For a nation where durian can be a reason to hold a party or even substitutes a meal – one can see how much importance we place on the simple act of eating. But how did we ever become so crazy about food in Singapore? Somewhere between our heritage, beliefs and people, lies our answer.
A Bite Into History
The unique thing about the food in Singapore has always been its diversity. While defining the local cuisine is typically done in the most pragmatic manner, “a mixture of Chinese, Malay, Indian and Peranakan cuisines…” there certainly is much more to that. While a multitude constitutes the whole, each has their nuances and makes this diversity all the more incredible. Just in the Chinese cuisine alone, we have countless dialect groups like Hokkien, Teochew, Hakka and Heng Hua; and in Indian cuisine, we are no short of Southern, Northern and even Indian-Muslim fare.
“A family dinner isn’t complete without anecdotes about how we used to eat this when we were young (or how one only paid two cents for a bowl of noodles).”
The melange of food in Singapore serves as a poignant peek into the lifestyle of those who came before us and is a way to stay connected to our past. A family dinner isn’t complete without anecdotes about how we used to eat this when we were young or how one only paid two cents for a bowl of noodles.
An example of foods with history is the hearty bak kut teh, a dish that didn’t start out by attracting throngs of people at Balestier, but was in fact a nourishing broth to help Chinese coolies complete their daily backbreaking tasks. Another example is Hokkien mee, which was originally prepared by Hokkien sailors, gathering in the evening to fry excess noodles from the noodle factories they worked at. Much beauty lies in the fact that every spoonful of food in Singapore is a bite of history, whether one’s own or others, and we can all build a sense of camaraderie in that very belief.
The Best Of Both Worlds
Perhaps what is even more interesting than the food in Singapore itself is how it has revolutionised through the years. A 2014 report showed that a whopping 81% of Singaporeans opt for hawker food when not dining at home. However, our tastes have become more refined too. We still eat out, but nowadays we want to enjoy the same comfort of food at home.
“This development is slowly but surely evolving the Singaporean taste bud into something much more sophisticated.“
However, what we have experienced in more recent years is a boom of fine dining and casual dining parties at home. With more celebrity chef restaurants opening in Singapore than I can count with my fingers and private chef service that brings the quality home, we are spoilt for choice when it comes to a good dinner in Singapore. This development is slowly but surely evolving the Singaporean taste bud into something much more sophisticated.
Hence, what makes our passion for food in Singapore different from other food-crazed nations is the unique coexistence of foods from the ends of the spectrum. We are in an unique position where one can very well have private dining at home with a Michelin Star chef in the evening, but still be first in line for two-dollar you tiao and tau huay at Rochor when morning comes. Essentially, we have the best food of both worlds and everything in between by keeping humility at the heart of sophistication.
Passion For Fusion
“If fusion food in Singapore doesn’t spin your head in circles, I do not know what will.”
Giving Singapore a new cuisine is like throwing Play-Doh at a four-year old child – you are going to get something new, unexpected and undeniably locally flavoured. Singaporeans are inventors, as we take what we can and make our own version out of it. This is present in both traditional local fare and fine dining. It’s safe to say that nowhere else on earth will you find a Ramadan Bazaar churning out pandan churros with gula melaka dip, a bespoke cocktail bar shaking up bubur chacha cocktails, or a private chef crafting foie gras xiao long baos. If fusion food in Singapore doesn’t spin your head in circles, I do not know what will.
But what sparks this fiery desire in Singaporeans to continuously reinvent and create? Take a step back and you will come to realise food in Singapore is just one puzzle piece of a larger picture of amazing things we have painstakingly built with our hands – education system, architecture, economy and the list goes on. The fire we have for creating things we can rightfully call our own has spread into our gastronomic arena and the result is pretty awesome I would say.
As a Singaporean born and bred, it is still challenging to fully decipher our craze for food as much as I try. There is just no such thing as eating for the sake of eating, for every meal is savoured and forms the fundamental social connection. With this kind of love for food in Singapore, it is little wonder that three main meals have failed to suffice, giving rise to the adoption of ‘brunch culture’ and our love for Italian fare in the privacy of our home.
Be it casual dinner with friends and family prepared by a private chef or the search for the best lunch option, one thing is for sure – you can never stop a Singaporean from sniffing out the best food in town.