‘Pornographic’, ‘orgasmic’, ‘deconstructed’, ‘an art form’, ‘a national sport’ are just a few of the endless labels for food. In between the many labels, can we also add patriotic, nostalgic and diplomatic? The Singapore government believes so and engaged Singapore’s leading food blogger of ieatishootipost, Leslie Tay, to “bring back the talent” , referring to Singaporeans living and studying abroad.
Not your usual blogger, Leslie is a doctor by trade, philanthropist and food blogger by passion. One can also add patriot to his repertoire. In collaboration with the Overseas Singapore Unit (OSU), a special unit set up under the Prime Minister’s Office whose mission is to connect with Singaporeans who are living overseas, Leslie packed his camera and set out for the universities in Ann Arbor, Chicago, and Boston during October. Some Singaporean favorites he spoke of and demonstrated were Char Kway Teow and Teh Tarik.
Why use food to attract and stir nostalgia? When asked, most overseas Singaporeans would say of all things they miss from their homeland, the food would be the number one answer. Singaporean dishes are truly unique and duplication is rare to find outside of this country. For a food mecca like New York, the closest cuisine resembling Singaporean dishes would be Malaysian. But even then, the similarities are few. The infamous ‘Singapore stir-fried noodles’ you get in Chinatown isn’t actually Singaporean at all. Hence, the understanding as to why locals living abroad would miss the food from their native country.
At the different venues where Leslie spoke, many overseas students reminisced about the food back home. Leslie discussed the origins of Fish Head Curry and was amazed that there was an elderly couple in the audience who could testify to his story of how the dish started with Gomez Curry. The couple was there to visit their grandchildren.
The OSU is also responsible for such events as Singapore Day where hawkers are flown halfway across the world to fry Char Kway Teow for Singaporeans living overseas, which has already taken place in New York, Melbourne, London and Shanghai. The next Singapore Day event will return to New York during April 2012.
You will find that many countries are using the food of their native land to tempt and reconnect with their residents living abroad. The byproduct of these events is exposure of their culture and cuisine to the rest of the world. Some efforts are greater than others. I would give the Singapore government an A+ for their authentic and well represented effort. You know you have won someone over when you are referenced in a Simpsons episode. As a native New Yorker, unfortunately I won’t be expecting to find Nathan’s hot dogs or authentic zingy Buffalo wings with clumpy blue cheese dip at the next fair.
“Better a lump of shit than a fart” is unlike any of the proverbs your parents would use. But in Thai culture, “there is wit in our wisdom” Tulaya Pornpiriyakulchai, author of Thai Folk Wisdom, said during our meeting. Spending most of her life abroad mainly in Boston, Tulaya returned home to Thailand a few years ago looking for a break from the creatively exhaustive nature of working in branding, and to reconnected to her Thai roots and culture.
A whole new dimension was revealed to her upon hearing the proverbs her elders were saying during their daily discussions. It takes great effort to understand these often enigmatic proverbs. Tulaya set out to research them and her results showed that traditional proverbs as well as their explanations were housed only in lengthy textbooks. “Folk wisdom highlights the wit and humor of my culture, teaches about life and helps me rediscover my roots” , Tulaya says. Her personal quest transformed into a desire to develop a new medium to engage and teach the youth about their long forgotten folk wisdom.
In the two years following, Tulaya spent her time visiting contemporary art exhibitions at museums and universities in search of talent amongst the young and seasoned contemporary artists. Together with her friend Jane Vejjajiva, as well as many local artists, they created the book: Thai Folk Wisdom, Contemporary Takes On Traditional Proverbs.
What better medium than through contemporary art, to engage our youth and their visionary sensors, believes Tulaya. During the launch of the book in January this year, over 400 guests attended among them was Thailand’s Prime Minister. The book was well received throughout the country and across all generations.
Knowledge and use of folk wisdom is diminishing around the world. Though they are expressed in different languages, they all use symbolism to share an idea or teach a lesson. Where in Thailand, the use of elephants are quite common in local proverbs, it can be the horse or cow in Chinese proverbs. With this in mind, Tulaya created Wisdom Beyond Borders (Wbb) to express these cultural differencs. Wbb will be a website and application that will provide a forum for youngsters around the world to share folk wisdom from their native countries.
Currently, Wbb is in its final days of online fundraising. All funds will be used to develop the website and send the Thai Folk Wisdomcollection around the world, displaying it various universities and museums.
Up until now, the Thai Folk Wisdom collection has been on display amongst different universities and museums throughout Singapore. It has spent the past few months at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore Management University and is currently housed in New York University, Tisch Asia through to the end of 2011.
