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Eating Her Curries and Kway

Eating Her Curries and Kway: A Cultural History of Food in Singapore

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Eating Her Curries and Kway
    Book Description:

    While eating is a universal experience, for Singaporeans it carries strong national connotations. The popular Singaporean-English phrase Die die must try is not so much hyperbole as it is a reflection of the lengths that Singaporeans will go to find great dishes. In Eating Her Curries and Kway: A Cultural History of Food in Singapore, Nicole Tarulevicz argues that in a society that has undergone substantial change in a relatively short amount of time, food serves Singaporeans as a poignant connection to the past. Covering the period from British settlement in 1819 to the present and focusing on the post–1965 postcolonial era, Tarulevicz tells the story of Singapore through the production and consumption of food. Analyzing a variety of sources that range from cookbooks to architectural and city plans, Tarulevicz offers a thematic history of this unusual country, which was colonized by the British and operated as a port within Malaya, but which is without a substantial pre-colonial history. Connecting food culture to the larger history of Singapore, she discusses various topics including domesticity and home economics, housing and architecture, advertising, and the regulation of food-related manners and public behavior such as hawking, littering, and chewing gum. Moving away from the predominantly political and economic focus of other histories of Singapore, Tarulevicz provides an important alternative reading of Singaporean society.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09536-8
    Subjects: Anthropology, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION. Audacious Fusion: Thinking About Singaporean Cuisine
    (pp. 1-9)

    When I think of Singapore I think of food, not just because I am a glutton, although I am. For me, Singapore is defined, at least in part, by the meals I have shared, by specific taste sensations, and by long conversations about food. It was over plates ofchai tao kway(fried carrot cake, a dish of white radish and egg and no carrot at all), redolent with chili, that friendships were formed. My adventuresome eating served me well in the eyes of new Singaporean friends who, only half-jokingly, talked of the Western obsession with bland food and meal...

  5. 1 A Brief History of Singapore
    (pp. 10-23)

    Singapore is small in size and population but not in influence. The island has a land area of only 247 square miles, no land boundaries other than the causeway to Malaysian Johore, and a total coastline of only 120 miles. The foundation of Singapore’s geographical constraints thus lies in its small size. Its population is a little more than five million, and one million of those are foreign workers. With a Chinese majority (76 percent) coexisting with Malay (15 percent), Indian (8 percent), and, in the words of the state, “Other” (1 percent) minority communities, it forms a uniquely Chinese...

  6. 2 Making the Past the Present: Food in a Multiracial Port City
    (pp. 24-38)

    The story of migrants as told through food is writ large in Singapore. In fact, it almost dominates the narrative of migration, rivaled only by the narrative of the hard work and sacrifice of migrants. Food evinces Singapore’s cultural legacy, its origin, history, and identity. In contrast to the sacrifice and hardship narrative of nonwhite migration, the colonial narrative emphasizes ease; it also features food but in a considerably more muted fashion, allowing the colonial discourse to remain remarkably glamorous given Singapore’s postcoloniality and the general trend of postcolonial states’ viewing the colonial past negatively. Singaporeans reflect their multiracial character...

  7. 3 Public Spaces, Public Bodies
    (pp. 39-58)

    Each year more Singaporeans, regardless of class, are eating meals outside the home than in it.¹ These public foodscapes, sites of food purchase and consumption, have a meaning at both the personal and the national levels and form a vital part of Singaporean life. These are the spaces in which people spend time with family, colleagues, and friends, where they form community relationships and meet their neighbors. By design, and through infusing those public foodscapes with national and personal identity, the places for eating and the cuisine Singaporeans eat transform into representations of their nation, turning the table into the...

  8. 4 The Kitchen: Invariably Offstage
    (pp. 59-76)

    The growing worldwide interest in local produce, culinary history, and regional cuisine has produced an increasingly sophisticated reading and cooking public. As a focus of historical study, however, kitchens have received little scholarly attention in Southeast Asian studies.¹ Singaporeans are arguably more conscious of the meanings of food now than at any point in their past. Food matters to them, their lived experience is shaped by their cuisine, and their personal feelings of “Singaporean-ness” are also linked to caring deeply about food. This interest in eating, however, has not yet translated to an interest inwherefood has been prepared....

  9. 5 Jam Tarts, Spotted Dicks, and Curry
    (pp. 77-91)

    Singaporean and Malayan advice manuals, school textbooks, and magazines from the 1890s to the 1990s were filled with instructions that would have been virtually impossible to fulfill in Singapore. Instructed in the culinary norms of Empire, young Singaporeans were reminded of the domestic rules of “home” and how to uphold a British way of life in the space of Empire. A 1960s cookbook based on the Malayan school curriculum, for example, is intended to “foster and develop those natural attributes of good craftsmanship and artistry posed by all Malayans.”¹ In the baking of jam tarts, spotted dick puddings, sponge cakes,...

  10. 6 The Pizza of Love
    (pp. 92-115)

    Cookbooks claiming to represent a national cuisine provide a unique opportunity to look at the way their authors use food and food preparation to define national identity. A recent upsurge in cookbooks produced by community organizations (Singaporean and international), chefs, food writers, government departments, schools, and food producers purports to offer readers a guide to cookingauthenticSingaporean food. But in a society where the kitchen has a diminished role, as established in Chapter 4, the purchase or giving of a cookbook takes on new meaning. When the book is not being used for cooking, its function as an indicator...

  11. 7 Picked in Their Fresh Young Prime
    (pp. 116-136)

    Food advertising in Singapore has always been intimately bound with “foreignness,” a direct consequence of the fact that Singapore is not able to produce its own food or water, and its status as a port city. The obvious foreignness of the foods purchased and culinary techniques used are reflected in advertising from the colonial period to the contemporary. As the cultural historian T.J. Jackson Lears pointed out, advertisements have a powerful iconic significance. Iconic, but not static symbols, they are the coupling of “words and pictures in commercial fables.” Advertisements tell stories that “are both fabulous and didactic, that have...

  12. 8 Food Sluts and the Marketing of Singaporean Cuisine
    (pp. 137-159)

    Framing the nation as a tourist destination, especially a food tourist destination, is now standard practice in the countries of Southeast Asia, and particularly Singapore. But the rubric of the exotic, and therefore the erotic, Orient, while clearly evident in Singapore, is being displaced by a neo-Orientalism of literal consumption. Unlike its neighbors, Singapore, through its English-language public sphere, is the “knowable Asia.” As a Westernized, globalized city, it appears knowable through the consumption of local fare. Tourists are actively encouraged to partake of local food as part of the experience of Singapore—to literally taste the nation. Food-related tourist...

  13. CONCLUSION. More Than Just Food
    (pp. 160-172)

    As a city-state of the twenty-first century, Singapore is unusual and in many ways unique. There are few nations that are entirely urban, but this may be what comes to pass in many places in the future. The challenge of feeding a nation from the pantries of other places seems like a phenomenon of our time, but it has been the reality of Singapore since its settlement. Precisely because Singapore does not have its own agriculture, the recent anxieties about fake and contaminated food, especially in products emanating from China,¹ are turning food into a national security issue. Apart from...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 173-198)
  15. Index
    (pp. 199-204)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-210)