The Food Of Singapore Malays bags top honour at Singapore Book Awards

Khir Johari is the author of The Food of Singapore Malays: Gastronomic Travels Through the Archipelago. PHOTOS: MARSHALL CAVENDISH

SINGAPORE – A monumental tome on the history of Malay cuisine received the top prize at the Singapore Book Awards on Sept 22.

The Food Of Singapore Malays: Gastronomic Travels Through The Archipelago by Khir Johari was Book of the Year at the annual industry awards by the Singapore Book Publishers Association (SBPA).

A ceremony for the awards, which recognise the best in local book publishing, was held at The Fullerton Hotel and also live-streamed online.

Khir’s book traces, over more than 600 pages, the evolution of Malay food from the seventh century to present day. It delves into the stories behind dishes and ingredients, and contains about 30 recipes.

In his acceptance speech, the 59-year-old food historian referred to popular foods such as nasi lemak, mee siam and mee rebus.

“There is so much more to food than what we eat. It is who we are. When I embarked on this project, all I wanted to do was do documentation for a topic that was under-researched, under-recognised, but something we enjoy so much – look at our hawker centres and the lines,” he said.

“It turned out to be a project where you get a chance to celebrate the lives of the custodians and keepers of recipes and traditions and knowledge and stories. The award tonight is for all of them.”

The book, which is published by Marshall Cavendish International, also won Best Illustrated Non-Fiction Title.

Khir told The Straits Times: “We are part of the larger archipelago. We are blessed with this geography that provided us with the food, we are also blessed with the confluence of so many civilisations coming together. The Malay food that they call Malay food today is the result of that confluence of cultures. How do you explain a nation, a people, through food? That’s what this book is all about.”

The Book of the Year judges were the National Library Board’s (NLB) assistant chief executive Gene Tan, former SBPA president Triena Ong and Pansing Distribution’s product and sales manager Leslie Lim.

They said in a statement that Khir’s book, despite its title, “includes not only Singapore elements but also the Malay World, spanning Malaysia, Indonesia, Southern Thailand, the broader Malay archipelago”.

“It is a most handsome volume, beautifully produced, providing a rich kaleidoscope of history, culture, heritage and social values of the Malay World, exquisitely illustrated with images, photos and maps in full colour. We commend the author and publisher for this excellent production that will surely stand the test of time as a major contribution to literature.”

This year, more than 160 titles from 35 Singapore-based publishers were submitted to the competition. The winners of the 13 categories – determined by judges from the publishing, media and literary scenes – each received a plaque and certificate of recognition.

Meihan Boey’s The Formidable Miss Cassidy won Best Literary Work, while A History Of Money In Singapore by Clement Liew and Peter Wilson snagged Best Non-Fiction Title.

Daryl Kho’s Mist-bound: How To Glue Back Grandpa – which received the Hedwig Anuar Children’s Book Award earlier this year – was the Best Young Persons Title (7-18 years old). Best Audiobook went to Storytel’s Timothy And The Phubbers, written by Ken Kwek and narrated by Adrian Pang.

Meihan Boey’s The Formidable Miss Cassidy won Best Literary Work, while Daryl Kho’s Mist-bound: How To Glue Back Grandpa was the Best Young Persons Title (7-18 years old). PHOTOS: EPIGRAM BOOKS, PENGUIN RANDOM HOUSE SEA

Meanwhile, the Best Custom Publishing Title was awarded to Focus Publishing for SCO Hidden Gems, which is about musicians of the Singapore Chinese Orchestra. The English edition was written by former Straits Times senior writer Leong Weng Kam.

To qualify for the Singapore Book Awards, titles must have been published in one of Singapore’s four official languages between Jan 1 and Dec 31 the previous year. Books must have a Singapore ISBN (International Standard Book Number), a unique number that identifies each edition of a book, with hard copies legally deposited with the NLB. Books sold in print must be sold in retail stores locally and/or overseas.

Education Minister Chan Chun Sing said in a pre-recorded speech for the ceremony: “This year, the SBPA received a record of more than 160 submissions for the awards, up 60 per cent from last year, and across a wide range of media – from paperback to audiobooks, and even augmented-reality books. This is certainly a testament to the increasing quality of published works available to us.”

SBPA’s new president Edmund Wee, founder of Epigram Books, said in a speech at the event: “What can you say about an object like a book? It makes you smarter, it makes you kinder, it makes you wiser, it makes you more confident, and it helps you be more mindful. Tonight, we want to celebrate the work of publishers in Singapore for producing products that make you all these things.”

For the full list of winners, go to

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