The Real Thing


CIMG4029

I’ve been thinking recently about the notion of “authentic” food.

There’s an interesting story in Singapore’s Straits Times today about foreign eateries trying to bring authentic takes on their native cuisines to Singapore. French boulangerie Le Grenier à Pain, for example, apparently stuck to its crusty baguettes even though Singaporeans typically favor softer versions that local bakeries serve up. Ditto for Quiznos and its authenticity. (Yes, this article actually cites the American food-court sandwich chain in its roundup.)

Nonetheless, there are some Singaporeans who disagree with this business strategy — one is quoted as saying that restaurants should take local preferences into account since “the customer picks what he likes most, whether or not it’s true to the original taste.”

The story made me think of the tale a friend recently told me of taking his Beijing girlfriend to Italy. There, she sniffed at the way Italians do Italian pasta dishes, finding them lacking when compared with the versions she’s had in China.

Sure, cuisines get altered all the time when they migrate from country to country — ingredients are added, steps are subtracted. But what happens when the tweaked, polyglot product ends up being what people believe to be authentic?

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The Heart of Things


Murtabak

They say that you can’t go home again.

Over a snack of mutton murtabak and Malay ginger tea, scalding hot and satisfyingly milky, the phrase suddenly popped into my head. And my mind immediately banished the logic.

I had been bemoaning my rudimentary photography skills to my friend KF Seetoh, a Singapore TV food host (the Saint Anthony of Southeast Asia, really), when I confessed, “I just learned how to focus.”

The camera, that is. And this would be, oh, after four years of owning the darned thing. 

In fact, I’m the only person I know who can take a picture of a perfectly delicious specimen of food and somehow produce a vision that is capable of inspiring nausea and thoughts of never lifting morsel to mouth ever again.

My problem, always, has been the hunger.

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