Value our food culture and those in the business

Chan Hong Meng, the owner of Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, poses with his Michelin Award in front of his store in Singapore, on July 23.
Chan Hong Meng, the owner of Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice and Noodle, poses with his Michelin Award in front of his store in Singapore, on July 23.PHOTO: EPA

The Michelin Guide on Singapore food has certainly set the food scene ablaze ("Use buzz to fire up food scene and raise standards"; last Saturday).

However, let us be careful not to let the league table and expert opinion displace our cultural compass and innate ability to appreciate the food our rich heritage has bequeathed us.

My wife and I were once hosted by a French family in their home on the outskirts of Paris. We talked a lot about cuisines, wine and cheese.

Our host was not an expert on food, nor did she reference the Michelin Guide. But she could share some key elements of what she thought was good food in her culture, such as the use of certain herbs, and classic characteristics of different cheeses and wines from different regions in France.

Good food is certainly out there in Singapore. It does not exist exclusively inside the Michelin Guide. Food is part of our culture to be valued. I hope that Singaporeans can develop a deeper appreciation of our own food, and accord the right respect and economic value to our countrymen in the food business, be they hawkers or chefs.

We should also learn to discern artisanal food prepared by hand with original ingredients, and which is not as scalable, from pre-made or central-kitchen semi-processed food.

From this discernment and appreciation will, hopefully, come the willingness to pay higher prices to hawkers who prepare and serve us classic dishes from our rich heritage.

This is a fast-vanishing group. Without new blood to take over and preserve the know-how, we will lose something precious.

If that day happens, we would really need a guide book to tell us what is good.

Lim Teck Koon

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2016, with the headline 'Value our food culture and those in the business'. Print Edition | Subscribe