebook chats said...

Michael Lee
Glad you like it. I stayed is a similar SIT flat in a similar left side 2 floor unit.

Davy Chan
I was one of them earning extra with the bamboo stick n pad. Tok tick tot??

Michael Lee
Haha you are right on - I was on the buyer end - love them kolo mee. Cheerio

Andy Young
Thanks Davy and Michael for this colourful and delicious chat. I'm sure our younger generation of readers are not aware? Or are they too shy to admit, that they too, ate street food once upon a time?

facebook chats said...

THE DISCUSSION BELOW IS ABOUT THE LOWERING OF A BASKET TO THE HAWKER BELOW, WAITING TO LOAD HIS BOWL OF FOOD INTO THE BASKET, THEN HAVING IT HAULED UP AGAIN TO THE BUYER UPSTAIRS. (CHECK ILLUSTRATION ON THE POST)

THANKING MICHAEL LEE FOR THE PIX:

Hi Andy,
this was how we ordered our kolo mee back in the 60s. Cheerio.

Andy Young
Oh Michael, thanks so much. Exactly what I was looking for to illustrate the way food was carried. Cheers. You're a wonderment.

Michael Lee
Andy Young Glad you like it. I stayed is a similar SIT flat in a similar left side 2 floor unit. Cheerio have a nice weekend.

ANDY: Pop Music Not Pills. © said...

Freda Hanum
Stephen Han
Hiroshi Deguchi
Jimmy Appudurai-chua
Peter Cheong
Rose Khoo
Ann Rowena Lim
Belinda Poh
Tracy Ng
Ho Victor
Tan Ser Kiong
Davy Chan
Van Der Beek Philip
Tan Andrew

Thanks to the above readers who LIKE this food and music post.

DAISY KOH said...

Tok Tok mee was only 20cents with 3 fishballs or 30 cents with 6 fishballs.
love the chai tow kway n mee goreng .
just BYO egg.
cheap and good.
Those were the good old days.