We Got Eat This Meh: What People Overseas Think Singaporeans Always Eat
STORY: Pearlyn Tham
28 April 2020
We probably don’t like the term very much these days but some food and drinks from Singapore are so successfully “viral” that people who have never lived here like to associate them with us.
For instance, earlier this month, TV celebrity Oprah Winfrey posted a photo of her Singapore-style fried rice (see below) which she had made with a Jamie Oliver recipe.
We know our Yangzhou fried rice from our salted fish fried rice and our DIY when-there-is-nothing-in-the-fridge-but-eggs-and-frozen-vegetables fried rice but what is Singapore-style fried rice hah?
According to Jamie’s website jamieoliver.com, “it’s all about sumptuous fluffy rice with tang and seasoning”. He also mentioned that “classically”, you would find some sort of smoky ribs or ham in the mix.
Hmm… fluffy, indeed.
So here’s what our foreigner friends think we are always eating or drinking in Singapore when we are really just eating Old Chang Kee curry puffs (thank goodness they are still considered essential food by the powers up there) and drinking sugarcane juice here.
Singapore fried rice
When you and I have to #stayhome, we may order in fried rice. Yes, just good ol’, “normal” fried rice with frozen peas, egg, luncheon meat cubes and streaks of char siew of dubious origin, colour and consistency. But when talkshow queen Oprah Winfrey and TV host and cook Jamie Oliver #stayhome, they whip up… Singapore-style fried rice!
Well, we’ve heard of Singapore fried beehoon aka xin zhou mi fen (though we don’t really know why or how this is so SG) but what is Singapore fried rice? Is that what they serve in $9.99 local food buffets or in school canteens?
According to jamieoliver.com, his version of Singapore-style fried rice uses ingredients like brown or basmati rice, an assortment of vegetables (“brilliant for embracing odds and ends from your veg drawer, and hopefully will help you to eat the rainbow”), chipolata, streaky bacon, chilli jam and tikka paste.
While this sounds nothing much like the kind of fried rice we are used to cooking or ordering here – because lap cheong vs chipolata and green chillies vs chilli jam – Oprah was inspired enough to try his recipe and post a photo of her Singapore fried rice on her Instagram account of 18.4m followers. And that fried rice post garnered almost 300,000 likes, okay.
Wait till she makes chai tow kueh or Hainanese chicken rice next time (now, that is what we call true Singapore-style food).
This one has a really good PR agent. Why? Because almost every foreigner friend I know asks excitedly if we love chilli crab and if we eat it all the time. I don’t know about you but most of the time, I’m eating fake crab sticks instead. Chilli (or pepper or butter) crabs are a luxury and aren’t everyday or even every-week kind of food. They are more like celebratory food - you know, the kind you order when it’s someone’s birthday or when you are the only person in Singapore to get a three-month performance bonus in 2020.
Thanks to Newton Circus, this is The Other Seafood That Foreigners Think We Eat A Lot Of In Singapore. Who doesn’t love smoky stingray smothered in lemak sambal and eaten with a squeeze of lime juice? But since it’s not something you’ll easily find or order at a chye png stall, it’s not really a national staple.
Pandan chiffon cake
Back in those long-long-time-ago days when we dragged luggage bags more than we did grocery trolley bags, we would see tourists carting maroon boxes onto planes. No lah, not Cartier boxes but Bengawan Solo boxes holding pandan chiffon cakes.
Apparently Hong Kongers and especially Hong Kong celebs are big fans of this delicacy and we don’t blame them because it’s light enough to carry home, airy enough to make you think you are consuming very few calories and toxic-green enough to make it onto Instagram.
But then, people started thinking we Singaporeans eat a lot of pandan chiffon cake. Like. Every. Day. We don’t. Because we also eat mango cheesecake, durian fudge cake, Swiss rolls and Lana chocolate cake.
And moving on to, er, greener pastures... we came across this on a website which touted it as one of the must-eats in Singapore. While we love our greens, we don’t know anyone, vegan or not, who would associate choysum (or cai xin) with Singapore cuisine. What a fib-re.
Raffles Hotel calls this the national drink. After all, this gin-based cocktail, made up of pineapple and lime juice, curacao, Benedictine, grenadine and cherry liqueur, was concocted by one of their bartenders Ngiam Tong Boon in 1915. We are guessing back then, they hadn’t discovered the nationalistic joys of drinking sugar cane juice, bandung, iced milo dinosaur, teh peng or the now-MIA bubble tea.