Hawker Ailments: The risks of frying a plate of Char Kway Teow

By Lorraine Koh - Monday, Jun 18, 2012

Imagine standing in the same spot, near a hot stove doing the same actions for hours on end. Yet this is what many of our hawkers do, in order to fill a hungry lunch and dinner crowd. Most hawkers work an average of 10 hours a day, six days a week. It is no wonder that work does cause a strain to their physical bodies. We look at some of the hawker ailments unique to this group of dedicated cooks.


Dry Eyes


In order to achieve that wok hei, many hawkers suffer from dry eyes, as a result of the constant exposure to smoke. The drying effect of smoke hinders the natural production of tears. Tears are necessary for maintaining the health of the front surface of the eye and for providing clear vision. Stall owner of Hill Street Char Kway Teow says, “I do suffer from dry eyes, due to the smoke from frying the Char Kway Teow. The smoke makes my eyes uncomfortable, but what can I do about it? I just try to get enough rest when I go back at night.”


Varicose veins


Spending long hours standing causes pressure on the legs, forming varicose veins. Besides cosmetic problems, varicose veins are often painful, especially when standing or walking. They often itch, and scratching them can cause ulcers. Health specialists suggest that hawkers elevating the legs often, especially during their down time as this provides temporary symptomatic relief.


Knee Pains


Knee problems can also occur as a result of standing too long, over a long period of time. With increased stress on one’s knee joint, coupled with old age, hawkers may suffer from knee pains. The late Madam Koh, owner of Siak Ann Cooked Food (now closed), suffered from knee problems for ten over years. Her daughter Lily recounts, “She had to undergo surgery for her knee pains and she was still able to sit down after that. However it was pneumonia that eventually claimed her life.”




A rather delicate issue, but studies show that high heat does decrease sperm production (www.malefertility.md). Due to the testicles being placed outside the body, environmental conditions like temperatures affects one’s fertility. The hawker is usually exposed to high temperatures especially when it comes to frying. For example, when it comes to making an oyster omelette, one’s private parts are usually situated near or slightly below the stove, in close proximity to the usually huge fire. Mr Lau of Hup Kee Oyster Omelette at Newton has a steel plate to shield his lower body from the fire. “It helps me stay cool and maintain my libido.”


Mr Lau of Hup Kee Oyster Omelette at Newton has a steel plate to shield his lower body from the fire. “It helps …


Fungal Nail Infections


Dr Kevin Chua, Drs. Chua & Partners, adds. “Hawkers tend to have skin and nail diseases because they are in contact with water all the time. This leads to fungal nail infections. Occasionally a raw food skin allergy may develop.” He advises hawkers to always wear gloves and boots to minimize the damage. Dr. Chua says, “There are certain risks associated with being a hawker, however if one has a good diet and enough exercise, they can still enjoy good health.”