Destinations editor Eric Moya visited Singapore last week at the invitation of the country's tourism board, which has launched a "Passion Made Possible" campaign based on interests such as culinary travel, exploration and shopping.
Singapore's new tourism marketing campaign targets visitors based on seven "Passion Tribes": Foodie, Collector (shopping), Explorer, Action Seeker, Culture Shaper (arts aficionados), Socializer (music/entertainment seekers) and Progressor (business travel/innovation).
While I imagine that the Singapore Tourism Board would be happy for visitors to claim allegiance to several of these "Tribes," I'd have to say I'm pretty squarely in the Foodie camp. And I largely have Singapore to thank for that.
My mother was born and raised in Singapore, and growing up in the U.S. I was basically her sous chef. Starting at a pretty early age, I would hand her utensils and ingredients, sometimes chop or stir and, best of all, knead bao dough: This entailed grabbing a heavy, beachball-size wad of dough, lifting it overhead and repeatedly slamming it onto a flour-dusted mat on the floor, WWE-style. (Yes, I sometimes missed the mat; don't tell Mom.)
We visited Singapore a couple of times when I was a kid, and food was always a highlight, whether it was home cooking from my grandmother, restaurant dinners with bird's nest soup as the centerpiece or visits to hawker stalls for satay skewers or plastic bags filled with ice-cold F&N orange soda.
So the nostalgia was strong on this return trip to my mom's homeland. Despite the immense changes to Singapore's landscape -- the Marina Bay reclamation project hadn't been completed when I last visited in 1988, for instance -- many of the treats I loved as a kid were still easily found. Ya Kun is still serving up sweet kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs, as it has since 1944, and at the "Passion Made Possible" launch event, the F&N flowed alongside more grown-up beverages.
Other culinary experiences were familiar yet reflected a more refined Singapore. At the National Kitchen by Violet Oon at the National Gallery Singapore, dishes included a deconstructed take on a childhood favorite, tauhu goreng (fried tofu slices with bean sprouts and a spicy peanut sauce).
But probably no dining experience had me more nostalgic than the Good Chance restaurant. Good Chance specializes in popiah, sort of a DIY burrito where diners pick from cooked and fresh vegetables, shrimp, tofu and other ingredients and roll up their selections in a crepe-like pancake.
Popiah was one of my favorite dishes growing up, and Good Chance didn't disappoint. And our waitress helped with a refresher course on the assembly process (as did a how-to video playing on a loop on a widescreen TV near the cashier).
© TW photo by Eric Moya
I think Mom will be proud that my popiah folding skills are mostly intact.
Of course, while Singapore cuisine was familiar to me, others on our media/fam trip last week had not previously had the pleasure. But I suspect Singapore's Foodie Tribe has added a few members to the clan.