Adding spice to S'pore history

The National Parks Board (NParks) plans to create three new parks in and around Fort Canning Park: Royal Garden, Jubilee Park and a re-creation of the island's first botanic garden (Fort Canning Park to host bicentennial showcase next year; Feb 4).

It was indicated that NParks would be planting spices introduced to Singapore, such as clove and nutmeg, in that third re-created garden.

NParks might want to consider retaining and expanding on the spice garden idea and connecting our history to the ancient spice trade.

Our youth should learn about the 1667 Treaty of Breda and how the British, Dutch and French, as well as other powers, fought over spices, specifically nutmeg.

Singapore became an important entrepot because of the ancient spice route and its link with the old Silk Road.

A big part of China's new Belt and Road Initiative is intertwined with the ancient Silk Road and spice route, and the connections by ports and sea routes.

If we claim to be a culinary and gastronomic destination, Singapore must claim its place as an integral part of the spice trade.

The first botanic garden was built for that purpose. The British wanted to know more about the cultivation of nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, gambier and rubber which were cash crops.

The Istana's grounds, together with Mount Sophia and adjoining Mount Emily, were part of plantation owner Charles Robert Prinsep's huge nutmeg plantation.

Singapore was, for many years, the biggest re-exporter of pepper, the most consumed spice in the world.

Nutmeg could be bought cheaply on the Banda Islands but when sold in Europe, its value was said to have gone up about 32,000 per cent.

At-Sunrice GlobalChef Academy had been a tenant at Fort Canning Park for 10 years, and I conducted the Spice Garden tour - on the history of spices - for a varied audience, from school children to tourists and the international press.

Many have expressed much interest in the spice route, its history and commerce, globalisation and the importance of cooking with spices.

All our lower secondary students take the subject, food and consumer education. We can and should include the historic spice trade and globalisation as a topic.

Also, rename one of Fort Canning's three gardens planned to First Botanic Spice Garden.

Kwan Lui (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 14, 2018, with the headline 'Adding spice to S'pore history'. Print Edition | Subscribe