Singapore's hawker culture among food trends discussed in new book

Wosh.World FutureReady is a collection of more than 30 articles on street food around the world. PHOTO: WOSH.WORLD

SINGAPORE - Singapore hawker culture. Japan and the ramen phenomenon. The spread of pizza in the United States.

These and other food trends are discussed in Wosh.World FutureReady, a collection of more than 30 articles on street food around the world and the future of "hawkerpreneurship".

The content is curated by the founders of Wosh.World, a Singapore-headquartered platform that aims to help street food vendors and hawkers prepare for the future.

One of the contributors is the Eurasian Association's former president Gerry De Silva, who has written an essay on the role of Eurasians in the street-vendor scenes in Macau, Melaka and Singapore.

The 71-year-old says the Portuguese who arrived in the region in the 16th century introduced a type of pastry that was made from wheat flour and filled with meat. "This was the start of the curry puff."

Another thing that struck him during his research, he adds, was that people in Malaysia and Singapore were "very shocked at the chillies and hot stuff brought by the Portuguese".

Chillies are widely used in South-east Asian food today. However, they are not native to the region and arrived in the 16th century from Latin America.

Here is an excerpt of Mr De Silva's essay.

Sugeecake, with its Indian, British and Portuguese origins, Pineapple tarts, and Bread Pudding, British confections, are some of the pastries Portuguese Eurasians have adopted. Debal Curry (and a less spicy Macanese version Diabo); Feng Curry, prepared for special occasions, all had decidedly humble origins.

Portuguese ships carried livestock like pigs on their long journeys to sustain crew and officers with fresh meat. Portuguese officers reserved the best cuts, while poorer cuts and offal were for the deckhands.

These were chopped and cooked into a stew.

Later, spices were added, and it evolved into what is now known as Feng.

There are seafood dishes, like Soi Lemang, a typical home-cooked dish of Ikan Cincaru (hardtail fish) cooked in spicy and sour sauce.

Or Seybak, a salad of braised pork ears or pork belly dipped in spicy chilli sauce. It has a Macanese-Chinese twin dish.

Or Mulligatawny, an Indian chicken soup which tastes like curry but is watery like soup. It originated in British India; here, it is usually taken at supper after midnight mass.

Another Eurasian dish is the humble Curry Puff. Portuguese spice traders introduced the empada into the region in the early 16th century. It was a kind of pie.

Today, most countries have their own versions: karipap, epok-epok in Malaysia and Singapore; pastel, panada in Indonesia; banh xep in Vietnam.

Sweet or savoury, it is enjoyed as appetiser or snack, with a variety of fillings. The British, when they came along, began calling it curry puffs.

Janet Boileau, an expert on Portuguese Eurasian culinary history in the 15th and 16th centuries, found the most important ingredient introduced to the region was wheat. These were unknown to indigenous people, unlike in India and China, which had cultivated both rice and wheat.

The Portuguese also took their pastry to the New World and Africa.

Many ingredients for Malaysian pastry puffs came from the New World via Portuguese traders, including potatoes, chillies and sweet potatoes, sometimes used in epok-epok. Chicken, potatoes, hard-boiled eggs, curry powder and sardines are fillings popular in Singapore.

As the street food style evolved, many innovative stuffings were offered. For example, Singapore's curry puff pastries evolved into more British-type short pastries. And today, the empada, called empadinha, is still a top seller in Portugal.

• Wosh.World FutureReady ($29.90 before GST) is available at this website.

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