Table Talk is a new series featuring food-lovers from all walks of life in Singapore. This casual question-and-answer-style interview features food-centric topics together with discussions, opinions, and exchanges of ideas in relation to food.
This first edition of Table Talk features 32-year-old Adam Shah; together with his 29-year-old brother Azlan Shah; who represent one-half of the team behind The Halal Food Blog. After three years of food blogging, these food-loving siblings – who hold full-time positions in the corporate world as a call centre manager and a marketing manager respectively – share their thoughts and experiences about being the go-to names for halal food and halal food blogging in Singapore.
This inaugural edition of Table Talk features food-loving siblings Adam Shah (left) and Azlan Shah (right); who represent one-half of the Halal Food Blog team. Photo: The Halal Food Blog
Could you share how you got started with food blogging?
Adam: We started the blog about three years ago, mainly because we were not able to find much information with regards to halal eateries in Singapore. So I thought to myself, “The next time we eat out; I’ll take photos of the food, do a short write-up, and post it online.” We did so in hopes that it will be beneficial to similar-minded food-loving people. As time went by, we managed to amass an increasing number of followers.
We are very thankful to them and consider ourselves to be very lucky and fortunate to be where we are now.
Are there any challenges you have faced (or continue to face) as food bloggers?
Adam: People tend to think that we do this on a full-time basis, but that’s not true. Thanks to Singapore’s fast-paced lifestyle, we only eat out as and when we have time to do so; mainly after work hours and/or during weekends.
Additionally, some readers have came up with – what we consider to be – weird requests. A common example would be asking us to review a place prior to their own visit; and subsequently telling them how it’s like. Nevertheless, we still try our best to accommodate and accede to our readers’ requests.
We don’t pre-arrange food reviews, nor do we announce our arrival beforehand. This ensures credibility on our part and, most importantly; we like to be treated the same way as any other person who might choose to dine at any of the establishments we’ve featured. As long as our conscience is clear, we have nothing to worry about.
Azlan: I think food blogging can be quite disheartening at times, and there have been instances where we wanted to call it quits. Some readers have the tendency to expect that we – as bloggers – owe them something; whereas we think what we offer is similar to a kind of service. As Adam mentioned, we eat out and write about the eateries at our own time and do so out of our own pockets. We’ve also had instances and encounters with readers which were not too friendly in nature; particularly those which involved mis-communicated and/or mis-quoted information.
For the record: we base what we write on the information provided by the owners and/or proprietors at the point of time when we visit an eating establishment. The platform we provide is very useful (people take references, advice, and decide on where to eat via our blog), but we also realise the weight of the words we type can be considered rather heavy to some.
Also, during our initial foray into the food blogosphere, we became pretty riled up over trolls and their comments. Over time, we’ve learnt to just let them be – there’s no point in getting overly worked up.
What are your thoughts on the local halal food scene?
Adam: I have to say, the halal food scene has boomed exponentially as compared to the last five years, give or take. Almost everywhere you go, there is a halal eatery. Big chains are also jumping on the halal bandwagon, and I think such establishments are aware of the value of the MUIS (Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura or Islamic Religious Council of Singapore) Halal certification in terms of bringing them more business. All in all, the halal food scene in Singapore is much better and offers much more choices than before.
Azlan: The food scene will always be what it is because people enjoy eating. We are more technologically savvy and thanks to globalisation, we’re more exposed to different types of cuisine and food.
We have also been fortunate enough to have met some very down-to-earth food proprietors and owners; some of whom are grateful to us for featuring them. Some have even went as far as saying that they owe their success to us. However, we keep telling them that we didn’t do anything. We believe that if your food is good, it will sell itself. Our job only involves informing people about the availability of different food options.
In recent times, Muslims in Singapore have been airing their views/concerns online about international chain establishments that have set up shop on the island nation but are not halal-certified. What does this reveal or tell you about the current demographic influence, demands, and/or purchasing power of Muslim consumers in Singapore when it comes to food?
Azlan: A lot of Muslims in Singapore are unhappy that (international fast food chain) Subway’s Singapore franchise, for example, is not going the halal route. I prefer to look at things from a different angle and proceed to question: from a business standpoint, will Subway benefit from turning halal? If you were to weigh it out, the non-Muslim community far outweighs the Muslim community; especially in Singapore. I don’t understand why people are blaming Subway for not going halal. We, as Muslims, should not deprive non-Muslims of what they like to eat – some of which may include non-halal items such as pork and bacon.
If we’re really that desperate for a submarine sandwich, we can easily head across the Causeway for Subway. And now, there are local halal places like Toasties to get our submarine sandwich fix. One can even head to ZAC Butchery to get your own meats and whip up your own sandwiches!
At the end of the day, it’s a business decision made by companies as to whether they choose to go halal or not. Furthermore; applying for the halal certificate is not cheap, nor is it easy to obtain.
