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Travel, Asia

Icha Rahmanti
Thursday, Oct 30, 2014

Travel, Asia

Having a blast at Singapore's 24-hour street food safari

The Jakarta Post/ANN | Icha Rahmanti | Thursday, Oct 30, 2014

Upon receiving an invitation to join about 20 other journalists from all over the world and eat street foods for 24 hours straight, I had to double check to make sure I'd read correctly.

Amazingly, I had it right, and so began the wait for D-day to arrive, when I could take part in the world's first-ever 24-hour street food rally.

The meeting point was at Singapore's Makan Sutra Gluttons Bay at Esplanade.

When I arrived, the day was already warm and humid, with thin clouds painting the sky white. Several attendees had already arrived and we mingled excitedly.

A friendly staff member in a red polo written with the words, "Will Work for Food Culture", handed me a black bag. Smiling, she said, "This is your survival kit."

Inside were many items, including a traditional fan made from woven coconut leaves, wet wipes, a new toothbrush and tube of toothpaste, notebooks, ointment, some refreshing mint candy, utensils, a double-function plate-to-bowl tupperware and medicine to relieve heartburn and indigestion.

The bag of goodies made my excitement rise even higher, but I still didn't really know what to expect; the invitation had not been accompanied by a detailed itinerary, perhaps to provide an element of surprise.

Finally, we got on the bus and our 24-hour food safari officially began.

The event was organised by Makan Sutra, a Singapore-based company founded by KF Seetoh, who has been described by the New York Times' as a "Food Guide Maven". Makan Sutra strives to celebrate food culture and the event was promoted as a kind of kickstarter for next year's World Street Food Congress (WSFC), which will be held in April 2015.

After our first stop at a hawker centre in the Toa Payoh area, where we savoured one of the city's first (and best) carrot cakes, KF Seetoh explained that street food had fed the world's population for centuries.

"Street food is good for the economy and community. During crisis, many restaurant businesses close down, but street food still thrives. In Singapore, for less than SG$5 meal, you can get a meal at a hawker centre. So eating out has become the culture instead of eating in. These hawker centers have brought people together," said Seetoh.

He explained that street foods have stories to go beyond the mere pampering of taste buds. Street food embodies histories of migration, acculturation, cultural mixing and the settling into new places. It captures place's heritage, stamping its "soul" into its food.

Seetoh acknowledged, however, he was worried about the future of street food.

"Now people eat, take a really nice photo and blog about it or post it on social media. Everybody is doing it but, the question is, who is going to cook your grandchildren a plate of chicken rice?" Seetoh said, pointing out that many established street food chefs had failed to transfer their cooking skills to the next generation.

"At many of the street foods stalls I have seen, they [chefs] possess insane artisanal cooking skills, preparing foods with the speed of a machine! It is an art of its own. And this kind of thing needs to be passed down and taught," he added.

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