Singapore Ambassador to Japan Peter Tan develops bento meals in 'food diplomacy'

Singapore Ambassador to Japan Peter Tan (in blue), who is an excellent cook, has shared recipes of Peranakan dishes with the food development team of Japanese upmarket supermarket chain Seijo Ishii. PHOTO: SEIJO ISHII

TOKYO - Whipping up a storm in his own kitchen, Singapore's Ambassador to Japan Peter Tan has been inviting local contacts and partners to his embassy residence for home-cooked Singapore fare as a form of "food diplomacy".

To promote Singapore's vibrant food culture, he has contributed his recipes for four dishes to upmarket Japanese supermarket chain Seijo Ishii for a Singapore Fair to be held from today to Nov 30.

Since July, he has been working with chefs from Seijo Ishii's food development team to fine-tune the taste of ayam sio (Peranakan-style braised chicken), beef rendang, dry mee siam and dry laksa, which are being sold as takeaway bento box meals.

"I'm quite prepared to invest time and effort into using food diplomacy to promote Singapore," he told The Straits Times.

"Personally, Peranakan cuisine is a very exciting part of the Singapore food scene while our hawker culture was inscribed on the Unesco intangible cultural heritage in 2020."

Seijo Ishii's third Singapore Fair, after previous editions in 2016 and 2019, is being held to mark the 55th anniversary of bilateral ties between Singapore and Japan.

Popular dishes from past events like laksa and soya sauce chicken noodles have become mainstay bento meals at its 192 outlets nationwide.

These have been developed through on-site visits to hawker centres in Singapore. But with the Covid-19 pandemic making travel difficult, Mr Tan stepped up.

"The ambassador has professional-level cooking skills and has personally cooked for us," said Seijo Ishii chief executive officer Akihiko Hara at the Singapore Fair launch event yesterday.

"With his help, including through numerous trips to our Yokohama headquarters for food tasting, we have been able to create real Peranakan-style Singapore hawker food."

Bartenders from top cocktail bars in Singapore and Japan according to Asia's 50 Best Bars ranking last year, Jigger & Pony in Singapore and The SG Club in Tokyo, have also produced canned cocktails for the Singapore Fair.

This is one in a series of events driven by the Singapore Tourism Board in Japan to keep the Republic at the top of Japanese travellers' minds amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

It follows other tie-ups such as a tourism campaign with superhero Ultraman, which also marks its 55th anniversary this year.

Items that are sold at Seijo Ishii supermarkets in Japan in line with the Singapore Fair event from Oct 29 to Nov 30. PHOTO: WALTER SIM

Still, Mr Tan told ST that a vaccinated travel lane (VTL) between Singapore and Japan will have to overcome a series of obstacles. He cited "quite a bit of domestic sentiment against opening too fast" in Japan, where risk aversion towards Covid-19 remains prevalent.

The country reported 274 cases on Thursday (Oct 28), including 21 in Tokyo.

Another potential barrier against Japan's opening up is its use of paper-based vaccination documents, with Mr Tan noting that "digitally verifiable vaccine certificates would be a key enabler to VTLs".

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To promote Singapore's vibrant food culture, Singapore's Ambassador to Japan has contributed his recipes for four dishes to upmarket Japanese supermarket chain Seijo Ishii for a Singapore Fair.

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