Singapore hawker food and Michelin stars

I am writing this post at the end of a long and busy day so I apologise for the occasional grammatical slips.

Recently, Singtel and a group of Singaporean bloggers challenge the celebrity chef Gorden Ramsay for an “epic culinary showdown” held tonight at the Newton food center as he pits his culinary skills against three hawkers who would be voted by Singaporeans to compete. He would learn and cook those three local dishes, namely Hainanese chicken rice, chilli crab and laksa. 1000 Singaporeans (I wonder how early you have to be there to be part of this) will get to taste the dishes and vote which dish do they enjoy better. It’s quite a great idea for a competition in Singapore, I must admit that there is more hype surrounding this challenge as compared to the annual F1 event in Singapore.

I thought about the motivation behind this challenge. The local bloggers claimed that they were worried that the hawker culture may die out and they felt that perhaps the Michelin stars would motivate people to stay in business. Indeed, Michelin star is prestigious and internationally recognized – it’s a good enough reason for both tourists and locals to pick certain restaurants/ eateries over others. That was why we queued and waited outside Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong even though there were a dozen more restaurants in Mong Kok that sold dim sum.

I do not think that Singapore hawker food should be recognized by the Michelin stars or any other global standards, i.e. we do not need Michelin to judge our good food. The reason is simple: the food culture in Singapore is unique. I reflected on the food that I eat at the different hawker centers located on the island. I realized that I always eat from certain stalls, such as the fish porridge at Whampoa hawker center, not just because the food is cheap and delicious but more of because it tastes familiar. I have been eating that dish for more than 10 years already and I continue to eat it whenever I go to Whampoa hawker center because the taste is familiar and it brings back memories. What I really like about the hawker food culture is that different people have different favourite food even in the same hawker center and it’s so common to see people sitting together around the same table and eating different food. My point is there is no place for Tim Ho Wan, a singled-out best restaurant, in our food culture and that’s the great part of it. Singaporeans are not brought up to think that “Tian Tian Hainanese chicken rice”, one of the competitors in tonight’s challenge, has the best chicken rice in the country; but rather the chicken rice located in/ near the neighbourhood we live ,which we grew up eating, rocks. So there is no room for Michelin stars in our hawker centers because Singaporeans do not trust the stars when it comes to hawker cuisine; we like to eat what we are familiar with.


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