Good recognition for street food, but selection is superficial

Including street food in the Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand list is good encouragement for hawkers, says Mr Dennis Wee, a foodie. Hawker champion K.F. Seetoh is disappointed by the narrow range of establishments featured.
Including street food in the Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand list is good encouragement for hawkers, says Mr Dennis Wee, a foodie.
Including street food in the Michelin Guide Bib Gourmand list is good encouragement for hawkers, says Mr Dennis Wee, a foodie. Hawker champion K.F. Seetoh is disappointed by the narrow range of establishments featured.
Hawker champion K.F. Seetoh is disappointed by the narrow range of establishments featured.

Seventeen hawkers may have made the cut in the inaugural Michelin Guide Singapore's Bib Gourmand list yesterday, but the reaction from foodies on the ground has been mixed.

The award, which rewards establishments offering highquality meals under $45, featured 34 restaurants and street-food outlets and 19 styles of cuisine, including Indian, Cantonese, Peranakan and vegetarian.

For Mr Song Seng Wun, director of group private banking at CIMB Private Banking, who regularly posts about food on his Facebook page, the list toes the line between appealing to an international audience and celebrating local cuisine.

The 56-year-old says of the selection: "To find a Turkish restaurant such as Alaturka on the list is surprising because Turkish food is not close to the hearts of Singaporeans nor would it be on a visitor's eating list in Singapore."

Still, he contends that the addition of many familiar hawker names on the list helps "recognise heritage hawkers while also giving a pat on the back to younger ones who took up the challenge to be a hawker".

Chairman of real estate agency Dennis Wee Realty, Mr Dennis Wee, a self-confessed hawker food fan, agrees that the selection is likely to give a boost to Singapore's street-food scene.

The 64-year-old says: "It is often said that being a hawker is a dying trade, so recognition like this is very good encouragement for our hawkers to keep on going.

"I am particularly pleased that Song Fa Bak Kut Teh and Hoover Rojak are on the list and I hope that this accolade will mean the establishments featured will continue to maintain their standards."

Also celebrating are loyal fans of the restaurants and stalls on the list, who laud the recognition their favourite joints are getting.

Ms Jean Kuah, 45, an accountant and customer at Hoo Kee Rice Dumpling in Amoy Street Food Centre, says: "I've been coming here at least once a month for the past eight years. I love the salted egg and chestnut dumplings and also the mushroom and chestnut ones because they are so fragrant and tasty."

Even Mr Laurence Tan, 40, an IT engineer who is sceptical of food guides, is happy to see his favourite Zhen Shan Mei Claypot Laksa at Alexandra Village Food Centre on the list. He says: "I have been visiting this stall for more than 10 years. I trust my taste buds and will not base my dining options on a guidebook. That said, the claypot laksa gravy is so unique and thick and tasty that I dare to visit the stall only on my days off, as the queue can get too long."

Still, given how fiercely loyal Singaporeans can be to their favourite hawker stalls, it was unsurprising that the final cut did not have everyone applauding. Some on social media Facebook say the list barely scraped the surface of the extensive selection of street food available in Singapore.

Oil trader Davy Choo, 56, calls the Michelin Guide "rubbish".

He says: "There are just too many good stalls for each category and the inspectors have missed them out and did not check out other neighbourhoods."

Pilot Aaron Mak, 37, questions the limited options on the list.

"Singapore food is all about diversity and this list doesn't capture it," he says. "Where are our classic dishes such as char kway teow and roti prata? There are too many options to choose from to try and name one stall to represent a dish category."

Outspoken hawker champion and founder of food culture- focused company Makansutra, Mr K.F. Seetoh, was particularly disappointed with the range of establishments featured. Makansutra puts out a street-food guide, Makansutra Singapore, which started in 1998.

The 52-year-old says: "The Bib Gourmand selection is not expansive enough and is hardly reflective of the Singaporean street-food scene. It is hard to tell by what yardstick these establishments were judged and it shows the inexperience of the Michelin Guide when it comes to judging heritage street food.

"I think perhaps the Michelin inspectors should stick to what they do best, especially when I believe Singaporeans are the best judges of their own heritage cuisines."

• Additional reporting by Kenneth Goh and Benson Ang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 15, 2016, with the headline 'Good recognition for street food, but selection is superficial'. Print Edition | Subscribe