UPDATE: The S$8 ticket fee will be waived for the final day of the event. Just mention “Patricia’s Guest” to the folks at the door and you’re good to go!
As with anybody else who has attended the World Street Food Congress 2013, I have my fair share of comments, opinions and suggestions (in the event that the organisers wish to hold another event in 2014).
Facts and Figures
Let’s start with some figures: A local newspaper report stated that around S$3 million was forked out for the event (spearheaded by Makansutra and Singapore Tourism Board). Now that’s a whole lot of moolah, in my opinion.
It is without any doubt that the organisers, staff and volunteers and most importantly; the respective street food maestros, deserve recognition in making the event happen. However, I strongly believe that the latter deserve much more. Despite their cheerful outlook and warm smiles, I felt as if they were in despair and almost resorted to begging; begging for people to come forward and have a go at their humble offerings (to think that some may even have to temporarily close their stalls back home just to attend this event – but I’m pretty sure they’ll be up and about in no time once they’re back home). Also, I’m sure you might have heard it repeatedly, but this needs to be thrown into the spotlight again – pricing. By definition, street food is meant to be cheap. Visitors were, initially, given no other option than to pay an upfront fee of S$28 (S$8 ticket fee and S$20 worth of food coupons) before being allowed to enter. A few days after the start of the event, there was a newspaper cutout – which I first noticed on Tuesday, 4th June 2013 and lasted till Friday, 7th June 2013 – which waived the S$8 ticket fee and allowed the visitor to choose between purchasing tickets before or after entering the venue. It was a good and quick-thinking move on the organisers’ part, but it seemed like an act of desperation to entice more people to the event. In addition to that, significantly lower food prices would most definitely be a plus point, more so – I cannot stress this enough – at an event showcasing street food. For the die-hard food warrior and fanatic, paying the S$28 fee or constantly having to collect newspaper cuttings would not have been friendly on the bank account, which is why a 10-day Jamboree pass would be a great option (I would’ve gladly gotten one if it was offered), especially when you have different “Masterclasses” and/or cooking demonstrations being held throughout the whole of 10 days.
In addition to that, there’s the ticket prices for the dialogue session (which I have lamented on). While I am thankful and appreciate that the local papers covered topics and issues which were thrown into the spotlight during the dialogue sessions, it would have been a really good experience to see and hear the topics and issues being discussed at the event venue itself – sans the high price tag.
The venue itself was encompassed within a large amount of real estate, which made the place looking rather empty. This led to a sad-looking atmosphere – which was way beyond what I had envisioned to be a boisterous and kitchen-utensil-clanging affair. The eerily sad sense of emptiness (thanks to the massive land area) seemed to be the exact opposite of the hustle and bustle which is synonymous with street food culture. Let the pictures (above) speak for themselves. Although the event was held as close to the streets as it is permissible by law (vehicles whizzing by along Raffles Boulevard and trailers roaring along the Benjamin Sheares Bridge just above the our heads), it didn’t evoke a genuine sense and ambience of experiencing true street food culture.
Of Groupies and Dietary Restrictions
Another gripe; it would have been nice (not to mention helpful) if the staff/volunteers could, with an ounce of initiative, provide more in terms of making visitors and vendors feel more comfortable (I’m referring to the deadpan and straight-from-the-manual type of speech by staff members). While signs, maps and descriptions were aplenty at the site, a “Jamboree ambassador”/food expert role could have been appointed to (one or more) senior and food-knowledgeable members of the staff, allowing visitors to have a more human sense of welcome instead of a throw-you-in-the-open-field-and-you’re-on-your-own type of “welcome”. In true Singaporean youth manner, I noticed a number of staff/volunteers hanging out and gathering in their own little groups and looked rather dreary – giving the impression that they were forced – as opposed to be genuinely happy and honoured to be given the opportunity – to be a part of the event (what happened to living the “Will Work For Street Food Culture” slogan embedded on the back of your shirts?).
Next, food which involved various dietary restrictions could have also been better handled. For example, a more thorough and official halal certification (as opposed to the ubiquitously ambiguous “No Pork, No Lard”) would have benefited and encouraged more local and regional Muslims (a significant population of Singaporeans are Muslims, and our neighbours Malaysia and Indonesia are home to a significantly large majority of Muslims) to grace the event. The Islamic Religous Council of Singapore (MUIS) does offer halal certification for temporary events (think the likes of pasar malams and trade fairs/expos), so I was rather surprised that no official certification was issued to the Muslim stall owners. Other generic warnings for dietary restrictions I noticed were “Contains Peanuts” and “Contains Beef”.
Do I appreciate the fact that these culinary whizzes are gracing my shores to present a number of delicacies under one roof? Without a doubt, yes. Would I prefer to travel to the respective countries represented at the Jamboree (as well as others which were not in the list) and try the exact same food in their native lands instead? A definite yes as well. The organisers were very ambitious in gathering people from different parts of the world and circle around the theme of street food. I’m certain many others also understand that accommodation costs, airfare, costs to import fundamental ingredients and numerous other factors come into play when dealing with an event of this magnitude. While my aforementioned observations were based on the fact that I was there during a weekday where crowds were naturally not expected, I am cautiously hopeful that crowds will come in the droves during the weekends (it’s also the first week of the mid-year school holidays in Singapore, so bring on the young’ns!). As somebody who loves food and the whole experience and ambience of food and eating, I sincerely hope the organisers would take the feedback and suggestions from various visitors into consideration if they were to think of holding another similar event next year.
Last but not least; to the street food ambassadors, I salute you and hope that you continue to do what you do best. The world is a much better place with your presence and people such as myself truly appreciate your devoted dedication to honing your craft. On behalf of Singapore and the world; thank you.