Chicken curry and Cheng Teng – The Singaporean food culture

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What actually does the Singaporean food culture mean to you? Read on to find out how your next dinner outing can turn into an interesting history lesson for your children!

If there’s one thing that Singaporeans are known for, other than being kiasu, it’s our communal love for food; the Singaporean food culture. For a country as tiny as ours, there is an abundance of food in every corner and every street and Singaporeans seem to have an insatiable, voracious appetite.

If you ask Singaporeans who are abroad, what they miss about Singapore, they are likely to say,

Oh, I miss my Char Kway Teow, Nasi Lemak, Prawn Noodles, Roti Prata, Kopi siew dai, and oh, oh that special Nasi Briyani that the Uncle near my house only sells on Fridays, and then ah, it’s never complete without Teh Tarik gajah. Wah, shiok man!

I mean yes, in this day and age we have an increasing number of people who are becoming vegan, and will only eat high-end organic, gluten free food, but the vast majority of Singaporeans still do, and always will, embrace our hawker food that never fails to tickle our taste buds. But how often have you paused to think about just what the depth and diversity of the Singaporean food culture actually represents?

We probably know this well enough somewhere at the back of our heads, but what better time than now, in light of the upcoming National Day, to think about what exactly the Singaporean food culture means to us? It’s something we should definitely talk to our children about.

Why should we talk to our children about the significance and deeper meaning of our Singaporean food culture? It’s important because our ethnic roots are our identity and we must, as a nation, understand each other’s identity. And it saddens me to say that the younger generation is becoming increasingly ignorant about their roots, let alone the roots of those around them.

It would be a shame to say that we live in a multicultural society but we don’t know anything more than the names of popular food dishes of the other ethnic groups.

To begin with, while many often think of fish curry and Bak Kut Teh as quintessential Singaporean dishes, these dishes are anything but Singaporean. And even for those who have an understanding that these dishes originate from where our ancestors came from, there is often a whole lot of misunderstanding and confusion. 

Singaporean food culture

How much do we actually know about the origins of our famous local delights?

Take for example Roti Prata, one of the highlights of the Singaporean food culture. Many Singaporeans think that this is an Indian dish that originates from India. But did you know that that Roti Prata is nowhere to be found in India?

And even if our generation knows this, our children don’t necessarily do and over time, they might gloss over the fact that all these food that they love actually represent our heritage. It’s so important that we remind them of it!

But what makes these not-actually-Singaporean food, Singaporean, is the fact that you can find all of these food under one roof – be it in the simple, everyday hawker centre setting, or in the high-end local buffet spreads in the hotels. This parallels our society. The fact that we all dine together, alongside our fellow Singaporeans with their diverse ancestry, shows how the Singaporean food culture is like a balm that brings everyone together, and becomes a cultural melting pot.

And I think this provides a good platform for discussion. When we take our kids out to eat, we can find teachable moments over dinner. We can talk to our kids about the roots and history of their favourite dishes and explain to them what that particular group of people did for the country. It can also deepen our children’s understanding about people of other ethnicities.

Singaporean food culture

Use food as a platform for discussion about our roots and heritage.

We can use this to open many forums of discussion with our children. We should tap onto the fact that multiculturalism and diversity are resources that we have at hand to educate our children about the ways of the world. This could also be a step that we take to ensure that our children do not grow up to become ignorant, xenophobic adults.

So the next time you decide to have chicken curry for dinner and cheng teng for dessert, spare a few moments to think about how amazing it is, that this strange concoction of Indian and Chinese culture is so much deeper than just food choices. The multiculturalism that we enjoy has woven its way into just about every aspect of our daily lives in Singapore.

There is a little bit of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Eurasian culture in the way that we speak, the way that we dress and the food that we eat. There is a bit of everyone in the values that we hold and the way that we look at life. There is a bit of everyone in every bit of ourselves and it is so incredibly important that we recognise and celebrate that.

Living in Singapore For Mum & Dad