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A note about authenticity

Ever so often after a meal in a S'porean/Malaysian restaurant overseas, one would make the comment " it's not authentic!" or "it's good, but it's just not quite the same!". Especially when it comes to a hawker dish.

What we miss most while overseas is hawker food. Unfortunately, the hawkers are no writers and you don't see their secrets in print. The many recipes you see in cookbooks, are at best, a close recreation of "the real thing", which, I'm afraid, not even the best cook knows how exactly the hawkers do it.

What's missing here? the Pork fat? the charcoal fire? Perhaps it's the earthern pots or the pestle and mortar ... hm .. what about the MSG and the noise and the heat of the tropics? or perhaps it's all about ordering your food in Hokkien mixed with Singlish and having to wait half an hour in the queue that's truly the missing fun! Whatever the reasons may be, it's just not the same having the waiter come to you and say "May I take your order, Sir?" This Western style service simply doesn't add to the Singapore feeling!

So, when we say authentic here, it means best to the creator's knowlege - the satay is not going to taste exactly like your favourite #1 satay, and the chicken rice like Swee Kee's. Sounds like a compromise? No, absolutely not. Food is a living art, better ones are being created everyday!! So, don't just stick to the recipes but be creative, for it's not likely to be "the real thing" anyway. Perhaps someday someone would take the trouble to go visit all the much loved hawkers in Singapore and convince them to part with their secrets. Until then, let's make the best of what we have :-) And who knows, your new creation may someday become the new hawker favourite!

Vincent Tan says:

I think the "Authenticity" of food from Singapore and Malaysia come from the fact that it's served in a hawker center. With all the other food's smell mingle with all smell of the open air and open stove/fire. That's what make it authentic. No where else, especially overseas, will you get to be enveloped in the smell of char kway teow while eating mee siam, or smell satay roasting while drinking bandong. Enjoying food involve all the senses in the body. TASTE the food, SEE the sight of hawkers cooking and serving their wares, SMELL the mixture of food fragrant, FEEL the hard hawker center stool and table, HEAR the noises of poeple moving around, food cooking, hawkers clanging their spatula with the wok, satay roasting, hawker shouting orders across the hawker center, and lots and lots more. What make authentic food? Think about it.

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