Singapore's food scene got a boost recently with the announcement that an expert panel recommended that hawker culture here be included on Unesco's intangible heritage list. While the final decision will be announced only next month, the news is vindication of the value of hawker culture. But hawkers are not the only source of culinary heritage here. Another strand of culinary heritage is in danger of being forgotten: the cooking traditions of Singapore's diverse ethnic communities, from humble Chinese dialect dishes to varied Malay nasi padang fare to more flavourful Indian concoctions. Food-mad Singaporeans have in recent decades looked west for culinary inspirations. For example, the partnership between Singapore's Institute of Technical Education and France's Institut Paul Bocuse, renewed this year, gives students the chance to work in France. Such partnerships have structured the skill sets and formalised the education of chefs in Western culinary techniques.
But no such structures exist for ethnic culinary traditions. There is no school for learning how to properly temper spices for a curry, nor is there a diploma to earn in Chinese chopper techniques. Such culinary traditions are in danger of dying out if a new generation does not learn the recipes and skills. No doubt mastering Western techniques offers aspiring chefs the glamorous opportunities of working in Michelin-starred restaurants and travelling the world. But with the pandemic curtailing travel, perhaps this is the best time for them to look closer to home for inspiration. Such soul food traditions need nurturing by the next generation. Some of Singapore's most exciting new chefs, such as Mustard Seed's Gan Ming Kiat and Allium's Dillon Ng and Lusiana Hendrika, draw inspiration from local traditions. Who knows - this might be a new and unexpected way to earn that coveted Michelin star.