For 2012, it will be showcased at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, School of The Arts Singapore, National University of Singapore, and waiting to confirm their final destination at the Asian Civilization Museum, Singapore.
Neighboring Asian countries have recognized the importance to educate and engage the next generation about their native folk wisdom. Some have reached out to Tulaya to work with local artists to produce a collection for their country. Thai Folk Wisdom is amongst the first in Asia to express folk wisdom through contemporary art. But hopefully through Wisdom Beyond Borders, it will not be the last and traditional proverbs will live on through the youth.
For more details on the where and when the Thai Folk Wisdom exhibition will be held in Singapore, email: Creativeadvokate@gmail.com
Calling all amateur cooks! How many times have you thought “I can make this dish better” or “I can easily run this restaurant” ? The owners of Kilo Kitchen+Bar, at the Ture Building, were ready for you to put your sweat where your mouth is. For one night only, the kitchen was to be yours to conquer or destroy! Those meek of heart needed not apply.
The first of a series of events, rightly named ‘Under Pressure’, was born from the tireless notions of those delusional to what a restaurateur or chef goes through daily. Owners of Kilo, Sharon and Javier came up with this concept hoping not for failure but the success of each participant. They wanted to give everyone a taste of what it would be like in an actual restaurant.
Both restaurateurs not only wanted to provide great food in a casual setting for their restaurant but also provide a space to promote upcoming artists waiting to be discovered. Events held at Kilo range from culinary, music to arts.
Less than two months after putting the word out, Sharon and Javier, found themselves looking at a slew of interesting applicants. From a yoga instructor to a media director, they searched for the perfect candidate. The criterion for this person was someone determined and vocal with an interesting menu; preferably a quirky attribute here and there. The lucky first was Nithiya Laila, a copywriter, yoga instructor and also an intrepid traveler who created a menu inspired by her many journeys.
Nithiya had two days to confirm her menu, list of ingredients and get a feel for the kitchen before the event. After a mad dash till the night of the event, all that was left for Nithiya to do was “kick ass” , in the words of Sharon.
As with all events, drama is inevitable and necessary. From fish bones in the croquettes to key lime pie melt down, we can say the first Under Pressure event was successful in providing an entertaining evening for the guests. But what was more impressive was Nithiya’s composure through it all.
At the end of service, Nithiya stepped out to applause of admiration for surviving the first Under Pressure event, which hosted double the number of anticipated patrons. Nithiya’s take away from this experience was one of new found respect for chefs and a sense of accomplishment for getting through the night. Think she might stick to hosting small gatherings at home for a while.
Continuing on from our Part I coverage of the Singapore Takeout, we feature the renowned chefs who have completed their stops and give you more of a flavor about who they are and what they like.
Since its launch, the Singapore Takeout initiative has been the talk of many towns. One question that is always asked is “Why aren’t all the featured chefs Singaporean?” Singapore Takeout is about promoting the current explosive culinary scene that has taken ablaze over the past few years, in Singapore and inspired by Singapore. More and more renowned chefs around the globe are plotting their stake in this scene.
For the local chefs, foodies and the millions that visit Singapore each year, it is a burst of inspiration and an expansion of knowledge of global cuisine. For the celebrity and global chefs that open establishments in Singapore, it is a journey for them to elevate their techniques under Singaporean influences. To sum up, you don’t need to be Singaporean chef to love the food or be inspired by it, let alone promote it.
On the first leg of the World Tour, Singapore Takeout delivered to London, Chef Janice Wong of 2am:dessertbar. With Chef Janice’s cutting edge style in desserts, it was a perfect match with London’s image of cutting edge fashion. Find out what inspired Chef Janice to join this initiative in her interview with Singapore Eats.
The second stop on the World Tour was Paris. Singapore Takeout delivered France’s own French-trained chef, Andre Chiang of Restaurant André. Find out what inspired Chef Andre to join this initiative in his interview with Singapore Eats. When asked what Singapore dish he cannot get enough of, Chef Andre whispered satay in his soft sentiment. “The smell of charcoal is sexy and is irreplaceable. I especially love the little burnt bits which make the dish complete,” he said.
Singapore Takeout delivered to Moscow, Chef Ryan Clift of the Tippling Club. Find out what inspired Chef Ryan to join this initiative in his interview with Singapore Eats. When asked what Singaporean dish he cannot get enough of, Chef Ryan said chili crab in a heartbeat’s time.
“It was the first local dish I had when I first arrived in Singapore and remains a loved one,” he said. So much so that he has created a deconstructed interpretation of chili crab for his restaurant.
