Recipes vs Reviews: Performing the Singaporean Identity through Blogging

Singaporean food bloggers living overseas share mostly recipes of what Singaporeans eat. There are FEAST to the world and Mummy, I can cook!.

Feast to the world's popiah entry in June 2012

Feast to the world’s popiah entry in June 2012

Mummy, I can cook's satay entry in July 2011

Mummy, I can cook’s satay entry in July 2011

Singaporean food bloggers at home, such as ieatishootipost and camemberu, in contrast, rarely bestow culinary wisdom. They review restaurants, hawker stalls, and sometimes businesses remotely relevant to F&B, like airlines. Overseas and domestic Singaporeans cover different aspects of food because the further one drifts away from home, the hazier the idea of “Singaporean” becomes.

Screenshot of Camemberu's blog taken in August 2014/

Screenshot of Camemberu’s blog taken in August 2014/

When at home, everyone knows who we are, where we go to school, where our accent comes from. Outside home, we become nobody, unless we perform our identity. Often, people who live overseas wear food like a badge of nationhood. Eating and cooking food that we believe says who we are is an act of defiance against those who confuses us with others, and those of whom we’ve been confused with. For us Singaporeans who are so in love with and defensive of our food, the choice with which to commit this act is a no brainer.

While creating a sense of belonging, these bloggers also inform others about their home through recipe-sharing. Lee Shu Han of Mummy, I can cook! preludes her ngoh hiang recipe with an introduction of five spices powder, which is added to what she calls a “Straits Chinese’s answer to sausages.” Jason Ng of FEAST to the world reminisces about cincalok and explains its difference from the Filipino bagoong, before he presents the Peranakan recipe for cincalok omelette. Clearly, their audiences are the unacquainted.

Others’ uncertainty of our identity can get to us sometimes. Moreover, meeting the Chinese from China or the South Asians reminds us that we straddle two cultures—the longer established ancestral culture that we don’t fully identify with, and the hard-to-grasp “Singaporeanness”. Food offers some clarity and solace. Mee siam and Hainanese chicken rice are proofs that we belong to a culture, even though we have not fully understood what it holds.

The scarcity of Singaporean food in countries outside Southeast Asia, because of the relatively smaller overseas Singaporean populations compared to other foreigners from bigger nations, forces overseas Singaporeans to learn how to cook if they didn’t already know, and hone their skills if they already could create the flavours of home. Their success in locating lesser known ingredients and overcoming different conditions wins them bragging rights, and, more importantly, render their information valuable for future outbound Singaporeans.

Bloggers in Singapore, on other hand, have cheap hawker food at their backyard, near their workplace, and right at the MRT stations. Except for a few like ladyironchef who blog full time, most have other jobs. Thus, like many Singaporeans, they eat out more often than they do at home, because it’s cheap and convenient. They know where to find the best bak kut teh better than they know how to cook one. These bloggers also have the privilege of being invited to restaurants’ media launches. They are the gateway to the latest, if not the most impartial F&B news.

Screenshot of Ladyironchef's blog taken in August 2014

Screenshot of Ladyironchef’s blog taken in August 2014

Which type of food blogging is better? It depends which aspects of food we want to enrich. While recipes are records and step-by-step instructions for culture preservation, reviews make an adventure out of dining out and invigorate the food industry. It becomes a concern only when one type of content is disproportionately bigger in numbers than the other, since a diverse food conversation makes for a broader minded, more introspective, thus healthier society.

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