Ice Cream Uncles On Orchard Road Hold Personal Licences That Can’t Be Transferred

For 3 decades, uncles peddling ice cream wrapped in fragrant buns along Orchard Road has become synonymous with the shopping precinct’s fame.

Sadly, there is a chance where you may no longer see their signature red and yellow ice cream carts in the future.

Uncle Chieng (in red) is one of the famous ice cream hawkers in Orchard
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Reason being that ice cream hawkers like them require a special islandwide licence for them to operate.

The licence is personal and non-transferable, which means no one can take over the licence after they pass away — not even their friends or family members.

This also means their operations will cease to exist once they’re no longer here, Channel NewsAsia (CNA) highlighted this grim reality on Thursday (26 Sep).

Future of ice cream street hawkers uncertain

All ice cream hawkers operating along Orchard Road hold islandwide licences, CNA reports.

Sadly, such licences aren’t likely to be open for application anymore. Uncle Chieng told CNA that newer street vendors hold a licence that permits them to open business within the area of purview under their town councils.

This is probably why there are only but a handful of ice cream street hawkers setting up business in the iconic shopping precinct today.

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CNA also mentioned that Singapore Food Agency (SFA) did not respond to 3 of their queries on:

  • How many street hawker applications SFA received to sell ice cream on Orchard Road
  • Approval rate of said applications
  • Future plans to preserve operations of ice cream street hawkers in Orchard.

Only 7 ice cream hawkers on Orchard Road

According to CNA, there are currently only 13 islandwide licence holders who are allowed to sell ice cream and canned beverages in public spaces.

A total of 7 chose to operate along Orchard Road, and 71-year-old Uncle Chieng is one of them. He’s been selling ice cream for 54 years and he’s usually stationed outside Ngee Ann City.

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Ice cream vendors would typically wake up at around 8am to collect their supply and start selling their ice cream at 11am, when a massive crowd would start swarming their carts.

Tourists taking a photo with Uncle Chieng (in red)
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When asked why there are fewer ice cream vendors along Orchard Road, another Orchard Road ice cream hawker Mr Chan Yong Leng, said it was due to competition from modern ice cream shops.

Netizens’ thoughts about ice cream carts

Some netizens feel that ice cream carts are an essential part of Singapore’s food heritage, like this one.

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There are also those who question the reason behind setting the non-transferable condition of the islandwide licences.

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Another netizen urges the authorities to ensure the future of these hawkers, as they are “icons along Orchard Road”.

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Orchard Road’s ice cream uncles are probably etched on every Singaporean’s memory – even tourists – and it’s sad to imagine a future without them along the island’s famous shopping belt.

What do you think can be done to keep the heritage of this traditional ice cream alive? Let us know in the comments below.

Featured image adapted from Boring Singapore and Instagram.