Han’s cafe sueing Japanese restaurant Han

From ‘Han’s Cafe sues Japanese restaurant over name’, 9 April 2014, article by Selina Lum, ST

HAN’S, the well-known local cafe chain, is trying to stop a Japanese restaurant from calling itself Han, saying it might confuse the public. Han’s Cafe, which has 21 outlets in Singapore selling Hainanese and Western food, has accused Gusttimo World, which owns Han, of infringing on its trademark. It is seeking a court order to restrain Gusttimo World from using the name “Han” and its Internet domain name www.han.com.sg.

…Han, which opened in 2012, specialises in kushikatsu, or skewers of deep-fried food. In its lawsuit, Han’s, represented by Mr Mark Goh, contends that the use of the word “Han” is likely to confuse the public.

…But Gusttimo, represented by Mr Suresh Damodara, argues that its Han brand is dissimilar to the Han’s trademark and the public is not likely to mix up the two.

…Gusttimo contends that patrons of Han’s are able to distinguish between the service provided by the cafe chain and its restaurant which serves old Osaka cuisine in a kaiseki – or traditional multi-course Japanese dinner – style.

Both companies are relatively big names in the FnB business, Han’s growing into a Superbrand empire from its humble origins as a bakery in Upper Thomson Road, while Gusttimo World owns high-end diners like Sarang and Gusto. The history of Han’s reads like a typical household name success story, specialising in Western food prepared the ‘inimitable Hainanese way’, while Gusttimo sounds like a company run by wine glass-chinking expats. At first glance, this appears to be a no-brainer as to who’s getting their way.

Or perhaps not. In 2012, sandwich giant Subway tried to sue a small-time nonya kueh stall called ‘Subway Niche’, but failed as the judge ruled that there’s no evidence of any risk of confusion between the two brand names, even if both companies were selling common items, namely sandwiches. The food at Han is, of course, nothing like Han’s fare. You have Terrapin Stew at Han instead of Mushroom Soup of the Day at Han’s, and although you have beef on both menus, Han’s’ $16.80 NZ Sirloin Steak is a far cry from the Ohmi Beef Steak Alacarte at Han worth a whopping $120. Han’s is a place for the lunch crowd, Han is one for very special occasions, where homely food items like ‘Pork Chop’ and ‘Fish Congee’ don’t exist and the waiter is likely to give you a funny look if you ever asked for ‘Ice Lemon Tea’.

Speaking of Fish congee, why didn’t Han’s turn their attention to this stall specialising in fish soup called HAN KEE? Or this Korean BBQ place called Han Geun Doo Geun? In 2011, Australian namesake Han’s Cafe actually tried to sue a SHAN Cafe. This ‘Han’s’ was established only in 1995, about 15 years after our own Han’s set up shop. Not sure if naming rights extends across continents, because both Han’s appear to sell Pork Chop Rice and Vegetarian Fried Rice.

On the basis of risk of cuisine ‘confusion’, I doubt the Chinese Han has a strong case against the Korean/Japanese one. If a precedent is set for this suit, Jack’s Place may start going after Mad Jack.  There may be a problem, however, if you want to arrange for dinner at either restaurant, that you need to be extra careful not to omit the ‘s if you wish to dine at the cheaper Han’s. Or if you’re a food writer describing the menu items as ‘Han’s delicious Kushikatsu’ which may have readers asking for deep fried skewers at HAN’S instead, though this can be readily prevented by adding the standard disclaimer ‘Not to be confused with Han’s the cafe’.

Still, I doubt the risk of communicating the brand name inaccurately is sufficient grounds to force the newer Han to change its name. Like saying Mac’s (cafe at Fusionopolis) when I mean McDonald’s because only ‘McDonald’s’ is registered and not its short form. If anything is to come out of this accusation of brand theft, it’s publicity for the victim, just like what litigation did for Subway Niche.

Now, how about some terrapin stew for a change?

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Having a ‘fat tax’ to combat obesity

From ‘Combat obesity with fat tax’, 1 April 2014, ST Forum

(Dr Edmund Lam):…The obesity epidemic has become a worldwide phenomenon. Singapore has not been spared – our adult obesity rate increased from 6.9 per cent in 2004 to 10.8 per cent in 2010.