Adam: Some people tend to have a narrow-minded and one-sided way on judging eateries. But as Azlan mentioned, it’s ultimately a business decision made by the companies. Technically, the companies don’t owe anybody an explanation as to why they choose not to go halal.
However, as mentioned previously, we are considered very fortunate to have more and more eateries going the halal route.
With more western-themed/inspired cafes and eateries popping up, and decades-old hawkers calling it quits; alarm bells are ringing with regards to the decline and potential demise of our local food culture. What are your thoughts on this matter?
Azlan: As mentioned, people are more adventurous when it comes to food, and they want to try new things. The rise of cafes and restaurants serving western cuisine seems to be a novelty of sorts. Realistically, we don’t consume such food on an everyday basis. People still turn to comfort food such as nasi lemak and roti prata, as it is generally cheaper as compared to food from cafes and/or restaurants. Our local food culture will never die.
Adam: It is much easier to get foreign cuisine nowadays; which was practically unheard of a few years ago. Similarly, the re-emergence of traditional flavours offered by cafes and non-local-themed eateries is very encouraging and interesting, though some may sound rather extreme. It may not always work, but it’s always nice to see people try. Many still want to be able to connect to their traditional foods and flavours.
One young food maverick, who goes by the moniker Satay Boy, recently posted on his Instagram page about how the tradition, heritage and culture of grilling satay is such an underrated and overlooked skill. I am of the belief that as long as there are people who still do things the traditional way, there is still hope. It will not be easy, but we can still be hopeful.
What role do food bloggers play – if any – in ensuring and promoting continuity of Singapore’s food culture?
Adam: I would say that we play a bigger role than we realise (or dare to admit) sometimes. The local food scene is primarily dominated by big names and food chains, but it’s always nice when we find a small local place that tries their best to infuse local flavours and ideas. Such owners are very grateful that we feature them in our blog because some are located in far-flung locations. Our main intention when we started the blog was to disseminate information and help people; be it diners (who want new eating options) or business owners.
Azlan: We see ourselves as regular people, and indirectly, we also lean towards smaller/underdog establishments. We are equally grateful and happy for food owners who have benefited from our features and reviews. Needless to say, we have also managed to build a strong friendship with business owners over time.
Do you have a favourite local dish that you find yourself returning to every now and then?
Adam: This is tough; I can’t decide on just one! I’m torn between chicken rice and any dish with salted eggs – crabs, prawns, or just plain salted eggs!
Azlan: *after a long pause* I’d have to go with my dad’s homemade laksa.
Adam: I would say that our dad has a huge part to play in our love for food. He cooks a lot of things at home; wanton noodles, pizza, spaghetti, chilli crabs, etc. I think he has natural talent in terms of cooking. As often as we eat outside, nothing beats home cooked food!
Azlan: My other choice would probably be nasi lemak. I’m a traditional kind of guy!
Based on your experience thus far, are there any tips you would be able to share with budding food bloggers?
Adam: Don’t think too much; just go for it. For example, if there is something interesting you see featured in a menu, just order it. The four of us behind the blog (the brothers and their respective spouses) allows for differing and contrasting opinions. People can definitely relate to at least one of our tastes. I also like to visit a place on more than one occasion in order to have a sense of the variety of food that they offer.
Additionally, it is important to be sincere. It is also important to just keep going! Somebody, somewhere is reading. A post a week or every fortnight is good. Don’t give up; persevere!
Azlan: Be yourself; keep your views and reviews as real and sincere as possible. People appreciate such traits, especially in bloggers. For your words to hold some weight, you have to be honest and not have any bias towards anything.
It is also very important to know why you are blogging. If your goal is to be famous and popular, you would tend to give up if the results aren’t to your expectations. For us; it would be safe to say that we would still keep going even if we had no followers.
Anything exciting in the works that people can look forward to from the folks at The Halal Food Blog?
Adam: There are some exciting developments coming up for the Ramadan/Hari Raya period (iftar menus, bazaars, etc). Additionally, we plan to give back to the readers by means of printing and distributing customised Halal Food Blog Hari Raya envelopes (commonly known to the Malay community as sampul duit Raya). We also plan to start a YouTube channel in the near future; which will include video reviews, vlogs, etc. We’re also going to be featured on BiTES magazine some time in June, so do look out for that!
Is there anything else you would like to add?
Adam: I hope to see more people carrying on the flame/torch of food blogging. I highly enjoy the interaction between readers and ourselves. Thank you for supporting us and The Halal Food Blog!
Azlan: A very big thank you is in order for the readers of The Halal Food Blog. To those who have supported and continue to support us and the blog; thank you!
Author’s note: A big thank you to Adam and Azlan for being the first guests for Table Talk. Here’s to many more years of great food and friendship! For those who are interested about halal dining options in Singapore, do visit The Halal Food Blog as well as their Facebook page.