Why Cook Local Favourites

By Shoba Nair - Wednesday, Nov 11, 2015

How many of us really cook? Many families I know depend on catering and hawker fare to satisfy their growling stomachs, while keeping their kitchens shiny and squeaky clean. Some others who have tiny tots in the home resort to making pasta (ready-made), sandwiches and muffins, to amuse their little ones.


What then is the motivation to cook? Well, we say heritage and culture, the best reason to celebrate your being deliciously.


Here are four reasons and some Deliciously Singaporean local food videos to shout out why food is such an integral part of our culture and society.


1.Save Money
Singaporeans are a pragmatic lot. It costs money to eat out, be it from the hawkers or from the food caterers. Let’s take chicken rice, for example. If you buy chicken rice for a family of five from the coffee shop across, it would cost you a minimum of $3 each, amounting to $15, for one meal. Comparing that to making chicken rice at home, you could buy a large whole kampong chicken for $8 (at the wet market), and with chicken stock, rice and spices, this may amount to less than $4. This means that one family meal would only cost $11. That is $3 less than eating out. If you multiply this by the number of meals you have per day, per week, per month and per year, it’s a good reason to smile. Also family kitchen time is priceless.


Chicken rice- you can cook this at home too.


2.Eat Healthier
It does not take a genius to figure out that food sold in hawker centres and restaurants taste and look rather appetising partly because of chemical additives included in them, such as monosodium glutamate, preserved meats and food colourings.


Eating out once in a while is not going to affect your health in a dramatic way, but doing so every day, for every meal, could mean that you are doing your body a great disservice(if you do not know what goes into that dish). Home-cooked food, on the other hand, means that you have a chance to choose your ingredients, including making choices such as whether to buy organic food stuff and even environment friendly produce. That provides you with a lot more autonomy and say in what goes into the food and therefore you are given an opportunity to have a better control over your (and your family’s) health.


Now who say bak kut teh is hard to cook at home?


3.Feel Uniquely Singaporean
As trite as this may sound, when we think of Singapore and being Singaporean, we simply cannot dissociate ourselves from the unique combinations of food we grew up with. The food at my childhood home was often a unique combination of food items from different cultures. For example, having the seemingly-odd combination of ikan bilis sambal (food of the Malays) with a coconut-based curry (food of the Indians) and a fried luncheon meat (food item popular among the Chinese) used to make me salivate. If my mum had cooked only food familiar to my own ethnicity, I doubt I would have been open to trying out many of the local street favourites. The kind of food I grew up eating was instead one of a mixed-ethnic combination, the kind that shaped my perceptions, made me appreciate different cultures, and made me who I am today, a true-blue Singaporean.


Roti John is not hard to make at home!


For my children who are part of the ‘Macdonalisation’ era, I strive to cook the local delights most of the time, ranging from sweet and sour chicken to ‘thosai’ to chicken sambal. I am hoping that this would at least help them identify themselves better as Singaporeans, and forge in them the bond I feel with my fellow Singaporeans. If you like your sandwiches and bread, go local, make your own chicken Roti John.

4.Know the Best is still at Home
Home is where the heart is, and the way to the heart (of anyone) is food, my dad used to say. When you think about the local food you grew up loving, it may sometimes mean something simpler than what may be offered at the local hawkers. It may not be the char kway teow that was the most delicious, but the steaming hot special-recipe soups your grandma used to make. For me it is not the mutton biriyani I yearn for when I am overseas, but the fuss-free plate of sardines with plain rice that my mum used to whip up for my lunch during my school days.


You would not find such basic food in the hawker centres and restaurants because it is simply too simple to be put on the menu. Yet, just as happiness is often found in the simplest of things, so the best kind of food is often the simplest of its kind, the kind found best and only at home.


There is no excuse for not knowing how to cook the local favourites. The online social communities are teeming with online recipes by enthusiastic Singaporean home cooks and comments by both novice and professional cooks. All you need is the effort and the zest…and perhaps the strength to see your kitchen stove (and walls) splattered with curry sauce.