Singapore Writers Festival: Drooling over food porn

Over the past Sunday, I attended my inaugural Singapore Writers Festival, which was a complete eye-opener and an amazing experience. Not knowing what to expect, I headed down for two panel discussions, one about travel writing and the other food porn, with a tad of trepidation, a pinch of hesitation and a ton of excitement

The overall mood was fantastic, where the authors not only shared their experiences, but also had actively conversed with the audiences, often peppered with a good dash of light-hearted humor that totally made my Sunday afternoon.

(L to R) Panelists Damian D’Silva, KF Seetoh, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan & Christopher Tan
The one quote that stuck with me that day was mentioned during the food porn session where Singapore food guru Seetoh leads the panel of Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Christopher Tan and Damian D’Silva through an hour-long scrumptious discussion.

“Singapore food is an attitude that has evolved over decades and even centuries,” Seetoh said. “What does it taste like? It taste like an attitude.”

His answer was in response to a question asked by a member of the audience on what would be their last meal in Singapore. Food magazine writer Christopher Tan added on, “Singapore food is not about one dish. We’re a product of many cultures and many cuisines.”

Like most Singaporeans, food is a topic very close to my heart, where we pride eating as our national hobby and revering it religiously as a sacrosanct activity. But through this session, I was glad to indulge in the sexy and sensual side of appreciating my food using flavorsome and palatable words.

Hearing the panelists rave non-stop about local delights, this swelling sense of pride bubbled inside me, particularly about the uniqueness of our food. I remembered craving about eating mee pok tah, a noodle dish comprising taglialatela-like egg noodles tossed with minced pork and a special sauce concoction comprising vinegar, chili paste, shrimps and lard. This is a dish rarely found outside of Singapore. Even in Malaysia, they whip it up differently.

Having lived abroad and also introduced foreign friends to Singaporean food, I often find it difficult to articulate the complexities of local flavors. I never knew the proper way to describe how does pandan leaves work their amazing smell into our food or how by “washing” assam we can whip up a delish pot of fish head curry.

“You can go to the airport and buy cookies, chicken rice mix, sambal (chilli-shrimp paste) or kaya (an eggy, coconut jam) in jars, but you can’t buy the soul of our food,” Christopher Tan said.

I guess it was with this mentality did panelist Cheryl Tan, a fashion journalist based in New York, shared with us her journey home to Singapore to learn how to cook homemade food fare from her relatives.

“I guess my journalism background really helped me a lot because I was trying to capture a lot and describe it to an audience that doesn’t know what a kitchen in Hougang looks like or smells like,” she said.

“Basically, everything I applied to watching the littlest thing coming down the runways in Milan to my auntie’s kitchen in Hougang … it’s the little details like that that I try to apply for all parts of my career.”

Fascinated by her story about how food became the bonding ties that linked her up with her family, I was intrigued and compelled to find out more. Well, I must say her being a fellow journalist was also a huge selling point for me, but that is out of the point.

I proudly present my signed copy of “A Tiger in the Kitchen” by Cheryl Tan:

Having read about half of the book, I would definitely recommend this book that not only gives a broad landscape of Singaporean cuisine as well as a glimpse into the author’s personal journey of self-discovery into her family history and roots.

If you have not been to the Singapore Writers Festival, do consider just dropping by town for one of the sessions. The program line-up and author selection is pretty impressive and has something for everyone. Do check it out if you are free!

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5 thoughts on “Singapore Writers Festival: Drooling over food porn

    1. Hey Cheryl, thank you so much for stopping by my blog! It was a joy meeting you at SWF and I must say your book is such a delight to read I’ve finished it all at one shot. (:

  1. Hi Jie Yi,
    Certainly agree with you that Singapore food sure has its unique Singapore flavours, and interestingly, it’s pretty difficult to re-create an authentic Singapore food elsewhere in the world. Gosh… I’m missing Singapore food….. =)

    1. Hey, I certainly do agree that Singapore food is AMAZING and wholly flavorsome with its mix of SE Asia spices. Nothing really beats local food. *hands down*

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