The Sunday Times says

Heritage is what Singaporeans make of it

The listing of the Botanic Gardens as a Unesco World Heritage Site in 2015 paid international tribute of sorts to the 50th anniversary of Singapore's Independence. Some might hope for similar icing to top the bicentennial next year of Stamford Raffles' arrival in Singapore in 1819, by having its first item inscribed on Unesco's Intangible Cultural Heritage Representative List. Whether or not that is achieved, what matters more is widespread agreement on what should be honoured. Heritage, after all, is what people recognise as valuable to keep alive in some form. No stamp of approval is required to do this.

Naturally, beloved local dishes are at the forefront of the "soft" heritage choices of many Singaporeans. Today's culinary plenitude is testament to an island-state's unsuspected ability to feed a diasporic population imaginatively. One need not quibble about the origin of rojak, bak kut teh, dosai, fish head curry, nasi padang, chicken rice and lo hei. What matters is the panache with which Singapore hawkers and chefs make such food, not to mention the passion with which Singaporeans eat it. Importantly, they also value eating heritage food in a communal setting - a quotidian reminder of one way in which a new society was formed. Such is the tangible benefit of intangible cultural heritage.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 18, 2018, with the headline 'Heritage is what S'poreans make of it'. Print Edition | Subscribe