Tuesday, June 01, 2004

Makan! Glorious Makan!!

Makan is malay for "to eat".

One of the reasons I love being a Singaporean is the abundance and variety of delectable, heavenly Singaporean food! Name me any cuisine and you'll find it here: chinese, Malay, Indian, Peranakan, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Italian, American, French, German etc. My mouth salivates uncontrollably and my gastric juices churn in excitement whenever I flip through local food guides, like Makan Sutra or the ST Life! Food Guide.

View pics here to activate drool.

Eating is, unequivocally, the national pastime in Singapore. Thus small wonder that Singaporeans will go to, literally, great lengths to savour reputable foods. And almost excusable are those who will fight over the last, remaining BreadTalk pork floss bun.

In case you didn't know, apart from caning vandals and banning chewing gum, Singapore is internationally known for being a food haven and, in particular, its cheap, good and hygienic hawker food. Singapore's hawker centres were even touted by a book about interesting places to visit around the world before you die.

Mmmm... satay, fish head curry, BBQ-ed sting ray, Hokkien mee, murtabak, ngoh hiang, Indian rojak, mee pok tah, ice kacang, orh lua...

The most wonderful thing about hawker food is that every version of each food varies according to the hawker's secret recipes, traditional or otherwise. After conducting our own food hunts (at the expense of our cholesterol levels), G and I agreed that the stalls listed in the Makan Sutra were not all that great but were worthy of Seetoh K.F.'s attention perhaps because of some special ingredient that added a unique twist to the traditional version.

Unfortunately, the humble beginnings of this the hawker centre as a wonder of the world are little known...

*cue scratchy LP playing Shanghai diva music with gradual scene-change to sepia tones*

It all started in the 1970's, in the central districts that included Tanjong Pagar, Chinatown, and along the Singapore River. Shops and markets were abuzz with commercial activity, while the streets were lined with hawkers hawking (duh!) their food in their carts. PM Lee Kuan Yew decided to clean up the Singapore river and improve hygiene standards. Hence in order to provide them with proper sanitation, hawkers were all licensed and relocated to central locations. Thus was born the hawker centre.

Ok, that was all I managed to gather from my brief online research. Perhaps the National Heritage Board could make more information available and accessible.

If you ask me, I'd say there's only 1 thing about Singaporean hawker centre ettiquette that foreigners oughta know: the awesome power of the deceptively humble packet of tissue paper, ubiquitous and cheap.

Chope's the word - a colloquial term immortalized since primary school days to arrogantly mark one's territory with connotations of vehemence and animalistic aggression. Like a magical item from a fantasy-based RPG, once a packet of tissue paper is placed on a seat, a ward of immense, immovable human presence is cast by the demure, young secretary who is now able to proceed, carefree, to order her plate of chicken rice.

One of my fondest memories as a kid was stuffing my face with BBQ-ed chicken wings and kambing soup at Thomson Flyover Hawker Centre, which unfortunately has long been torn down. But never fear, Singapore's temples of gastronomical orgies - from Newton Hawker Centre to Maxwell Market to Lau Pa Sat to Serangoon Garden's Chomp Chomp - are all well and alive!

Too bad I've sworn off oily and greasy food :)

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