…The Health Promotion Board has done its utmost to encourage healthy eating through public education and collaboration with the food and beverage industry to provide healthier options. But gorging is still common in food centres, fast-food outlets and eat-all-you-can buffets.

In tandem with existing efforts, a “sugar” and “fat” tax of at least 20 per cent to 30 per cent ought to “shock” Singaporeans into changing their eating habits. Taxes on vices are not new – we already have high tobacco and alcohol taxes. Taxing unhealthy food, such as sugary drinks and junk food, will hopefully induce people to opt for healthier food, which needs to be cheaper than unhealthy food.

…In short, take the scourge of obesity seriously – now.

Singaporeans are getting fatter, just like people from most developed countries. In 1992, the rate of obesity was half  of where we are now, yet we’re throwing away more food, 796,000 tonnes of it in fact, just in 2013 alone. Can you imagine how much fatter we’d be if everyone actually finished all their food?

In 2011, the Danish government decided to impose a fat tax of 16 kroner or $3.76 per kg of saturated fat in products. Before the tax was implemented, the Danes behaved like how most Singaporeans would: HOARD all the fatty stuff they could get their hands on. Within a year, the controversial tax was scrapped because it was detrimental to the economy and led to loss of jobs. Moreover, Danes who had a lust for fat were crossing the border to do their grocery shopping in next door Germany. You can imagine the same situation here with Malaysia. Lesson learnt: You can’t change our eating behaviour overnight. We’ve been nursed on fats since birth through our mother’s milk, we’ll die without it, and we’ll die for it.

Dr Amy Khor stressed that there’s no scientific evidence that increasing the cost of guilty pleasure foods ever reduced the rate of obesity. Not only would it affect lower income Singaporeans, but those who consciously refrain from eating fatty stuff may overcompensate by gorging on CARBS, which add to the flab but with half the flavour and enjoyment. The slapping of monetary disincentives also undermines the ability of consumers to exercise willpower (that includes the willingness to EXERCISE). It also doesn’t help matters when it comes to preserving our hawker culture, which is centred around high-calorie, high fat (hence delicious) food.

Fast food giants are not going to take fat taxes lying down either. Even if you raise the price of a Happy Meal to exorbitant levels, all you need is a Hello Kitty promotion to get people biting the bait again. Raise Krispy Kreme doughnuts by 30%? No problem! Just run a promo 1 for 1 and all your revenue problems are solved. Gong Cha pearl topping up by 20%? Borrow a friend’s Watsons discount card! Restrict menus to serving wholemeal buns only? Well, introduce a double bacon with cheese McMuffin, dammit!

It’s easy to point a finger at food as the primary reason for our ballooning weight, and they make easy targets to tax while there are in fact other factors that may contribute to weight gain. Maybe we should have a cable TV tax because people who’re glued to the googlebox tend to put on weight. Or tax people for using the lifts and escalators instead of climbing the stairs. How about a fat tax on driving less than 1km to any destination? Conversely, in order to encourage people to lead active lifestyles, marathons should be FOC and the Government should sponsor a Brompton bike for every commuting Singaporean. From all that fat tax revenue of course.

We need to work on empowering consumers through nutritional information, not introducing artificial scarcity on fat food like how a diet is supposed to work (It doesn’t). Businesses will do anything to survive at the expense of our waistlines, like it has been for the longest time. You can’t overcome human psychology with taxation. It’s like putting bloody disgusting pictures on cigarette boxes; people still smoke that shit anyway. Even if you manage to cut down obesity levels through severe psychic starvation, you’ll probably see a corresponding increase in people getting warded in IMH for depression because every morsel of lard they chow down has become as unappetising and unfulfilling as swallowing a stack of 1 dollar coins.

If you’re going to charge $1 more for Char Kuay Teow, I’d still eat it as per normal anyway, except that instead of a Coke to go with it I’d order the other version with the artificial sweetener aspartame, which has been linked to cancer (unproven) in some studies. So, instead of getting thinner, I stay just as fat, but expose myself to unnaturally occurring chemicals because I refuse to pay extra for sugar. If I’m unsatisfied by that combination, I’d refuel during tea break by mindlessly chewing on ‘organic’ assorted nuts, misled into thinking it’s the ‘healthier choice’ when I’ve already far exceeded my daily calorie requirements compared to having my original Char Kuay Teow with normal Coke without a nut snack in the first place. I can’t possibly eat a stick of raw carrot in my workplace without being oestracised by everyone on a normal diet.