Chef Ryan’s experience in Moscow was linguistically an interesting one. One may think that all chefs speak the same language when in the kitchen, but sometimes you just need a translator. His case, there was a translator on standby in the kitchen during the entire course of the event from prep to service, morning till night.
The Singapore Takeout also delivered to Moscow Chef Daniel Sia of The Disgruntled Chef. Find out what inspired Chef Daniel to join this initiative in his interview with Singapore Eats. When asked what Singaporean dish he cannot get enough of, Chef Daniel proclaimed laksa with a deep breath as he reminisced the flavor.
“My cravings change daily. I would’ve said Hainanese Chicken Rice but I had that just yesterday,” he said with a smile, happily taken back by the many comfort foods his home country has to offer.
While in Moscow, Chef Daniel shared the space within the 5.7m x 2.5m x 2.1m (width x height x depth) container with Chef Ryan as well as the translator. Coincidentally, their restaurants are located just a hop and skip away from each other on Dempsey Hill.
Food trucks and subway car dining, step aside. Singapore has reinvented takeout pushing it to new gastronomic heights and delivering it to a city near you in the “Singapore Takeout” container.
The Singapore Takeout container ‘transforming’ in London:
Singapore Takeout is a part of the Singapore International Culinary Exchange (SPICE), an international gastronomic initiative collaboratively fronted by International Enterprise Singapore, Singapore Tourism Board and SPRING Singapore.
Early concept image of the Singapore Takeout ‘shipping’ container:
The design of the Singapore Takeout container is intuitive to every Singaporean resident upon first glance. It’s built as an actual shipping container symbolizing Singapore’s history as an influential port city. Views of Singapore’s horizon and the ports are masked with docked shipping boats stacked with endless containers. The exterior illustrations showcase different facets of the country’s architectural landscape and heritage, including the new iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel. The hues of red and white are reminiscent of the colors of the Singaporean flag. The illustration style is minimalist and modern, a reflection of Singapore as a modern, cosmopolitan hub with a unique heritage.
Now, let’s talk interior. The Singapore Takeout container comes equipped with:
2 x 2.7kW induction cookers
2 x 3.5kW induction cookers
1 x salamander with branding plate
1 x 3L pasta/noodle cooker (4 baskets)
2 x 3L single basket deep fryer
1 x 60cm griddle
1 x 6 tray combo-steam oven
The custom-designed container is the brainchild of Ate Consulting and The Shelter Company. Ate Consulting was started in 2006, with a team of five, originating as a food and beverage consulting firm resonating with the passion that both founders, Aun Kohl and Tan Su-Lyn, have with Singaporean cuisine and the culinary scene. It is now a lifestyle and media consulting firm with a substantial team of multi-national employees. Aun Kohl is not only the co-founder of Ate Consulting but also its luxury expert and the creator of locally renowned food blog, Chubby Hubby. When asked what Singaporean dish he cannot get enough of, Aun said Teowchew porridge. Tan Su-Lyn, co-founder of Ate Consulting, is the media & communications expert but also an avid foodie. When asked what Singaporean dish she cannot get enough of, she said Hainanese Chicken Rice.
So where in the world is the Singapore Takeout container? It’s making its way to New York City, after having traveled over 27,000 miles (66,000 kilometers) and feeding over 1,000 patrons since inception.
Singapore Takeout container as it left for its 365-day world tour:
Container in transit during the Moscow leg of its World Tour:
Here is the full schedule of the “Singapore Takeout” World Tour:
London (9 – 11 Jun 2011)
Chef Janice Wong (2am:dessertbar)
Paris (30 Jun – 2 Jul 2011)
Chef André Chiang (Restaurant André) – Check out here the Paris event where Untapped partnered with Singapore Takeout.
Moscow (15 – 17 Jul 2011)
Chef Ryan Clift (Tippling Club)
Chef Daniel Sia (The Disgruntled Chef)
Hong Kong (10 – 12 Nov 2011)
Chef Armin Leitgeb (Les Amis)
Shanghai (1 – 3 Dec 2011)
Chef Willin Low (Wild Rocket)
Delhi (13 – 15 Jan 2012)
Chef Benjamin Seck (True Blue Cuisine)
Dubai (19 – 20 Feb 2012)
Chef Haikal Johari (winner of Channel News Asia’s “Perfect Meal” in 2009)
Sydney (30 Mar – 1 Apr 2012)
Team from Iggy’s
At the end of the Singapore Takeout World Tour, the container would have traveled a total distance of 67,509 miles (108,690 kilometers), which is almost three times around the world!
No future plans yet for what’s to come after Sydney but the possibilities of spin-off events are endless. Collaborations are already in the works with chefs from the same 9 cities as we approach the Global Chef Exchange event this October.