A Food-Loving Nation’s Dilemma – Hawker Heroes Aftermath: What Now?

“Hawker Heroes” Challenge at Newton Food Centre (Photo credit: Yahoo!/Catherine Ling)

It was billed as “Singapore vs Ramsay”; a supposed “test” as to see whether Singapore hawker food was worthy of a Michelin starred classification and/or recognition. Initial response was (and still continues to be) mixed, but the show went on as planned.

Of Eager Fans and Lingering Questions

With the rampant use of social media, it was no surprise that folks received and issued updates and news via their tablets and smartphones. Scores were reported to have turned up as early as 1am before the day of the event – which was mostly made up of young people (based on the numerous photos plastered by means of websites and social media, a safe guess-timate would be that most attendees were a starstruck and technologically-savvy/updated (and hungry) bunch – aged between 16 and 35).

In true Singaporean fashion, numerous other opinions, comments and criticisms came flying in at all angles; ranging from an upset hawker stall owner who claimed the “Hawker Heroes” event hurt his business, to social media posts (by home cooks, “foodies” and even professional chefs) where challenges and call outs were issued to the multi-Michelin starred chef, and everything else in between. Even before Gordon Ramsay landed in Singapore, there were questions asked as to whether a dish such as Chilli Crab could and should be classified under the hawker food umbrella – not to mention that the local Chilli Crab maestro chosen to fend off Gordon was a chef/CEO of his own restaurant, compared to the other shortlisted candidates who conducted their businesses mainly in hawker centres and coffee shops.

There was also the outrage as to why dishes of the ethnic minorities in Singapore were not featured in the event; such as nasi lemak and roti prata. Some chose to air their grief and discontent via the title sponsor’s official Facebook page for its alleged disregard and racial prejudice when it came to showcasing the dishes of a country which prides itself as a multi-racial nation.

What Now?

So – they came, they ate, and they voted (via voting slips which were distributed to the first thousand in line at the Newton Food Centre). To cut the story short; the final score was 2 – 1 in favour of Singapore, with Gordon Ramsay scoring his only point by pipping his adversary in the Chilli Crab battle. Different people aired their opinions as to who or what went right and wrong; such as Dr Leslie Tay who provided a pretty comprehensive analysis of taste, techniques and handicaps. Ultimately, the deal is done and the show has ended. While I was not physically present at the Newton Hawker Centre to witness and/or taste the dishes prepared by Gordon Ramsay and his competitors (a.k.a. the “Hawker Heroes”), I echo Dr Tay’s sentiments by saying that many would agree the event was nothing more than a publicity stunt aimed at pushing people to support our local hawkers and their food – not to mention eating it. Despite this, the “Hawker Heroes” can heave a sigh of relief as a nation’s weight is lifted off their shoulders, and local self-proclaimed “foodies” celebrate with much delight in what is seen as a historical moment in Singapore gastronomy.

However, has the initial question – that triggered the idea of having this whole event in the first place – been answered? Definitely not, I say. To add to that, other questions now come to mind – questions such as; “What now?”, “What does this “victory” mean?”, and “Where do we go from here?”. In my opinion; through this event, we’ve only managed to prove (albeit almost entirely to Gordon Ramsay) that this little dot on the world map makes pretty darn good food. And that’s about it.

While the small (and rather indecisive) battle may have been won, the main (and much bigger) fight – on how to preserve a nation’s famed pastime – is far from over.

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