In a follow up post based on my friend’s travels around Singapore, I talk about food, specifically food in Singapore, and the different approaches people take to local food.
My brother had heavily criticised me for my approach to introducing Hayley to our Singapore food scene. He said that I was doing her a disservice by not taking her to eat at hawker centres, and other “authentic” food joints. For me it was largely a practical decision, most of the days when we were out and about eating, I wasn’t really dressed for a messy meal of crab.
But that does raise an interesting question. What is “authentic Singapore food”? Yes, we do have some local dishes we call authentic, but we cannot deny that we have also built up a diverse and interesting food scene in Singapore, one that not only encompasses food from all over the world, but also at various price points for almost all audiences. For me personally, I am not sure that having chicken rice at a hawker centre automatically makes it more authentic than having a bowl of chicken rice at the Chatterbox at the Mandarin Hotel. There are those out there who will chop my head off for even suggesting that the Chatterbox is in any way on par with the hawker experience, especially one that is from the more well known chicken rice places, but the restaurant does a roaring trade selling chicken rice and anyone who has tried Chatterbox chicken rice would know that it’s a very well made plate of food.
Furthermore, who is to say that the French, Mexican, Italian, Japanese etc. restaurants are not as integral a part of our local food scene today, as our chicken rice, or curry. It’s part of the diverse and beautiful melange that makes eating in Singapore so exciting. Coming back from London, where no one would ever tell you that to eat authentically in the UK is to only stick to fish and chips and shepard’s pie, why can’t we look at a well made authentic Mexican burrito, or a durian souffle at Bistro DB, or Black Pepper Prawn Pasta by Violet Oon and say that yes, these dishes all are in fact part of Singapore’s food culture? We are just as comfortable with a bowl of Penne al Ragu, as we are some chilli crab, so why don’t we celebrate it?
There is a sort of patrician attitude towards food that is ultimately doing a disservice to our food culture. I use that word deliberately, because I do not believe we should put our local food culture on a pedestal, that hawker food should be cheap and “mass market”, whilst our “imported” food should be silo’d away for only the hippest, trendiest and therefore wealthiest to afford. It’s wrong and possibly one of the reasons today why people simply are not attracted to the F&B business unless it’s hipster, or au courant.
For the record: I took Hayley to have Popiah at My Cozy Corner, Durian from my Aunty’s dealer, Chicken Rice at NUSS (maybe not the best decision I made), Ramen at Menya Musashi, Burritos at Muchachos, followed by drinks at The Library, a Banh Mi at Nam Nam, Chicken Curry at my fiancee’s house, and Kaya Toast at ToastBox.
Also – Happy National Day. I know things have been a bit rough lately, Singapore, but I still love you and all that you mean to me and mine.