Sunday, February 20, 2011

Singapore Street-Hawker Calls And Elvis' 'Crawfish'

Street Hawkers (from
Elvis Presley sings 'Crawfish' 
(from Paramount Studios/Elvis Presley Estate)

Street Hawker
 (from National Heritage Board Archives Singapore)

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.
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."
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.

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...

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)

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.
Perhaps there is one difference between Singapore's street vendors and those from the West; they are more imaginative and sing their wares.
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).
(This posting is for Derek Tait who's just joined as a Follower. Thanks, Derek. Welcome home!)


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.


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:

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.

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

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


Isabel said...


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 ( 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 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 @

Thank you for the visit and do keep in touch.


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
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...