The case for a heritage food museum in Singapore

December 30, 2017

Chakey’s Serangoon Salt Baked Chicken is set to close this Sunday. Well may not seem like a big deal the way I wrote it……then again maybe we should take a moment to reflect. I mean, if we go thru the bother to dig up and sieve for trinkets and broken earthen ware from the distant past of Singapore just to fashion a vantage to look back….In presumably a hope to gain a better understanding of the past.

This should prompt anyone to ask. At the rate at which so many traditional food stalls have been closing down lately due to high rent, retiring proprietors, difficulty in attracting apprentices, changing taste etc etc…..shouldn’t the director of museums in Singapore be taking active measures to preserve these food outlets….coming to think of it why isn’t food treated with the same veneration as a precious vase…why?

To me this is odd.

If archeologist can take every effort to reconstitute a tile right down to its original color, texture and feel just so that people today and feast on it with their eyes. Why can’t the same be done for food that naturally appeals to our sense of smell and taste.

Maybe to slow down the pace of extinct food. The museum people should consider doing further research on these sort of food and recategorised as heritage food so that they can be promoted as a must taste for tourist or get some economic protection from greedy landlords to stop them from increasing their rental unreasonably….at least doing something is better than just doing nothing and letting them rot into the obscurity of history.


‘I can’t begin to explain how powerful food is to the idea of how we truly see ourselves in relation to people and planet and the broader subject of psychology. It’s a construct that is really very big and hard to pin down. Of course I am not talking about fast food like a Big Mac or Dunkin donut. Rather when I speak about food in this context, it’s real and not fast food, it’s not prepared by kids who are just taking a summer job flipping burgers so that they can save up and see the world….it’s cooked slowly and it seems to be framed in the house kitchen where we usually associate it with someone who we once loved and loved us in return.

The imagery is not only very powerful….but it can also serve as a touchstone to awaken something in all of us.

Many years ago in a refugee camp deep in Africa. There was a boy who no one could get thru to – not even the experts. They couldn’t even make a dent. The boy seemed to be marooned in his own skull. They tried everything from Swahili to Khufuh….nothing. All they knew about him was he might have been a child soldier.

One day I got hold of a sack of hard as stones wild corn kernels from the market. They’re deep indigo blue and they don’t taste any where sweet like the NTUC variety. I pounded it mixing it with raw palm kernels and kneaded it into a naan sort of dough, splayed it out roughly and lashed with rabbit entrails and made a stew with the meat. As that is how it’s done and fired it by wrapping it around the open engine of a running Land Rover in the courtyard. All the while I lashed it fermented palm oil and that smoked the entire courtyard with a pungent yet strangely nutty delicious aroma….and soon the boy walked up, smile and he spoke for the very first time since he had come there……may I have some please…..that just goes to show you food can do many wonderous things….but one of the most beautiful things it can do is to bring people who would otherwise be like distant stars scattered across the vast infinity of space together.’

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