Food Thoughts

"Help me eat up the Bak Chor Mee in Singapore." Those are words from Carol, before I went back to Singapore. It is safe to say it is a common assumption that overseas Singaporeans will eat a storm from the moment they touch down until they depart again. I thought I would be doing the same when it was finally my turn to return home.

Other than the weather which really got to me, I had an unexpected experience of feeling as if I had never been away before. I couldn't even remember what was my first food upon my return by now. Local food re-aligned to my taste buds seamlessly. I didn't notice how exceptionally delicious my food tasted or craved for anything in particular. I did though, stopped by Jalan Besar Hawker Centre to have my $1.20 ice kachang, which in my opinion is the best ice kachang in Singapore by far. But that was because I was in the vicinity to purchase some kitchen items. I didn't travel far specially for it.

The teh still suck at that particular stall in Teck Whye Shopping Centre. I couldn't help but made a remark to my mum that I could brew a more drinkable version this morning with inferior equipment and ingredients. As a matter of fact, I did. I enjoyed the experience of sitting down and being served my fishball noodles and teh without having to feel a pinch when it was time to foot the bill. That was an amazing saving grace for Singapore, good food at affordable price. I never took that for granted. My friends had heard me commenting too much on this over the years. Once too often perhaps, till they may be secretly pleased I'm no longer around to spread my doom-gospel.

I pray no one reads this one for the broken record is somewhat spinning again today. Over the years, I read signs which worried me. I could see one of the aspects I love most about Singapore is slowly drifting into decrepitude but there isn't anything I could do about it. It is probably an unintended by-product  of our government's fixation on progress. Singapore has been enmeshed into an obsession for upgrading. We must look nice, new and nothing less than perfect. No, that's actually not enough. Everything around us must be swagger quality. No, you cannot go around with a Nokia phone with a rubber band tied across the screen. That's societal death sentence. Our cars reflect our manhood. The bigger it is, the bigger it is. It has to perform and preferably polished. Our pets should be manicured, whenever possible. Slapping an Adidas dog-shirt on our pet dogs in Singapore heat is cool. We must live in condos. If that isn't possible, we must live in HDB flats that looks like a condo. Renovation is a must. A HDB flat isn't complete without false ceilings and feature walls that go out of fashion in a decade. That is when we do it all over again. Walls must be hacked because our house should not look like the chap's house next door. Never mind if we saw the floor plan and agreed to it before signing that agreement of lease. We pay for walls HDB built, pay a contractor to hack them away and pay the same contractor to patch it up in another spot because customisation is fun. Come on, some of us buy a Mac and run it on Windows OS. What's a bit of wall hacking?

"You can't save on paint when you paint," my buddy implored. "There are things that you cannot save!" Oh. Really. No wonder some girls clad their faces like geishas when they hit the streets. Eating a dozen of Omega 3 pills a day isn't particularly a good idea even though these are good for us. There are some simple rules in life that shouldn't be confounded. It wasn't about saving, splurging, being stingy or spendthrift. It was about being commonsensical. Anyway I did a decent job painting my entire house in 4-5 days, saving paint or otherwise.

When it comes to food. Good old food's not good enough. Food's gonna be garnished gingerly with a little bit of zing, a bit of zip and a bit of boomz. Perfectly functional acrylic signboards must be pulled down, replied by glamourous pictures of badly photoshopped food and their pricing in random fashion. That too, became an eyesore and had to be substituted with designer fonts and colours.

Exposed services cables and pipes must be concealed because they have everything to do with good, cheap food. False ceilings. Of course, put plenty of these in. It is a must. False ceilings are staples to Singapore, food  only comes a close second behind these.

The wonders of false ceilings is that these could be used to create romantic down lights. All cables concealed of course, never mind secret grime and grease caking up behind unchartered regions. All conveniently concealed, that's what false ceilings are for right?

To make things worse, like anything else in Singapore, peer pressure is a bitch. You send your kids to tuition 8 times a week, I will do it because Ah Seet next door do it, Ah Zel next block also do it. One coffee shop after another will follow suit, after watching the joker next door churn out designer inspired kopi tiams with false ceilings all ready to cake grease and to improve food pricing and quality.

Like the reader here who used to comment in my blog with the moniker 'SME owner' would say, "Someone's gonna foot the bill and it would be wishful thinking to assume that this will not be passed on to the consumer." The next thing is that kopi tiam owners will claim is that they have been forced to 'upgrade' to designer level if not they will fold up due to competition. Remember, no false ceilings, food not nice. So they are probably right.

How about my favourite makan places, the good old hawker centres? Ah. They disappear more magically than any David Copperfield's tricks over the years. What could have happened? Not sure what NEA is up to. Lately I read some guy by the name of Vivian announcing NEA is planning to build new hawker centres finally, 27 years after the last hawker centre was built. He also said this,

"My preference is that these centres be run on a not-for-profit basis, so I won't be selling centres to commercial operators."

Does that mean the government has been making profits that they prefer the public not to know over the years on hawker centres? Good to know NEA will not liaise with 'commercial operators', many which I suspect will be food investment groups that has Temasek Holdings sitting there as major shareholder. Well done, Vivian. We are proud of you. Just one favour please, keep the false ceilings away from your hawker centres as long as you can.


  1. "Nokia phone with a rubber band tied across the screen"! my my how did you find that out? were we ever on the same bus?

  2. Cheap hawker food in Spore is going the way of the dinosaur. If you hobble into this place in 20 years, I doubt you will find hawker centres like you see now. Casual, slightly grubby, basic but serviceable, where the only thing that matters is the taste sensation.

    Prices of dishes will have escalated grossly, because of absurdly high stall rents, cleaners' fees and raw food items.

    It is also unlikely that you will be able to eat many
    of the popular dishes available today, or at the quality level you now enjoy. The old hawkers will have died, their recipes buried with them, because these are not passed on, because no one wants to take up the baton, sweating it out by learning the craft from working as an assistant, giving new twists to old favourites and even coming up with new ones.

    However, you may find a new range of dishes from the region, sold at exhorbitant prices, in chi chi surroundings, besides the sad remnants of a once glorious experience without the equivalent taste buzz.

    We will all be clapping ourselves on our back over how upmarket we've become, as befits the richest country in the world. We will have forgotten what makes this country truly different, its one outstanding and natural aspect besides our excellent location as a port.

    The big joke is that while we studiously strangle what has long been the soul of this country, the heart of the Sporean culture - the one area where you can seek solace and unbridled enjoyment - by lauding A's in school and souless pen-pushing jobs, fewer and fewer people know how to cook.

    So while need and demand will grow, supply will shrink. A once great empire will have collapsed.

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