Why stop at taxing just sugar and fat then, how about going the whole hog and tax SALT too, too much of which is bad for your blood pressure and kidneys? Or caffeine? I’d might as well eat tree bark for the rest of my life.

 

 

Lavender food heaven closing for development

From ‘Losing our food heritage in the name of development’, 31 March 2014, St Forum

(Edwin Lim): I READ with disappointment the article “Clock is ticking for Lavender’s ‘food heaven’” (last Friday). This marks the demise of yet another popular food haunt.

A few weeks ago, Singapore’s largest McDonald’s outlet, at King Albert Park – a place that many Singaporeans remember fondly as one where they “mugged” for exams and had their first date – also made headline news when it closed down to make way for redevelopment.

In place of these local favourites will rise yet more mixed-purpose developments of retail outlets, offices and residences.

Singapore is fast losing a generation of hawkers and efforts are being made to train a new generation of hawkers. Yet at the same time, we seem to be speeding up their disappearance by making their future uncertain. Will the future Singapore landscape be filled with just HDB blocks, condominiums and mixed-purpose developments? Of course, there is a need to build more homes for a growing population. But many residential units are also being bought for rental income.

How many patches of forest and popular haunts are making way for buildings that are aimed solely at property investors?

The essential guide to Singapore’s lost (and never found) hawker centres/markets can be found at the Remember Singapore Blog, a must-read for all hawker nerds and gluttons alike. Other than HDB blocks, condos and malls, another major culprit of hawker extermination is our MRT system, with food centres at Farrer Park, Labrador and Lakeview making way for development directly or indirectly related to MRT construction. The other dreaded word is ‘upgrading’, which may affect not just the ‘character’ of the hawker centre, but more importantly the livelihoods of hawkers too.

It’s also interesting how people remember certain McDonalds outlets (King Albert, East Coast) fondly but not other ‘lost’ fast food joints like BK or KFC. People even ‘mourn’ the loss of just ONE out of 120 of McDs to greater tribute fanfare than your neighbourhood coffee shop. Chicken McNuggets will never go away even if the CEO of McD’s dies, and it’ll taste the same for eternity whether it’s at King Albert Park or People’s Park.  Not the case for your favourite Cheng Tng at Bedok Corner hawker centre.

The former Bugis Square was itself a relocation of hawkers originating from Bugis Street, sans the ‘transverstite habitues‘ who were often the ‘centre of attraction’. Lavender Square’s demise comes quickly after news to shut down Longhouse at Upper Thomson Road, a food loft that used to be from the Jalan Besar stadium area, the taste of the famous duck rice still fresh in my mind long after my family brought me there in my teens (The duck rice stall, Soon Lee Kor, is slated to move BACK to Jalan Besar).

It’s sad to see anything make way for development really, whether it’s an open field or a cemetery, but if we can’t save Buona Vista swimming pool from decimation, even with celebrity Pam Oei fronting a petition to Chan Chun Sing for it, what more a hawker centre? How many of us are even willing to stop complaining about hawker extinction and give up our day jobs to pursue the trade in the first place?

Here are 12 facts inspired/extracted from the Remember Singapore piece that you never knew (or at least I never knew) about Singapore’s hawker history.

1. Taman Jurong Market & Food Centre, a merger of a market and 2 food centres, included the very FIRST hawker centre in Singapore: Yung Sheng Food Centre. Prepare your mecca now.

2. Telok Ayer Market was the first ever market in Singapore. It survived a demolition in 1879, was torn down due to MRT construction in 1984, and was refurbished in 1991 as ‘Lau Pa Sat’, which translates to ‘old market’. It wouldn’t exist without the work of  Municipal engineer James Macritchie. So he didn’t just build a reservoir here.

3. The sprawl of watering holes that is Boat Quay used to be Boat Quay Hawker Centre.

4. What used to be Simon Road Market is now string of plush condos, including one named Kovan residences.

5. Seletar Hills Market and Food Centre Centre is now a shopping mall that no one has ever heard of: Greenwich V.

6. The former Neo Tiew Market and Food Centre is now a training site for NSmen and a place to shoot a zombie apocalypse movie.

