Singapore’s real national dish

DECEMBER 3 — Now the topic of Singapore’s national dish is a contentious one. Since time immemorial, this battle has raged.

There are fierce supporters of Chili crab, warriors for Hokkien Mee, campaigners for Sambal Stingray but the consensus seems to be in favour of the humble Chicken Rice.

Now I love all the above and I can see why Chicken Rice is generally thought to reign supreme, but I mean it is called Hainanese Chicken rice... why is our national dish named after a province/island in another country?

Into this confusion I’ve decided to add a new and promising contender for the most Singaporean food of them all -- Pandan Waffle.

What dish best represents Singapore... there are many challengers for the title of national dish. — Picture from
What dish best represents Singapore... there are many challengers for the title of national dish. — Picture from

You know what I mean? Most true-blue Singaporeans will.

To the uninitiated, it looks like a standard Western/Belgian waffle with that characteristic filling-trapping grid pattern on top. But, well, bite into the soft spongy and green surface and you’ll taste the difference; the waffle is light and life-changing.

The colour isn’t just for show because the entire batter is infused with the most South-east Asian of flavours — pandan. Floral and gently sweet — and as you process these notes you’ll notice another distinctly Asian flavour — coconut.

That’s right, the creators of this fusion food substituted Western ingredients with those more available locally so milk gave way to coconut milk...  the coconut waffle 

The filling too underwent major change from syrup, berries and cream to sweet peanut spread or Planta. Fundamentally the Western waffle was thoroughly localised.

This Belgian cafe creation became a staple of little bakeries and during school’sdays it was a real highlight.

Just the existence of this quirky little confection tells us something of the Singapore story. Something Western, infused with something South-East Asian but presented in HDB bakeries.

But sadly, despite being hyper local and delicious, I notice a definite decline in the number of bakeries serving these old school treats.

Increasingly I think people only think of the Western version with some sort of fancy topping — hollandaise, dulce de leche, chantilly cream — served at the trendy and expensive brunch cafes that now dot our landscape while our delicious local

delicacy is increasingly confined to the corners of old school coffee shops (and extremely affordable).

So, my advice: Eat many of them as you can now. It will keep the businesses alive longer and ... well you never know when they just won’t be around anymore.

*This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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