The Memory of Hands – A Singaporean Experience

Last week I had the enchanting experience of living a culinary dream.  I was invited to join a group of US food service delegates to explore Singapore and it’s culture of foods.  This mission was hosted by IE Singapore, an agency under the Ministry of Trade. Bon Appétit was asked to participate because of our reputation for good food and our philosophy to be authentic.

What a gig! For an entire week, I got to taste delectable foods from the four corners of Asia: Roti prata with vegetable curry; chili crab; bee hoon goren; satays served with sauce after sauce after sauce. It didn’t take the delegates long to understand that food is a deep obsession with Singaporeans.  And to fully appreciate the a multi-ethnic aspect of Singaporean citizens full of hospitality and endless smiles.

My favorite stops: the half dozen or so hawker centers we visit for breakfast, lunch, dinner and yes, late night excursion.  These hawker stalls offer the Singaporean street food of  times past.  Food with history and genuinely authentic. Food that is unadulterated by a chef’s ego; or a manager’s take on plate presentation; or a savvy marketing formula from a corporate office….. things not needed by hawkers because their food doesn’t have to be sold. It is already known to be good by the locals based on a old reputations, preceded by their family before them and those before them.  They prepare only a few items from passed on recipes and they are experts.

In a strange way, that expertise doesn’t seem to come from experience alone.  If you watch the hands, these appear to have a mind of their own, alive with a memory of what should be done next: fold here, spread there, toss like this, pour this much. A memory that is probably inherited from generation to generation; a gift to sons and daughters who are now preparing the same foods the same way like those before them.

This is a memory that was probably common at some point in our own American culinary history, when Mom’s pasta sauce tasted like Nona’s. Or, her rum raisin pie or pot post roast or clam chowder tasted like Grandma’s. These are memories that are probably not soon to be recovered in the American mind, but certainly well remembered and possibly renewed on special days. I myself was inspired on this trip by the idea of renewing memories in my own hand.  And, I find it fortunate in many ways that I am associated with a company whose food philosophy allows our chefs and kitchen staff to awaken the memories of their hands as we encourage them to prepare good authentic foods made from scratch every day.


The start of making roti prata.  Check out side bar album for more Hands Of Singapore picts.

posted – marc zammit: director culinary support and development