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What is it about Singapore?

What do you like about Singapore?

Relax. This isn't going to be one of those patriotic, flag wearing (which ironically is illegal in Singapore), chest thumping posts; neither is it one of those cynical, flag burning (definitely illegal), MP stabbing posts.

I just want to know what is it about Singapore you like.

For me, it's the smell of Singapore - the aroma of the rich coconut milk in Laksa, the spicy fragrance of sambal, the sanitised whiff of clean floorways and corridors, the elegant hint of expensive perfume and cologne on the crowd in Orchard Road. For me, the smell of Singapore encompasses what Singapore is - a nation of immigrants, all from different lands, all with different aims, all bearing different needs. Yet, all coming together to build this nation which gave me an education, a clean environment to grow up in, and ironically, a sanitised view of the world.

I am most proud of Singapore when I see new Chinese immigrants selling noodles in a coffee shop. In my industry, a lot of chefs are not local. Their choice of location is based on need, convenience and growth. In a way, I see these hawkers no differently. So why is it we embrace these chefs and not these hawkers?

It is well known that the hawker industry is a dying one, with some new kids experimenting with newer products in the same environment. Hawker food as we know would have evolved due to this in the next 20 years or so. You have chicken rice stalls opening restaurants, laksa stalls franchised (goodbye quality - yes I am cynical of these), hokkien mee stalls expanding to sell zi char. But those mom and pop hawker stalls we all know will be gone.

Where hawker food, the fabric of our nation's identity, used to be a great product - lousy stalls simply didn't survive - now has grown so bland and cookie-cut. Let me give you my opinion:

In the 90s, the greatest coffee shop brand was "kopitiam". There was no pretentions - food courts were the modern evil with lots of people regarding it was the death of all good hawker food - myself included. It raised our meal prices by 50 to 70%, which was maybe 50 cents to a whole dollar. But a coffeeshop foodcourt still looked like a coffeeshop - except all the stalls looked the same. Any kid born in the 90s would not really know how stalls used to look like before "generication" took over. Now, every kopitiam used to have the same stalls. They would own the drinks stall, and in the bigger ones, their ice would drop down a tube into the ice bin. There would be Fei Siong fishball noodles. Every kopitiam would differ slightly, but generally is the same.

That means it was similar to McDees.

In the new Millenium, the company that solely is responsible for the cost of bread (to consumers) increasing 100%, Breadtalk, started the Food Republic franchise. Wildly successful, we now have the same kopitiam formula in a more hip and thematic setting. It is now acceptable to pay $7 (this is crazy) for a meagre plate of chicken rice (only the plate is big) and to be honest, the food isn't honestly that great. And every Food Republic (and Opera) has Sergeant Chicken Rice. What, you say "but it's ok because well, it's Orchard and it's Food Republic". It's the same theory as paying $1.40 for a piece of "boutique" bread which honestly was very tasty... Then the neighbourhood bakeries followed. Where bread used to be a cheap and tasty breakfast (I used to buy the chocolate rice cream buns for freaking 40 cents), it now is cheaper for me to buy economic beehoon for breakfast. With luncheon meat and egg, may I add. And they don't even call it food courts anymore!! It's now a much more refined "Food Hall".

Yes yes, I know. Economic growth and inflation.

Yes yes, I know. Wages and all.

But with all these, I miss the old queensway market with its truly rustic charm and decades old recipes.

With all these, which I do appreciate, tell me..

Where can I find that great plate of Mee Rebus?

What I really want to see are these highly paid, highly regarded chefs embrace our Singaporean food. I want them not "remaking" laksa, but understanding and really knowing the culture of our food. The history, the processes, the social and political implications of that plate of local food.

And yes, Chilli Crab is OUR national dish. Not yours, Malaysia. So there. Bleah. 

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