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Ageing Singapore: 90-year-old noodle vendor helps keep foodie culture alive

Updated : March 07, 2019 10:33 PM IST

Leong Yuet Meng cannot walk more than 10 metres without assistance. Yet, the frail 90-year-old still runs a wonton noodle stall in downtown Singapore, selling at least 200 bowls on any given day.

Leong rises around 4 a.m. to do some accounting and prayers before her son drives her to the local market to buy ingredients for the day ahead.

From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., she is hunched over a pot of simmering noodles, slicing char siu - barbecued pork belly - or serving bowls of bargain-price hot food.

"I try to do this as long as I can, but I am old," said Leong, one of many older food vendors or 'hawkers' in the Asian city-state.

"I am afraid that all the experience that I have accumulated over the years will be lost. None of my children can take over."

The government has said it will submit a bid this month to add its hawker culture to UNESCO's Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

Celebrity chefs Anthony Bourdain and Gordon Ramsay have effused over typically Singaporean dishes like chicken rice; some hawker stalls serve up the cheapest Michelin star meals at $2; and last year's Hollywood hit film Crazy Rich Asians showed its stars tucking into heaped plates at a famous Singapore night market.

But the enthusiasm cannot mask one underlying problem - Singapore's hawkers are getting older and their better-educated sons and daughters are increasingly shunning cramped, sweaty kitchens for office jobs.

Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, prepares char siew or barbecued pork at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, prepares char siew or barbecued pork at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, prepares char siew or barbecued pork at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, prepares char siew or barbecued pork at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, finds time to catch up with the news as she waits to be driven by her son to open her shop for business in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, finds time to catch up with the news as she waits to be driven by her son to open her shop for business in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, does her daily shopping for ingredients at a market in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, does her daily shopping for ingredients at a market in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, does her daily shopping for ingredients at a market in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, does her daily shopping for ingredients at a market in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, prepares char siew or barbecued pork at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, prepares char siew or barbecued pork at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, discusses with a friend about what lottery numbers to buy at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, discusses with a friend about what lottery numbers to buy at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, and her son Michael Tang, 66, prepare to open their shop for business in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, and her son Michael Tang, 66, prepare to open their shop for business in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, is assisted by her son Michael Tang, 66, as they prepare to open their shop for business in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, is assisted by her son Michael Tang, 66, as they prepare to open their shop for business in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, and her son Michael Tang, 66, arrive to open their shop for business in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, and her son Michael Tang, 66, arrive to open their shop for business in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, enjoys her weekly game of Mahjong with her friends at home in Singapore February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, enjoys her weekly game of Mahjong with her friends at home in Singapore February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, does her daily shopping for ingredients at a market in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, does her daily shopping for ingredients at a market in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, enjoys her weekly game of Mahjong with her friends at home in Singapore February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, enjoys her weekly game of Mahjong with her friends at home in Singapore February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, presents a bowl of wonton noodle soup at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, presents a bowl of wonton noodle soup at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Grandson Bryant Tang, 41, holds the hand of hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, as they pack up to go home after a day of business at their shop in Singapore February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Grandson Bryant Tang, 41, holds the hand of hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, as they pack up to go home after a day of business at their shop in Singapore February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, takes her vitamin as she waits to leave her house for the market with her son Michael in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, takes her vitamin as she waits to leave her house for the market with her son Michael in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, does her daily shopping for ingredients at a market in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, does her daily shopping for ingredients at a market in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
A black and white photo of hawker Leong Yuet Meng in her youth is pictured among her family photos at her home in Singapore on February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
A black and white photo of hawker Leong Yuet Meng in her youth is pictured among her family photos at her home in Singapore on February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, prepares wonton at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, prepares wonton at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, poses as she cooks noodles at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, poses as she cooks noodles at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, presents a bowl of wonton noodle soup at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, presents a bowl of wonton noodle soup at her shop in Singapore February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, is greeted by longtime patrons and family friends outside her shop in Singapore February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Hawker Leong Yuet Meng, 90, of Nam Seng Noodle House, is greeted by longtime patrons and family friends outside her shop in Singapore February 16, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
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