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Literary Arts

Making A Scene: A Moveable Feast

The Singaporean obsession with food


Published: 3 Dec 2020

Time taken : >15mins

Singaporeans are crazy about food. But what exactly is the nature of this mad love?

Food writer Christopher Tan

Singaporeans often describe Singapore as a food-obsessed nation. In this episode, we take a closer look at this purported obsession, and what it reveals about how we engage with Singaporean society and culture. 

Hosting the episode is Christopher Tan, the author of The Way of Kueh, which was named Book of The Year at the 2020 Singapore Book Awards. Our guests are Ann Ang, one of the editors of Food Republic: A Singapore Literary Banquet; Melissa De Silva, the author of Others’ is Not a Race, which won the Singapore Literature Prize in the creative non-fiction category in 2018; and poet and art historian Samuel Lee, whose debut poetry collection, A Field Guide to Supermarkets in Singapore, won the Singapore Literature Prize in 2018 for poetry in English. 

Melissa’s essay The Gift and Samuel’s poem Prophetic Visions of Next Week’s Grain Consumption Patterns are both featured in little red comma, a digital showcase for Singapore literature.

Breaking it down

[2:35 to 20:18] Ann introduces the Food Republic anthology, which she co-edited with Daryl Lim Wei Jie and Tse Hao Guang. The book features over a hundred literary explorations of Singapore’s food and food culture, and she highlights pieces such as Leong Liew Geok’s A Wet Market in Singapore, Amanda Lee Koe’s Randy’s Rotisserie, Prasanthi Ram’s The Panasonic and Alfian Sa’at’s Fasting in Ramadan.

Our guests also discuss the way nostalgia and futurity are intertwined with food writing and Samuel talks about how different locales, economic inequalities and the act of shopping for groceries and cooking food informed his poetry collection.  

[20:18 to 34:38] Melissa shares how a pivotal moment led her to explore her Eurasian identity more deeply in her writing, and that leads into a larger discussion about how food defines the Singaporean literary identity, and how different literary genres bring out different facets of food writing. 

[34:39- 44:55] And finally, our guests ponder how COVID-19 has changed their relationship to food. Ang elaborates on the lockdown experiences that inspired her essay Makan Again, while Melissa kicks off a discussion about the ethical nature of food consumption when she reveals why she decided not to order food deliveries during the circuit breaker period. 

Further explore

Christopher talks about his cookbook The Way of Kueh on the podcast Take A Bao

Melissa’s thoughts on reclaiming her Eurasian heritage

Cha journal’s review of Samuel’s poetry collection

A meditation on the joylessness of cooking during a global pandemic

This episode of Making A Scene is produced by Hong Xinyi for Esplanade – Theatres on the Bay. The theme music of the podcast is More Than We Know from the album Seamonster by The Steve McQueens, a Mosaic Associate Artist supported by Esplanade. 

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