Sunday, October 30, 2011

Singapore Food – from street to sleek

Makansutra – Sat, Oct 15, 2011 12:59 AM SGT
Text by Sheere Ng @ Makansutra

Singaporean food culture is rojak – not as in the Asian salad but its
urban meaning of "mixture". We add southeast Asian spices such as
garlic, ginger and chilli to the sedated chicken rice from the Hainan
Island; we combine noodles, a Chinese staple, with Malay spices and
rempah culinary techniques to create a repertoire of "mee" soup; and
we add minced mutton, egg and Indian spices to western baguette and
invented a new dish for the British, or John, and named it after them.

So Singaporean food is born out of cross-cultural exchanges, will this
fact make us more accepting towards attempts to alter it? What would
you say if the tourism authorities and relevant agencies here
Singapore Tourism Board (STB) wants to publicise Singapore food, but
in a different way from how we have always known them?

Last week, 21 chefs from 15 different cities were in town for the
Singapore International Culinary Exchange organised by Singapore
Tourism Board (STB), IE Singapore and SPRING Singapore. During the
event, the chefs came up with their own interpretation of
Singapore-inspired dishes, which they may feature in their own

Amongst them was Chef Alvin Leung from Bo Innovation, Hong Kong, who
is well-known for his modern interpretation of Chinese cuisine. He
made a poached egg in laksa stock, with cockles on the side and
deep-fried rice noodles as garnish – turning the main ingredient into
a side ingredient and vice versa.

Chef Leung said he retained what he liked about the original laksa,
but changed what he didn't fancy. "I didn't like the hardboiled egg so
I made it into a poached egg under 63 degree heat," he said. He kept
the cockles rather than the prawns (he used them to make the stock
instead) because it has a softer texture and blends well with the egg
when chewed together.

While the first dish still has much resemblance to its traditional
form, Chef Leung's other creation stretches your imagination. In his
rendition of Rojak, which he said was made to suit a kid's palate, he
replaced turnip with Chinese pear, prawn paste with black soy sauce,
peanuts with pine nuts and added rose apples and vanilla ice-cream.

"The DNA of Rojak is found in its textures. My creation has similar
bite to the original ingredients, but I think children will prefer my
version," he said. The taste, as you would have guessed by now, is
entirely different.

Most of the other chefs picked out a sauce or an ingredient to create
something entirely new. Chef Josean Martinez Alija from Nerua, Spain,
for example, made a soup out of banana flowers and the plant's stem
after discovering the ingredient at a Peranakan restaurant here. "I
like to look out for new things, it could be a new dish or an
ingredient, and then play with it and experiment with it in my
cooking," he said.

Most of these chefs have turned local street food into haute cuisine.
These, or other similarly high-toned dishes, will be introduced into
their restaurants' menus for at least six months as part of STB's
effort to promote Singapore to the rest of the world. "The chefs are
free to exercise their creativity in presenting their own
interpretation of Singapore food, reflecting our position as a capital
for culinary innovation," said Ms Ranita Sundramoorthy, STB's Director
of Attractions, Dining & Retail.

What we are curious about is whether these are how Singaporeans want
their food to be introduced to the rest of the world. Are you the one
who will laud the creativity and audaciousness of these chefs or do
you belong o the opposite camp that says, "No, we don't want the
essences of our traditional dishes to be tainted!"?

Tell us your thoughts!

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