Dr Leslie Tay is synonymous with his love for hawker food. His blog ieatishootipost.sg is a household name amongst the food-loving community in Singapore. He was recently given a shot at the big league – TV time – when he appeared on a local/regional spin-off of The Best Thing I Ever Ate. Here’s his choice of the “best thing he ever ate” in Singapore;
I was pleasantly surprised when the opening title first appeared on television (it was on Food Network Asia, if I remembered correctly), with the familiar sequential text appearing on-screen. But when his choice was announced, an overwhelming sense of disappointment reverberated within my loins. As seen in the video, he sung praises filled with superlatives about the restaurant, its ambience, its attention to detail, and various other factors in an attempt to justify his choice and entice the audience.
Recently, he posted a link to the aforementioned video via his Facebook page with the heading “My 2 mins of fame on Food Network Asia”. Reactions were mixed; with some saying that his “2 minutes of fame” seemed more like an advertisement for the restaurant, while others questioned why he didn’t choose local fare/cuisine like his fellow counterparts from neighbouring Southeast Asian countries which were also featured. To address his critics on his choice of Japanese sushi as “the best thing he ever ate”, Dr Tay replied, “I take pride is supporting our local chefs too who are doing a great job with other cuisines!”
Most would know that the platter that Dr Tay feasted on didn’t come cheap. I can wholly understand if people felt somewhat “cheated”, “misled”, or even disappointed; because Dr Tay occasionally harps on the need for us to support our local food and local food culture. He has often blogged about the “deemed-to-be-fashionable phenomenon” (or epidemic, depending on how you choose to see it) known as “culinary prejudice” (in which foreign cuisines and food habits/cultures are highly preferred and seen as superior as compared to its local counterparts. Key in the term “culinary prejudice” into the search bar on his blog, and you’ll be able to read his posts on such matters).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m neither in the business of shaming Dr Tay, nor labelling him a hypocrite, nor calling him Singapore’s food blogging contradiction. I, myself, am a fan of foreign/non-local cuisine (I do enjoy steaks, burgers, and also sushi). But in potentially historically-defining instances (related to food) such as the one presented to Dr Tay to show the region (and possibly the world) about what this little red dot has to offer, I think he should have chosen a local dish. When asked what his favourite food was in a food-themed panel discussion held at The Arts House last year, Dr Tay replied, albeit in a somewhat withdrawn and unenthusiastic nature, “Hokkien Mee and Satay. I’ve been asked this question so many times, it’s been well-rehearsed”. Despite his tone, it is widely known and understood that Dr Tay loves his food and loves to experiment with ingredients and recipes. Perhaps, he could have used those two dishes as an introduction to those who are new or unfamiliar to our local hawker food – seeing the potential viewership and attention that cable television and online videos can now command.
Then again, as I mentioned in one of my previous posts, tastes and opinions are all subjective. I can’t force someone to like something I like. Nobody can. But I, along with many others, surely, still think that Dr Tay’s choice could have been veered towards something more local. Hawker food is synonymous with the majority of Singaporeans from all walks of life. Featuring our local food would also have been beneficial to spearheading any hawker-related initiatives; knowing that alarms have been raised at the lack of interest in continuing the trade. That being said; the need to steer interest, acceptance, and continuity towards our local food and local food culture should always be at the top of every food-loving Singaporean’s mind.