Glad that there is finally a book that will preserve our unique food culture for our future generations. The only negative thing about this book would be the way the food is presented.
The food presentation is just too nice and classy looking. Growing up eating street (hawker) food, presentation is the last thing on my mind.
For someone who has never resided in Singapore, it will be hard to truly appreciate Singaporean food to its fullest. The recipes for Roti prata evoked late night memories of driving to Jalan Kayu, Buona Vista South (Next to NUS) or Al Ameen's at Woodlands for a late night fix of cheese, mushroom and egg prata washed down with several mugs of Teh Cino less sugar (as we say in classic Singlish).
How bout driving across the island from Choa Chu Kang to Changi Village just to eat Nasi Lemak or Kuay Chap (not in the book!). Just for a quick fact....here in Melbourne, I live on Latrobe street, and interestingly enough, the Changi Village Nasi Lemak store is just 2 doors away. I've never had worst malay food in my life..though they claim to be the Aussie arm of the original.
The recipe for Beef Hor Fun brings back memories of the endless circling of Geylang to find a parking space and finishing dinner off with Tau Huay with yaw cha kwai (Sweet bean curd with deep fried chinese pastry).
Again, here in Melbourne's Chinatown, I've never had worst Beef Hor Fun. Even the WORST Beef Hor Fun in Singapore still tastes better than what Melbourne has.
In Singapore, our hawkers specialise only on a very limited menu of say.....3 to 5 dishes? For example, my friend, Junjie who runs a Hainanese Chicken Rice store in Kallang, sells only roast or boiled chicken rice, char siew rice or roast pork rice.
China Bar in Melbourne has like 30 different items on the menu...all of them tasting similar. That is...similarly like crap. Most of the cooks coming from Hong Kong, I expected MUCH MORE. They ain't doing their country's food reputation any good.
In Singapore, at 2 in the morning, I walk 5 mins to the 24 hour hawker centre (S11) in Choa Chu Kang's HDB heartlands and can find at least 20 of the recipes found under 'Hawker Favourites', all available at around US$2 a plate.
Here in Melbourne, nothing starts under US$6 a plate...and I get a plate of tasteless food overseasoned with salt or soy sauce, lacking the essential "wok hei" or "Wok's breath". So what is this elusive "wok hei?"
Lets take the simple fried rice. Firstly....there are many types of fried rice, so if New York City only has one type seasoned with salt, here is how you can differentiate a good one from a bad one.
If you just taste oil, garlic, rice and soy/salt and the other various ingredients....you have a crap plate of fried rice. If you taste a plate with "wok hei", you can smell it. It has a deeper flavour that will remind you of slightly charred food. Its hard to explain how it tastes.....as its not the charred taste that you are imaging right now. It is a subtle taste.
I can guarantee you it is not charred, but instead, been imbued with this delicately delectable flavour through the hawker's skillful manipulation of the most basic of elements, metal and fire.
Even in Singapore, not all hawkers possess this skill. Not all foods require 'Wok hei', but for those that need it, it makes a world of difference.
For us Singaporeans overseas, all we can do is to try the recipes in these books and tweak them as everyone should. We do this all the time, so we can share with our Thai, Laos and Vietnamese friends in Melbourne the taste of Bukit Batok Bak Kut Teh or Balestier Road's Hainanese Chicken Rice. They do the same for us with their country's recipes and everyone has been enriched ever more by our shared experiences.
Thank god I'm returning home in December.