‘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.