As Singapore rapidly modernises and westernises with the times, so is our very own local cuisine evolving. Now inscribed on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, hawker culture is definitely changing as younger generations are taking over businesses once handled by their parents or elder family members, and flavours from other cuisines and cultures are gradually being introduced to this communal setting; some of these flavours are in turn adapted into our own local dishes, perhaps as a refreshing way of introducing alternative approaches to Singaporean cuisine. We owe it to Chef Willin Low of Wild Rocket who introduced to us Mod-Sin Cuisine. the chefs who followed suit and dared to redefine these familiar comforting flavours to express their own ideas of what Singaporean cuisine could be all about away from a hawker centre.
But what if not every Singaporean considers these ‘fusion’ and at times expensive representations of our national dishes as authentic towards the identity of Singaporean cuisine? Who or what, then, ultimately decides what factors universally brand our local food as representative or “authentic” in the first place, and so what or not if something is not perceived to be as authentic to one but not the other? If the “authenticity” of something is due to the individual’s perception, based on their beliefs, knowledge, and lived experiences, then every person's definition of what Singaporean cuisine is to them could differ at varying lengths.
With my photographic project titled “For Here or Takeaway”, I wanted the body of work to be a device for Singaporeans to consider what Singaporean cuisine means to them, and the sort of identity they would define it to have. My idea was to play on exaggeration; I imagined a ‘fully evolved and westernised’ Singapore where our national dishes were presented as more commonly recognisable ‘western’ food products . It was important to me that the local elements of the dish had to be distinguishable upon processing each image, despite taking on a different – perhaps more organised – form. With that in mind, every dish was constructed with the traditional components that belong to them, no more and no less.
For me personally, it is my memories of the local dishes I eat – their taste, smell, feel, composition, and so on, that ultimately define what Singaporean cuisine is for me. I believe that our local food generally have enough fluidity to be presented in various forms while still observing the core components that make them Singaporean to us. They would often look simple enough to be appreciated at face value, but each dish has its own complex, differing layers of underlying flavours and textures. Regardless of whether it is presented traditionally or in an interpreted or elevated manner, as long as a dish is able to instil in me a reminder of home amidst all its added intricacies, that, to me, is still very much what I identify to be Singaporean cuisine.
Just as how the tireless process of creating this body of work eventually allowed me to reconsider and resolve what Singaporean cuisine means to me, I hope that the images would be able to generate interesting and open, thought-provoking questions and conversations about how individual Singaporeans (and foreigners alike) identify Singaporean cuisine, and what it is to them.