Johor Kaki Travels for Food

Tony Boey johorkaki@gmail 🇸🇬 Dairy of Singapore active senior. Best years of food, travel, lifestyle

The Singapore Treaty Banquet of 6 Feb 1819. What Might be on Sultan Hussein's Menu for Raffles & Farquhar?

The Singapore Treaty between the British East India Company and the Johor Sultanate on 6 Feb 1819 marked the beginning of Singapore's transformation from a fishing village to a metropolis. (Image courtesy of National Archives of Singapore.)

Singapore_Treaty_Banquet_1819

The signatories were Sultan Hussein and Temenggong Abdul Rahman of the Johor Sultanate with Stamford Raffles and William Farquhar representing the British East India Company.


The signing ceremony was held at today's Empress Place beside the Singapore River. After the signing, the parties were hosted at the banqueting tent beside the river. (The origin of this detailed sketch is unknown.)

Neither Raffles nor Farquhar wrote home about what they ate at the banquet. Of course, they had far more weighty things to write home about to their bosses in British East India Company (then based in Calcutta).

The Johor Sultanate side also did not record what was served at the banquet. So, today, we can only guess.

Singapore_Treaty_Banquet_1819

For what might be served at the Singapore Treaty Banquet, I used the Malacca Sultanate royal banquet dishes as the point of reference. The Johor Sultanate was the successor of the Malacca Sultanate when the latter fell to Portuguese invaders in 1511.

The Malacca Sultan and his court escaped south to Johor and established the Johor Sultanate in 1528 which ruled till 1855. When Raffles arrived in 1819, Singapore was part of the realm of the Johor Sultanate.

Johor Sultanate banquet dishes were likely to be heavily influenced, if not similar to Malacca Sultanate cuisine. After all, they were from the same household.

Singapore_Treaty_Banquet_1819

Professor Shaharudin and Chef Norzalina researched and re-created the Malacca Sultanate royal banquet and published it in their book Air Mata Raja or Tears of the King. It's a novel about Sultan Mahmud Shah, the last sultan of the Malacca Sultanate. For more than 10 years before his death, Sultan Mahmud Shah battled the Portuguese to recover his kingdom without success.

Here's a re-creation of the probable Singapore Treaty Banquet of 1819 based on the royal banquet of the Malacca Sultanate.

Singapore_Treaty_Banquet_1819

To whet everybody's appetite, the royal chef opened with Kerabu Rumpai Laut or Seaweed Salad made with seaweed, shredded young mango, torch ginger flower, chili pepper and lemon grass drizzled with freshly squeezed lime juice.

These were commonly available ingredients harvested from the land and sea of Singapore.

Do you think Raffles and Farquhar were salivating after this?

Singapore_Treaty_Banquet_1819

A light starter of Gulai Siput Barai or Barai Snails in Curry followed.

Barai snails were harvested from the beaches at Singapore sea shores. The curry spices were brought in by traders such as cinnamon from India, nutmeg from Penang, cloves by Bugis traders, etc. There were also some twenty pepper plantations operated by Teochew Chinese when Raffles landed in Singapore. The spices were held together with coconut milk which was plentiful on the island.

Raffles and Farquhar may not be as unaccustomed to spices as we might assume. To start with, the Europeans (Portuguese, Dutch, British, etc) came to the Malay archipelago in search of these spices.

Raffles first arrived in Penang in 1805 with the British East India Company. Raffles rose to be Lieutenant-Governor of the Dutch East Indies and Lieutenant-Governor of Bencoolen (in West Sumatra) before stepping foot on Singapore in 1819.

Farquhar arrived in Madras, India in 1791 and rose to be the British Resident (governor) of Malacca in 1802, so he should be exposed to Malay as well as Peranakan cuisine.

Therefore, the taste and aroma of coconut milk and spices might not be entirely alien to the two British gentlemen. Whether they appreciated it, is another matter.

Singapore_Treaty_Banquet_1819

Main course might be Gulai Rusa or Deer Meat in Spicy Sauce.


Deers were abundant in the forests of Singapore and venison is a prized meat in Johor till today. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Tender venison in curry is a fitting main course for the sultan's esteemed guests. I won't rule out that Raffles and Farquhar might enjoy this dish even though they never mentioned the banquet in their letters home.

Singapore_Treaty_Banquet_1819

The party ate their venison in curry with Nasi Kunyit Minyak Sapi or Turmeric Rice mixed with Ghee.

Singapore_Treaty_Banquet_1819

Sup Hayam or Chicken Soup with Sweet Potato to help the venison and rice go down. If Raffles and Farquhar did not fancy spicy food (we don't know), then this might be the dish they enjoyed most.


The chicken in the soup might have been wild Red Jungle Fowl which roamed Singapore freely at that time and is making a come back in modern Singapore. (Image courtesy of Wikipedia.)

Singapore_Treaty_Banquet_1819

To end the whole event, from signing the Treaty to the banquet on a sweet note, the party was served Pisang Rebus or Boiled Banana with grated coconut.

Of course, bananas and coconut are ubiquitous in Singapore and heavily used in Singapore cuisine.

Singapore_Treaty_Banquet_1819
The Treaty signing and banquet were held at this spot in 1819

The royal cuisine of the Malacca palace and subsequently Johor Sultanate could be the proto-Singapore cuisine. All these, of course, is in the realm of hypothesis as there are no records of what was served at the Singapore Treaty Banquet on 6 Feb 1819.

All we know is that the fate of Singapore changed from that day.


Written by Tony Boey on 31 Jan 2021

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