July 2, 2012
Singapore works to preserve its food heritage
Our recent trend report on food spotlighted a “roots revival”: a growing appreciation for regional dishes and cooking techniques as a countertrend to international foods infiltrating markets worldwide. In thoroughly modern Singapore, a slew of books, food carnivals and events are focused on preserving the country’s rich, varied and multiethnic food culture. The country’s famous hawker centers (semi-open-air complexes filled with street food vendors) still see diners standing in long lines for their favorite cheap plate of char kway teow noodles or Hainanese chicken rice. But there’s a growing concern about who will follow today’s great hawkers, many of whom have manned their stalls for decades. Younger Singaporean cooks, brought up in an era of Michelin-starred restaurants and celebrity chefs, seem more inclined to launch Western-style restaurants.
“Stories of craftsmanship being passed down from generation to generation are becoming scarce in this increasingly mall and condo dominated city,” writes blogger Mr Miyagi. He was one of three popular bloggers who led the Singapore Memory Project’s recent Food Trail, which had foodies competing to eat from 8 a.m. to midnight at food haunts island-wide. The bloggers also collected oral histories from hawkers and food vendors.
Meanwhile, the Singapore government is looking for potential partners with which to set up hawker training centers. And Marshall Cavendish, with Singapore’s National Heritage Board, has published a series of Singapore Heritage Cookbooks, showcasing Peranakan, Indian, Eurasian and Malay recipes. In July, a group of Hakka (a Chinese dialect group) clan associations will host a food carnival showcasing hard-to-find, handmade Hakka cuisine. “We want the young generation to have a chance to try the dishes,” one of the organizers told The Straits Times. A previous event, in 2008, drew a crowd of 3,000.
Writes food blogger Lesley Tay in his book The End of Char Kway Teow and Other Mysteries: “Hawker food was cooked by migrants for migrants. Our hawker food is neither elegant nor classy, but it embodies the essence of being Singaporean.”
Image credit: Marshall Cavendish