Johor Kaki Travels for Food

Singapore blog of true stories by johorkaki@gmail about best food, people & places around the world

Friday, 14 September 2018

Singapore Hawker Classics Unveiled: Books I Read

I am enjoying this book Singapore Hawker Classics Unveiled: Decoding 25 Favourite Dishes produced by the Diploma in Baking and Culinary Science department of Temasek Polytechnic in Singapore.

The book covers 25 popular Singapore hawkers dishes from rice and noodles to meat and seafood, light meals and snacks to desserts. There is also a useful glossary for folks less familiar with local ingredients, sauces and condiments.

The book was published in conjunction with Singapore's Golden Jubilee in 2015 and Temasek Polytechnic's 25th Anniversary, hence the book features 25 dishes (out of over a hundred hawker dishes).

This book was produced by Temasek Poly's Diploma in Baking and Culinary Science team led by Petrina Lim. It's an A-team of chefs, food scientists, nutritionists, food stylists, food historians, as well as marketing and PR professionals. The team's depth of expertise and wealth of experience are reflected in the book. It is probably the most powerful assembly of brain power ever brought to bear in a book on the subject of Singapore hawker food.

The outcome is a gem which anyone with an interest in Singapore food need to read. Each dish is covered holistically in never seen before depth, yet remaining readable for a general audience. 

The content is very easy to follow as the book is simply and logically structured. 

Each featured dish starts with a picture of its traditional form. This is Singapore Hokkien mee served on opeh "leaf" (which is not a leaf but bark of betel nut tree).

I like it that the origins of each dish is briefly covered as I am a history buff and like to know where our food come from. Read about the creation of Fish Head Curry by Mr Gomez in 1950s Singapore, and Chili Crab by Mdm Cher in Bedok, also in the 1950s.

The different variations of the dish is discussed. I find this useful as most dishes have several interpretations by different language groups, regions and also evolve over time (which can make things confusing). For example, the article on oyster omelette explained the difference between orh luak, orh jian and orh nerng. Orh luak and orh jian are different names for the same dish - oyster omelette with starch batter. Orh nerng is oyster omelette with little or no starch batter. 

I also found the little food science insights on the dishes helpful for a deeper understanding of the dish. For example, the "body" we feel in bak kut teh stock come from collagen that is melted into gelatin by boiling. When gelatin is cooled, the gelatin molecules bond together trapping water in between. The springy molecular lattice of gelatin molecules gives the stock the feel which we call "body" or richness. Don't I sound smart? 😛 Thanks to the book 😄

The recipe of each dish is presented so that we can replicate the dish in our own homes. Ingredients, portions and cooking steps are precisely spelt out. In my opinion, due to pressures of business, it is harder and harder for hawker dishes to remain authentic in hawker centres or food courts. The home is the place where the dishes have a better chance to be as close to the original as possible. I feel cooking enthusiasts are key to preserving our hawker food heritage. So, the recipes in this book are priceless.

The desired aroma, flavour profile and mouthfeel of each dish is simply and clearly described. This is very helpful as our tongue, mouth and nose are the world's best instruments to measure if a dish is prepared correctly. A proper record of how a dish tastes, smells and feel is crucial reference for future generations.

Photographs illustrate the key steps of how a dish is prepared.

Nutrition notes, so important for many people but I admit I don't really look at these when I am eating hawker food 😝 Just make sure it is all fresh natural ingredients, correctly prepared, eaten in moderation, I am happy liao (already).

Each recipe comes with Chef's Advice, pro-tips from chef instructors from Temasek Polytechnic. For example, when cooking curry fish head, thorough washing to remove all blood and blood clots will remove any fishy taste and odour from the fish (provided it is fresh, of course).

Tau Suan (mung bean dessert) reinvented.

Each featured hawker dish has a picture of an alternative presentation of the dish. I like this idea a lot because it signifies that Singapore's hawker culture is forward looking, open to new ideas, inclusive of interpretations, creative, dynamic, energetic, relevant and appealing to new generations, yet firmly rooted in the essence of tradition and heritage.

To whom do I recommend this book?

📙 Foodies and home cooks
📙 Visitors to Singapore
📙 Expatriates who want an immersive local experience
📙 History and heritage buffs.

Personally, I found the book an excellent resource and authoritative reference when I explore and blog about Singapore, and even Malaysia hawker food.

Singapore Hawker Classics Unveiled by Temasek Poly is available in Singapore public (NLB) libraries.

Date: 13 Sep 2018

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