I love getting questions about Singapore from readers. I’m no expert, but if I can help with the little knowledge I have, I feel thrilled.
I just got another fascinating question from Nienke from Holland. She’s researching food culture in Singapore and was wondering if I think food makes Singaporeans come together so peacefully. She revealed that in Holland there are also a lot of different cultures (Dutch, Moroccan, Turkish, Polish etc.) living together, but there are always difficulties going on. She feels that in Singapore everyone seems to get along really well and wonders how this is possible. She wonders if our food culture has something to do with it.
Well I feel that it certainly does. It’s something that binds us together. Our food itself is often a kind of fusion food. For instance, in India you can’t find Fish Head curry. This was invented by our Chinese Singaporean ancestors influenced by the curries of our Indian ancestors. You also won’t be able to find cheese prata in Singapore. This is a recent invention which probably gets the inspiration from melted cheese on pizza.
Much of the food here can be found in the homes of our ancestors in China, India and Malaysia, but they have been modified and now have a uniquely Singapore taste, even if they have been tweaked just slightly. You won’t find chicken rice in China for instance, and I don’t think you can find anyone in Singapore who does not love satay (the food of the native people of Singapore – The Malays) for instance. Just thinking about satay makes me hungry. I think that because Singapore and Malaysia have a common history, culture and food, we feel a closeness with each other. That’s true for me at least. We are definitely more than just neighbours.
But beyond fusion, there is the element of nostalgia. Food was very much part of our childhood and we have the same collective memories. We may not be very patriotic (as we are a young nation – just 46 years old) but we are loyal to our food. In fact very passionate about our food and willing to travel across the island and queue up for 30 minutes or more for our favourite hawker food.
Kirsten Han loving calls this place: The Island of Noms. Would love to hear what she thinks about all of this. As she has expressed before it is not so much about the food itself, but the memories and collective experiences that bind us together and makes us feel part of this tiny island. But to be very open about it, there is ethnocentrism everywhere in the world, including Singapore. It’s just that our laws push all these under the surface. It’s naive to think that racism and prejudice does not exist.
But yes I could not imagine Singapore without our unique food culture that we are all so proud of. Recently when an Indian family was asked to stop cooking curry when their neighbour (who is not a Singaporean and happened to be from China) could not tolerate the smell and lodged a complaint, there was a huge uproar and people of all races came to this family’s defense. There was a strong element of xenophobia about it that made us uncomfortable, but basically don’t mess with our culture or bully our fellow people, is the message we all got. I’m sure there are echoes of this in other countries. When people live in close proximity there is bound to be issues – like chickens in a coop. All I want to say is that things get messy in all countries – it’s never a Disneyland as it may seem on the surface. There was even a Facbook page set up in support of the family and a day set aside to cook curry. The whole thing got a bit heated.
Sorry, but I am not very apt at commenting on social issues. I would love your input and comments so that I can understand this issue better myself. Before I started writing this post, I thought I knew for sure. But as I was working through my thoughts as I was writing this, now I’m not so sure. I guess nothing is as neat as it seems.