Saturday, 11 February 2012

Let local fare be simply just that

I gritted my teeth and barely held back a loud groan as I turned the pages of the newspapers this morning. My palm oozed perspiration and I was overcome with a sense of nausea. No, the stock market didn't crash again and no, I wasn't reading the sidebar advertising the latest Spring/Summer collection of some branded bags.

I was reading the Lifestyle section of the Sunday Times, glossing the food reviews of some local dishes at restaurants that had taken a fusion twist. "Local Fare Goes Mod", it says. Honestly, it should have been titled "Local Fare Gets Mocked".

Laksa clam chowder served in bread bowl with a drizzle of truffle oil ($14), chilli crab linguini served with soft shell crab ($25), and check out the piece de resistance, bak chor mee pasta ($13.90). What in the wee man's name is this abomination, bak chor mee pasta?

I was stupefied by the increasing number of restaurants serving such "haute cuisine inspired by tradition", and even more flabbergasted by the prices accorded to these dishes. For example, a chilean sea bass with chin cha lok (fermented shrimp) salsa sets one back at a whopping $35. I was insulted.

I grew up in Singapore enjoying local fare for what it was. It's delicious simplicity that was cheap, not always nutritious, but easily accessible. Most importantly, every bite I took of these dishes were steeped in the comforts of my childhood memories full of great times and good fun.

When I was little, Mum and granny used to take me to the wet market at Upper Serangoon Road in a trishaw. I was wedged between them and their basket of vegetables and fish at their feet, in the trishaw. They'd then drop me off at a dingy coffee shop for a bowl of bak chor mee (minced pork noodles) costing a few cents then, while they went off to buy more meats and vegetables at the wet market. Today, I still visit the same bak chor mee stall although he's moved to a better and brighter premise. A bowl of bak chor mee costs me $4 today, but I swear every time I slurp on every strand of those noodles, I can still smell the vegetables and fish in Mum's and granny's basket, and I can feel the balmy breeze brushing against my face as I ride in that trishaw.

Singaporeans are a discerning lot who are very protective of their traditional local fare. A testament to this was a cross-border spat between Malaysians and Singaporeans last year or so, not about land or water, but about food. Did chicken rice, nasi lemak, chilli crab originate from Singapore or Malaysia? Remember the press headlines when that spat surfaced?

So I have to thank Hedy Khoo who writes the weekly Hed Chef column in The New Paper. Today, she showcased granny's chicken curry recipe. It's a very simple chicken curry that's filled with so much of granny's passion for cooking. So much love goes into it whenever she whips up the dish. And for me, the dish pays homage to the memories of my childhood with granny, when she dragged me from home to home of friends to play mahjong, when she cooked for me, when she cut my hair, when she waited for me to come home from school and yes, when she brought me out for a delicious bowl of bak chor mee during our trip to the wet market.

My childhood was unpretentious and simple. I hope our Singaporean local fare will remain the same.

1 comment:

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