Basic Foods: Does quality matter

By Thammika Songkaeo - Monday, Jun 15, 2015

It’s a question many of us are wondering, as more eateries with “organic”, “natural” and “no preservatives” are popping up. Just how important is quality? Why do we seem to emphasize it over taste sometimes now?


We went out to the streets to discover why people made the food choices that they do. We realized that completely separating quality from taste was overly simplistic, since high quality often does always equate to good taste. What we were trying to find out was to what extent people would give up good taste, to get instead “organic”, “natural” or “no preservatives” labels.


The answer when it comes to these common food items might surprise you.


1) Bread: “It doesn’t matter.” A lot of younger folks that we talked to aren’t very concerned about the ingredients in their bread. They just “eat whatever [their] mom bought.” That’s understandable, since bread is normally a breakfast item, and young people aren’t likely to wake up early enough to go to their favourite bread stall before school. The office-aged folks eat breads of all sorts, from gummy uncle-baked bread to the international franchises dotting downtown, “as long as it’s quick.”

It seldom about the qualtiy of the wheat or flour when we eat bread

2) Desserts: People seem more particular about this one. It’s because, unlike bread, dessert is more like a decadent option, something you would want to spend time with. “Especially because it’s sweet, I cannot have it all the time, so I think carefully about it,” a lady buying her no-preservative, low-sugar chiffon in Tanjong Pagar says. Sellers of desserts are realizing how important it is to offer low-sugar options, which is why you see many foods, from chiffon cakes to milk tea, with customizable sugar levels now. Anyhow, sugar levels can matter less if a dessert is just that appealing. “It also depends on whether the dessert is pretty,” she adds with a laugh.

Tofu Chiffon cake- sugars can matter less if it’s a good dessert

3) French Fries: We had to do this one after seeing a couple stuck on seemingly hours-old golden arches at a popular imported institution, which is known for using high amounts of salt and fats. “Why were you still eating that?” We asked. “It came with our set meal.” They said. “But is it still good? Was it ever good?” “Not really. It’s a bit soggy now, but the set was expensive, so we don’t want to waste.” So, they were eating for neither quality ingredients nor taste. People eat trash when it was costly, I guess.

By habit, we eat them because it’s simply there

4) Water: You might think that all water tastes the same, but water aficionados will laugh at your taste buds, claiming that mineral water is sweeter and is more nutritious. They pick water viewing it as a chance for body-nourishing minerals. And for some health nuts, the sweetness can even soothe dessert cravings, an expat downtown told us. Wow.


5) Kopi: Many of us know that this stuff, unless à la kosong, can be extremely sweet, and the sugar used in it – whether condensed or granulated – is highly processed, but our interviewee said she enjoys it because that’s what has to go with kaya toast for her. And why can’t she give up kaya? Because it’s what her mom fed her almost every morning when she was a school girl. . She was essentially sipping on nostalgia. A connection with family often surpasses any other kind of value, doesn’t it?

The comfort of the sugars in a cuppa kopi

Bread, desserts, French fries, water or kopi – all of these come with a host of looks and ingredients virtually everywhere in the world. There might be a marketing army trying to tempt us into buying their products because of “higher-quality ingredients”, but at the end, we eat for reasons that are more superficial or personal, too. Food is always more than physical nourishment and is also about stories. But hmm… there’s probably no need to remind you, with all these old-school-style places popping up all over Singapore.