World Street Food Congress Jamboree 2013 – Hits and Misses

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!WSFC 2013 Balloon

With the World Street Food Congress gracing our shores, I was more than happy to embrace its existence by paying a visit to the Jamboree and probably try some street food from various countries around the globe. Despite my earlier hesitance, skepticism and concerns, I decided to give it a go and hope for the best (much to my delight, snippets of the dialogue sessions were published in the local papers).

WSFC 2013 EntranceWSFC 2013 Stalls

The scorching hot and humid day had me continuously reaching for my trusty paisley bandana to wipe off profuse amounts of pespiration that had gathered on my forehead and dripping down my sideburns and neck. The smell of charcoal smoke filled the air and affirmed that I was at the right place. My mother and I were greeted by staff (who were most likely to be students from the supporting/partnering schools of the event) clad in matching maroon-coloured polo t-shirts with the slogan “Will Work For Food Culture” proudly plastered on their backs. Given that it was a weekday, there was no apparent crowd but just enough people to make the place not seem too “dead”. The culinary craftsmen and women mostly wore smiles on their faces and made small talk when curious-looking visitors passed by their stall. A cheer of some sort – paired with smiles and laughter – would break out at various intervals amongst various groups of chefs; which seemed to show that despite coming from different parts of the world (and also being separated by the various confines of their stalls), they were still happy to be there, exhibit their food and mingle around with everyone.

Food and Stuff

WSFC 2013 Soto Tangkar & Sate Kuah Stall WSFC 2013 Sate Grilling

We made our way in and around the vast compound and decided to start on a bowl of Indonesian Soto Tangkar and Sate, prepared by a decently-dressed man who initially thought I was from Jakarta (my paternal grandparents were native Javanese immigrants who settled in Singapore). From the get go, the said man wore a warm and genuinely friendly smile on his face, seemingly delighted to have people visit his stall. But soon mentioned – in a rather disappointed tone – that there weren’t as many visitors as he hoped for who frequented his stall and the event as a whole. I could only suspect the reasons for this unfortunate circumstance to be; the rather exorbitant price of the dish (a dish that usually costs anywhere between 5000 to 10000 Indonesian Rupiah (between 60 Singapore cents to S$1.30) in most streets of Indonesia, is priced S$8.50 at the Jamboree! Most, if not all, of the stalls at the Jamboree had a ridiculously high mark-up prices of the items on offer), and/or that majority of the visitors thought that the soto he was serving was similar to the ones offered in local eateries (those folks don’t know what they’re missing). As I watched him grill the sate (charcoal grilled meat skewers – also spelled “satay” in Singapore and Malaysia), he had this natural and delicate way of handling the skewers which gave the unmistakable impression that he was passionate and dedicated in doing what he does; all this while two of his assistants were busy in the background preparing other components of the dish.

WSFC 2013 Soto Tangkar & Sate Kuah

Soto Tangkar & Sate Kuah

This lightly tangy, yet flavourful and rich, soup – which visually resembled the local sayur lodeh (aka lontong gravy), but tasted very much like tongseng – was served in a bowl along with a few cubes of ketupat (rice cakes), rough cuts of fresh carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes and shallots. The sate itself was flavourful but dry (I later understood that it was meant to be dipped and let sit in the soup, which could have made the sate salvageable). Food has the wonderful ability to transport one to a certain point in one’s past; and this dish did just that by bringing back nice memories of a serving of tongseng from a street-side stall in Bandung – just opposite the hotel my family and I stayed in.

WSFC 2013 Kluay Tord

Kluay Tord

We then decided to snack on some kluay tord (banana fritters) from Thailand before heading a tent which would feature a cooking demonstration by Singapore’s “rebel chef” Damian D’Silva. The deep fried kluay tord provided a sweet relief after the rich and tangy soto. With its slightly sweet batter and presence of sesame seeds, the fritters tasted very similar to a local dough fritter known affectionately as the Butterfly. I just wished that there was a small sauce dish of sambal kicap (sweet and spicy soya sauce dip) to go with the kluay tord. Disappointingly, the aforementioned food items were the only ones we laid our tastebuds on due to factors such as religious dietary restrictions and the ridiculously off-putting prices of street food (which is very contradicting simply because, in essence and usually by definition; street food should be affordable), just to name a few.

The Rebel Chef and His Killer Prawn Sambal

The “Rebel Chef” – Damian D’Silva
(photo credit: http://www.immigrants-gastrobar.com/)

Damian D’Silva’s cooking demonstration was a godsend after the initial disappointment of the main street food experience and atmosphere at the Jamboree. Held in an air-conditioned tent (yet another godsend amid the pespiration-inducing heat), he started off by giving a brief introduction of himself and why he got into cooking; most of which corroborates with his experiences which he shared in his food-themed memoir “Rebel With a Course” (a really good read, as far as local food history and heritage is concerned). Prawn sambal (an ubiquitous Southeast Asian chilli relish) was on the menu, and the “rebel chef” kept visitors entertained and informed by explaining why he did what he did (such as seasoning the semi-fried rempah (spice paste) with lime juice and salt before adding the prawns and sugar – due the the fact that prawns contain a natural sweetness). He also shared tips such as using coconut oil for cooking and alternatives for buah keras (candlenuts) in the event that they are scarce or unavailable (if you’re wondering, he suggested macadamia nuts as an alternative). He let visitors have a sample of what he claimed to be a sambal which was “about 95% completed” as well as the final product, to allow us to better understand and appreciate not only the taste, but the whole cooking process. Although it was a relatively small sampling portion, I can only describe the prawn sambal as an excellent example of what local heritage cooking is, scoring magnificently in areas of taste, balance and depth of flavour. This sambal (which, in my book, now ranks as the benchmark for all other sambals) is the sort of sambal that can neither be bought nor produced in a factory and one which chefs and aspiring cooks can only dream of making.

Final Bits

Other than an over-enthusiastic maid who seemed to mistake the indoor tent for a childcare centre and an obnoxious man who seems to get fashion tips from episodes of Jersey Shore (complete with aviator shades while in an indoor environment, speaking with an unnatural and exaggerated Northern American accent and righteously behaved as if he is God’s gift to women), the cooking demonstration was, by far, the highlight of the visit to the Jamboree.

More of my thoughts and opinions of the World Street Food Congress 2013 will be in the following post.

World Street Food Congress 2013
Date: 31st May 2013 – 9th June 2013
Venue: F1 Pit Building and Paddock, 1 Republic Boulevard, Singapore 038975
Opening hours: 11am – 10pm
Tickets are priced at S$28 (S$8 admission fee and S$20 worth of food coupons)
More information can be found here.
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