MARCH 11 — So, I’ve been tracking the online outrage surrounding Singapore’s exclusion from the Traveller.com.au list of top 10 food nations in Asia.
Iran, Sri Lanka and apparently Malaysia have better food... okay, I’m going to say Malaysia might actually have better food but still.
However, exclusion from a subjective list is one thing but what’s far worse is the reason for the exclusion.
According to the wrier, Singapore doesn’t have enough of its own food as “a lot of that cuisine is other people’s: it’s Chinese, Indian, Malay and European.”
This is wrong on so many levels though. After all, who or what does food belong to?
Or as Mothership.sg points out; Ironically, Malaysia’s entry on the list (#7) contains nasi lemak, mi goreng, char kway teow, roti canai, and fish ball noodles.
To be honest, if the writer had excluded Singapore on the basis that we share a culinary history with Malaysia he might not have gotten such flak.
Malaysia’s food is certainly no less dependent on the cuisine of “other people” than us. I mean even in Thailand pad thai is really kway teow. It’s a Thai Chinese dish, so does it count as Thai?
And our melting pots of food is our biggest strength; in Singapore your options aren’t simply rojak or mee goreng, you can also have Chinese mee goreng or Indian rojak.
And there is pure invention that comes along with a migrant food culture like the Lo Hei which is so uniquely South-east Asian.
What cuisine doesn’t depend on other people or many people? An Australian publication is telling us our food is from elsewhere? What are the roots of Australia’s cuisine?
While this food-based wrangle might seem like much ado about nothing, this idea that we don’t have anything of our own is at the heart of so much that is good and bad about Singapore.
It’s important on a more practical and economic level: National Brand.
We are an immigrant nation but we are not a melting pot; things remain Chinese, Indian and Malay. So what are we? What do we stand for?
This is particularly important as Singapore is frankly a very wealthy country and at this level, branding is everything.
Swiss watches stand for crafstmanship and heritage, French fashion is style and finesse, a German power tool is reliability but what is the hallmark of a Singaporean product?
I don’t think anyone can yet provide a satisfactory answer. We are known for our efficiency, cleanliness and safety. We have nasi lemak, kopitiams, Singlish.
Small island, big achievements but what is brand Singapore? Of course, we do have Singaporean brands that are now valued globally but while I have enormous respect for everyone who has taken Singaporean products global, I think we need to see Singapore play a bigger role in these narratives.
Lancome is French. Coca Cola is American. But what is a globally loved Singaporean brand? Outside of our national airline and our first prime minister?
* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.