Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Singaporean story about Curry

Ok, I have to admit. I haven't been saying much here over the last few months. Even though I still had been making bentos for Mr Bear and I.  After reading this article from Singapore's online newspaper, I really felt I had to do say something.

Here is an excerpt from the article:

When neighbours disagree ...
by Quek Sue Wen Carolyn

Case 1: A family, who had just moved here from China, had resorted to mediation because they could not stand the smell of curry that their Singaporean Indian neighbours would often cook. The Indian family, who were mindful of their neighbour's aversion, had already taken to closing their doors and windows whenever they cooked the dish, but this was not enough.

"They said: 'Can you please do something? Can you don't cook curry? Can you don't eat curry?'," said Madam Marcellina Giam, a Community Mediation Centre mediator. But the Indian family stood firm. In the end, Mdm Giam got the Indian family to agree to cook curry only when the Chinese family was not home. In return, they wanted their Chinese neighbours to at least give their dish a try.

I was born and bred in Singapore. I am a Singaporean. Slightly before the heydays of Dutch and British power in South East Asia, my ancestors took a boat from China and settled in Malaysia and Singapore. Around the same time, boat loads of people from India, Middle East, and other neighbouring countries did the same as well. Obviously, since Singapore was a busy trading port and compulsory stop-over point for European and Asian traders and everybody wanted to get rich from the opportunities Singapore offers. Soon it became a melting pot of different cultures, different languages, different religion practices, all link together with trade and spices.

I hate to use the terms "Singapore-Chinese" / "Chinese-Singaporean" especially when questioned by people who do not know much about Singapore. I really detest it. Usually I simply say "Singaporean" to avoid confusion. Its not because I do not like to acknowledge the fact that my ancestors came from China centuries ago. Its simply because we have already evolved and are accustomed to the South East Asian way of life, which is not exactly the same as China.

In the same light, its almost like asking an African American who's born and bred in America if he or she behave/think like people in the various parts of Africa. Chances are high that you will be sued immediately for being a racist in many parts of the world if you say that.

Back to this story, Singaporeans grew up with curry dishes. In fact it is a symbol of our multiculturism. Traditional Chinese dishes from China hardly use any spices because many spices are not native to the area. Yet my female ancestors have incorporated the use of spices and curries into their cuisines. That said, most people that was born and bred in Singapore, regardless of skin colour, certainly have no big problems with spices and curries.

I have Singaporean friends whose ancestors are from the Malay Archipelago, India, China, Middle East and we don't pick fights with each other because of "cultural" differences. We share the same love for typically Singaporean dishes. We have our own "gezellig" (Sorry I have to use a dutch word here, there's no proper english synoniem for this concept, which is something that encompasses more than the word "cosy") but unofficial little creole language called Singlish besides the different languages we speak to our grandparents. Is that a problem? No, not for me, not for my friends and family either.

This Curry Feud goes beyond a simple dispute between neighbours. This is about a common understanding of tolerance living in a densely populated little country and racial harmony in a multi-cultural melting pot and of course the right to cook a national dish in our own country.

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  1. Great post and very well written Shanna! From the article, I find it really way too much ridiculous for the Chinese family to tell their Indian neighbour to STOP cooking and eating curry! It's just like telling the Chinese to stop cooking/eating rice...
    I've never come across anyone asking/saying Singapore-Chinese or Chinese-Singaporean. This just sounds so weird. Just Singaporean, only Singaporean we identify ourselves. ;)

    Btw, I love curries, all kinda curries, as long as it is curry! That clay pot of curry fish head looks very delicious! :D

    Ps: I didn't know that you're Singaporean until I saw your Singapore Curry post that leads to this one. So nice and happy to know you!

  2. Hi Shanna,
    Love your posting. Well said.


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About Bento Cat

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Amsterdam, Netherlands
I'm Shanna and I enjoy bento making a lot. I'm also a wife, daughter,sister,a full-time student, previous fashion and product designer, nerd and super foodie all rolled into one. With Adventures of Bento Cat, I hope to document the daily happenings of my life through Bentos filled with Tender Loving Care and more! I can be contacted at
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