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Jul 27, 2012 04:07 AM

article -> Serious Eats: An Introduction to Singaporean Food

Pretty nice and lengthy article about Singaporean food from Serious eats

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  1. Heh-heh, truly fascinating for Singapore-born-&-bred folks like me to read about foreign visitors who wax lyrical about everyday food items which we pretty much took for granted. Gosh, if Max Falkowitz thinks so highly of Singapore's street foods, I wonder how he'd react if he comes across those from Penang, Ipoh or Kuala Lumpur in neighboring Malaysia.

    Don't get me wrong - I'm as proud of Singapore's street food heritage as any of my fellow countrymen & women, but I'd always felt that most of our hawkers have lost that old passion, oftentimes concatenating the cooking process and compromising on the quality of products. In comparison, I still find true-blue street hawkers in Penang and Ipoh, where purveyors have practiced their art of cooking uninterrupted for decades.

    Like many of my relatives & friends, we fly an hour north of Singapore to Penang just for their street hawker fare. That is what our New Yorker friend seemed to have missed.

    P.S. - Oops! I just read the footnote at the bottom of the article "Note: Max's recent trip to Singapore was sponsored by the Singapore Tourism Board." Okay, I shall hold my silence now like any other patriotic Singaporean ;-)

    6 Replies
    1. re: klyeoh

      oh i know what you mean, when i first came here i found the inaccurate and overly rhapsodic pontificating over some food and produce that is very common to us very curious, especially by some who seem to base their opinions mostly on wikipedia and other googled articles. Well.. you learn to love it.

      This was the weirdest standout phrase from the article for me -

      "A spoonful of quivering tofu from a plastic carton will change your relationship with bean curd. "

      Haha.. very nice.

      Its interesting also that the Singapore Tourism Board went out of its way to sponsor a blogger's trip. They must take their job quite seriously - they should look into sponsoring your reviews as well, I think. Quite a good service, if you don't mind my saying.

      At least Falkowitz wrote a comprehensive overview. It's much better than the latest Seetoh episode on Singapore in Food Surprise. Half of the restos he featured were not filmed (not allowed to film on premise), resulting in his eating their food from outside MBS and talking about them, and a good portion of the rest was hard to understand because of his famous mumbling.

      1. re: timpani_mimi

        That part where KF Seetoh was chased out of a coffeeshop whilst trying to interview the roti prata seller ( where the owner rudely retorted, "I don't care, even the Prime Minister needs an appointment") was a classic. In fact, I *wouldn't* have even gone back there if I were KF Seetoh.

        In a way, Singaporean attitudes have evolved so much over the decades and we have become ruder these days. I used to work in Radio Television Singapore (later the Singapore Broadcasting Corp) in the late-80s/early-90s, and I can tell you that people in those days would have jumped at the opportunity to be featured on TV. But those were the days when we do not have cable TV, let alone the Food Channel. One of the earliest foodie shows (and a fave of mine) was "Mum's Not Cooking" hosted by Jacintha Abishegenadan. Koh Chieng Mun was a food columnist on RTV Times, later re-labelled 8 Days in 1990, before she hit the big time as Dolly in "Under One Roof".

        More aggressive street hawkers, less-tasty fare, the rise of chains (e.g. Killiney Rd & Ya Kun) - tt showed how far the world had changed. When I go to Ipoh and Penang these days. they reminded me of Singapore in the old days. I remembered as recent as in the 1980s, when Penang or Malaccan relatives would come all the way down to Singapore just to buy Bengawan Solo's Nyonya kuehs to bring home. Can you even imagine *that* happening today?!

        1. re: klyeoh

          That part where KF Seetoh was chased out of a coffeeshop whilst trying to interview the roti prata seller ( where the owner rudely retorted, "I don't care, even the Prime Minister needs an appointment") was a classic. In fact, I *wouldn't* have even gone back there if I were KF Seetoh

          ---> hrm, i wished i had seen this, was this an earlier episode? it sounds hilarious. i saw the briyani one, where the the first time he went, it was closed. when he came back a second day, the briyani was sold out. the name of the place was something like Abak Dam. what i don't get about this (because it happened in today's episode again, where the resto was closed for a private event) is why he has to show this, and why he just doesn't keep going back and then show us a filmed segment where he did get to talk to the folks. or just skip them altogether if this wasn't possible. IMO i think there's too much focus on him (his reaction to the closures, his reaction to the signs showing the food is sold out), then on showing the actual food and makers.

          I loved Mum's Not Cooking! I love Jacintha. I believe that was actually also one of Mediacorp's very first attempts at homegrown English local programming. I think it was even before Triple9. I actually thought Koh Chieng Mun was some kind of linguistic or accent teacher before her Dolly role?

          I think there are a lot more opportunities for hawkers to be featured on TV nowadays, because there are so many programme segments that will cover food. That's good, in a way, but with so many programmes hungry for f&B content to cover, that's probably resulted in over-coverage and not everyone featured is great. The "chainification" of local hawkerfare and local snack foods is interesting, in a way it reflects necessary growth for family businesses. I never really liked Ya Kun, actually, but i do still like Old Chang Kee, and who doesn't like Bee Cheng Hiang, heheh.

          1. re: timpani_mimi

            Abak Briyani is notorious for its short operating hours, but I guess KF Seetoh's show is trying to manufacture some drama, or inject some "spontaneity" into its weekly plots by including all these 'failed attempts'.
            Write-up on Abak a while back:

      2. re: klyeoh

        I have to say that the STB has its act downpat insofar as media familiarisation trips go. I was the beneficiary of their largesse when I covered the World Gourmet Summit in 2005 for a Malaysian publication. While I'm not going to go into the dirty, they have a particular way of making sure that the guest has a very personalised experience. A great example was when I checked into my hotel, the STB had organised a cake for my birthday, which they could only have known if they had a look at the small print in my passport. But of course it makes your day when you are in a foreign country away from family and friends!

        And I will confess that it does become tricky trying to segregate your innate bias when you are being looked after so well. There is almost, I wouldn't call it an expectation, but if you end up being critical in your piece, you feel like you've let your new friends down, that you've disappointed them greatly. The sad corollary of this is that articles like Max Falkowitz's are a dime a dozen, and I could swear that I had read a similar article in an Australian paper a few months ago.

        1. re: Julian Teoh

          That's STB for you - slick marketing :-)

          That's why Singapore is ranked above Penang, Ho Chi Minh City (egads, mighty Taipei wasn't even on the top 10 list!!) by international voters in the rating for best street food, huh? Coz based upon taste alone, we in Singapore wouldn't have stood a chance :-D