22 December 2006

A nonbeliever in the religion of food

We have our favourites in our food paradise, or are they just fads? Is it even a food paradise at all? Full essay.


Anonymous said...

I must say I really enjoyed your article. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

I am a foreigner living in Singapore, and I have also been quite astonished at all the raving about Singapore's food scene. Honestly, I haven't been very impressed at the variety. Some might try to say that as a middle-aged Caucasian, I wouldn't be able to appreciate the finer qualities of local cuisine. But please, I grew up in New York City, a city that attracts immigrants from all over the world, and I grew up eating Chinese, Tibetan, Ethiopian, Mexican, Hawaiian, Cuban, Iranian food cooked by very competitive immigrants from those very places... I just haven't seen that kind of variety in Singapore. Most western restaurants here are overpriced and mediocre. Waiters are rude. Tips are included even if service is poor. Hawker centers are quaint and interesting, but seem unsanitary. Tables are never cleaned off well. It's crowded, and the food is greasy. In New York and London, immigrants run ethnic restaurants and the food is good and authentic. In Singapore, who immigrates here and opens restaurants? I would think most emigrants in this world strive to go to the West because of opportunities, economic or otherwise. I'm sure there are counterexamples and I offer no proof, just a general feeling. I'm not exactly complaining because there are of course very good restaurants here too. But if people boast of being a food capital of the world, they need to prove it!

For example, how many non-Singaporeans and non-mainland Chinese are running restaurants? Have there been any independent food critics who have compared Singapore's food scene with that of other world cities? Is Singapore's cuisine widely acclaimed outside Singapore as it is inside Singapore? If not, then one runs the risk of being deluded.

Anonymous said...

Hi Alex:

I have another take on this.

I wonder if our obsession with food in Singapore isn't some kind of oral fixation or even a fetish--sorry if I'm getting Freudian here. It is something which is very different from other countries I've spent time in. It's almost as if we use talking about food and foodie obsessions to substitute for talking about politics or about social issues or engaging in activism. We become docile, well-fed, and spend most of our time running around the island chasing the best roti prata or char kwei tiaow rather than engaging with our society? But it's a form of consumption, which leads nowhere (I guess it does promote social bonding, of course) rather than the production of anything usefully activist. So it is a relgion--it's almost like Marx said, the opium of the people?

Nan Dao

Salt * Wet * Fish said...

Ah... I can see Mr YB threading on raw nerves this time! heeheee...

Salt * Wet * Fish said...

The buah keluak is cracked with a knife and hammer as its shell is very hard. Also, I understand that the outer shell is quite poisonous in its raw and you have to wear gloves when treating it.

The "meat" inside do look like black mud, but it has a very distinct taste. Also sometimes, cooks will mix this with mince meat to stuff it back to the nut.

I guess YB could be one of those ppl with low taste sensitivity and with his poor allergies to MSG, it must be very hard for him to eat anything around town! :-)

The taste/smell of the buah keluak meat is definition distinctive, not just simply black mud tasting.

boon said...

The 2nd anon said: "Most western restaurants here are overpriced and mediocre. Waiters are rude. Tips are included even if service is poor."

Seriously I wonder what are the prices he would consider reasonable. $8 for a full 3-course meal?

Also I've noticed that many customers (esp. foreigners) are quick to scold the waiters for any oversight, no matter how minor.

10% service charge is not tips, as that goes to the restaurant and not the waiters.

"Hawker centers are quaint and interesting, but seem unsanitary."

Why complain about unsanitary hawker centres? Prices start from only $2, what do you expect?

The best foods are found at hawker centres. Yet he couldn't quite bring himself to praise it.

Anyway, back to the article:

Sounds like YB doesn't enjoy eating to be begin with, a case of "eat to live"? :)

My biggest complaint about Singapore cuisine is that the ingredients are not fresh. We import most of our food, so regrettably, there is nothing much we can do about it.

atilla the han said...


The only problem with all these 'authentic' long ago eat stuffs is that they are anything but authentic.

Just a simple example, that cup of kopi-o don't taste anything like the genuinely 'own-brewed' kopi brewed from beans roasted by the kopitiam owners themselves.

Many of us from that generation should know. The memory is burned into our brains somewhere. We know a genuine cuppa kopi-o or teh-si when we see and smell the aroma of one.

Sad to say, like your friend, I have done a bit of checking out of some of these claims, including genuine well known shops in Katong, and to date, my verdict, without exception, is that they are all fakes and at best, wanna bes. You can't claim tradition using everyday run-of-mill stuffs bought off the shelf.

Two words come to mind to describe such outlets: exploitating nostalgia.

Anonymous said...

I like the comment above from boon...

"Why complain about unsanitary hawker centres? ... The best foods are found at hawker centres."

Indeed! It is the very unsanitary nature of those hawker centres that makes them so delicious. If we started cleaning them up and forcing hawkers to stop touching food with bare unwashed hands (I have seen this so many times), the good taste would disappear.

Anonymous said...

the sireh leaf you mentioned is not sireh leaf, i think the Malays called it 'daun upeh' or upeh leaf.

Anonymous said...

reading this article makes me realise how similar we are, Alex, with regards to food... I hate shells, bones, nuts, scales, brains, insides, etc... maybe cos I never liked working when I just want to eat... food with all the above precludes that I have to peel or be way too careful to get to my food... anyway, thanks to countless occasions in the distant past when I nearly choked on something sharp from eating out, I don't eat fish at all anymore... plus, I found the perfect alternative to bitching bout the quality et al when eating out is to NOT eat out at all... I like my food with a zest, so it's no surprise I took to Thai food like a fish to water... so I started to make my own 'Thai-ish' creations culled from the recipe books I collected and now, I am so into my own food (did some Italian but now mostly exclusively Thai..) that I have never eaten out for over 4 years now (with the exception of family eat outs which I sort of have to oblige but never totally enjoyed the food) and I never miss the food that's served out there, just mine... I fear this proliferation of kopi-tiams and food centres and fast food joints round every corner have made us lot a very pampered and lazy lot... I think we should attempt to create something ourselves then you might agree that the food out there really is nothing to sing about... in Singapore, that is...

there are quite good continental food here but they are usually in way-too-posh restaurants at way too pricey prices, way out of reach for out-of-job fussy eaters like me, but the hawker food scene is really not quite up to scratch...

gen x-i said...

One food critic claimed in a recent interview for CNA BlogTV.sg that 'Food is the most democratic culture in Singapore'.

This sentiment is echoed by a popular food blogger. His more critical posts have apparently attracted more comments than complimentary ones. So he reckons 'food' offers an outlet for 'freedom of expression'.

Do you reckon this is a fair assessment of the state of affairs in Singapore?

Anonymous said...

Malaysian food is really good, and those "authentic" hawkers specializing in a certain dish are real. Im singaporean by the way.
I remember the bubble tea fad, yes I was one of those girls.. that was the only thing I took after, prolly coz it was so refreshing after a long hot day at school. Everytime I visit singapore, Im dragged to these little stalls selling the latest food fad. As a nutritionist, i cant help but point out how unhealthy they are but Im silenced by the "you cant get this over there so just eat it okay!"
And there's the slimming ad staring at me everywhere I go.

Anonymous said...

After reading your post, I am curious what and where do you eat, Alex?