Tasting Memories, Cooking Heritage: A Sensuous Invitation to Remember

25 July, 2017

Photo credit: “Cooking Satay” and “Food Galore” by Clare Yong

How does Singapore’s unique food heritage intertwine with our memories of times past?

The Singapore Food Festival, held annually from June to July for more than 20 years, features activities such as heritage trails, culinary workshops, and competitions to celebrate Singapore’s international reputation as a food nation.
A/P Kelvin Low (Dept of Sociology) in his chapter, ‘Tasting Memories, Cooking Heritage: A Sensuous Invitation to Remember’ in the book, Food, Foodways and Foodscapes: Culture, Community and Consumption in Post-Colonial Singapore (2015), explores how food experiences, expressed through recollections of the past through texts such as cookbooks, food memoirs, and biographies, contribute not only to identities of self and family, but also to Singapore’s identity as a food nation. For instance, the diverse culinary cultures of various ethnic and dialect groups in Singapore serve the function of delineating different identities. Culinary memories also intersect with family life, where childhood memories of food can stir emotions of security, happiness, and strong familial connections among individuals. Additionally, both pleasant and unsettling memories of culinary episodes connect with Singapore’s changing culinary landscape during wartime and post-war situations. Recollections of distasteful and unappealing tastes and smells, resulting from encounters with unsanitary food stalls and low-grade rice grains, intertwine intimately with experiences of economic and political hardship during Singapore’s experience of World War II.
Low shows us the value of culinary texts in providing insights into the heritage and memories of a nation. In doing so, he highlights how understandings of Singapore’s unique food heritage go beyond its relevance in the present, to also connect with historical events and imaginings of the future.

Find more about the book here.