7. Tekka Market was for a while known as Zhujiao Market, or literally ‘bamboo feet’.

8. The Gateway at Beach Road was once the Clyde Terrace Market, also known in Hokkien as ‘thi pa sat khauor’ or ‘Iron Market’.

9. The Golden Bridge at Shenton Way used to be an overhead bridge CUM HAWKER CENTRE. In 2011, it was reported that there may be signs of a revival, but its fate remains uncertain till this day.

10. Taman Serasi Food Centre, near the Botanic Gardens, used to be famous for roti john. I’m not sure if the revamped Taman Serasi Food Garden is still around. Or has it devolved into ‘Food Canopy’, a glamorised food court?

11. The original ‘Glutton’s Square’ was located at Orchard Road Car park, what’s now become the much under-patronised Orchard Central. (Another Orchard Road favourite Cuppage Centre is now Starhub centre)

12. If you thought Golden Bridge was cool, we used to have a hawker centre UNDER A FLYOVER along Whitley Road. Another unforgettable place for a family outing which my folks referred to affectionately as ‘Under the Bridge’. An empty desolate patch where foreign workers like to hang out drinking remains.

Sumiko Tan believed that Singapore is in the midst of a ‘Golden Age’ in 2012 and that she preferred ‘progress’. If progress meant the loss of our food heritage and our local haunts replaced by bogus 24 hour ‘kopitiams’ if not spanking condos, then many Singaporeans who were born and bred on the foodstuff of our forefathers would rather starve to death than settle for ‘Mixed Economic Rice’.

So yeah, in the vein of a classic Paul Young 80′s song, everytime you close down a hawker centre, you take a piece of Singapore with you.

 

Our Kueh lapis way of tackling poverty woes

From ‘PM: We don’t need poverty line to help the poor’, 17 Nov 2013, article by Rachel Chang, Sunday Times

Singapore is past the point where a poverty line is useful, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong indicated yesterday, as its groups of needy now take shifting and multi-faceted form. Hence, the Government’s “kueh lapis” approach to social assistance, he said, summoning a metaphor that Minister of Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing used to describe the multi-layered help it provides to those in need.

Speaking to reporters after a Commonwealth summit in Sri Lanka, Mr Lee weighed in for the first time on recent calls to establish a poverty line in Singapore, after Hong Kong did so in September.

He said that a poverty line like the World Bank’s measure of $1.50 a day was irrelevant in Singapore as there are no “dead poor” here, by which he means those who are starving and unsheltered.

By ‘dead poor’ our PM probably refers to the invisible ‘homeless’ on the streets, a population which was supposedly ‘eradicated’ according to Kishore Mabubhani in 2001. However, he needs to be more explicit on what it means to be ‘unsheltered’. If you define ‘unsheltered’ as not having a roof over your head, which ‘layer’ does a family of 4 who lives in a VAN in East Coast Park fall under? To be fair, it’s hard to fix an income threshold for the needy, given that the sole breadwinner living in his company vehicle earns $2,100 a month, more than some bus drivers. Compare this to celebrity Darren Lim who makes a three-room Lagoon 400S2 catamaran his home. Both have a ‘roof over their heads’ , but clearly one family, due to unforseen circumstances, is at the bottom layer of the kueh lapis model.

Is a family who can’t afford a HDB flat that they have to make do in the back of a van ‘dead poor’? Even if you did have a roof over your head, what if had to put up with 10 kids in a room? Or sleep on a discarded sofa in the corridor? How about wandering about parks and beaches living in tents? Maybe the ‘dead poor’ is an apt definition of the destitute after all, because they’re practically ghosts in the eyes of a government that prides itself in looking after every Singaporean very well. As with every society, they’ll be those who’re bound to fall through the cracks. Just that our ministers are too far off the ground to notice any, or when they do, it’d already be too late. Not having a poverty line because some people claim we have no ‘dead poor’ to speak of, isn’t a very convincing argument, sad to say.

Dead poor, or just Poor?

MG Chan Chun Sing himself, creator of the kueh lapis, has his own interpretation of what ‘poor’ means; the ‘temporary poor’ and the ‘chronic poor’. Then there are the ‘working poor’, defined as those earning less than the national median per capita household income of $1920. The types of poor people alone is enough to form a mini kueh lapis on its own, the kueh lapis of poverty if you will. All this coming from a minister who once justified high government salaries using the analogy of XO sauce Chai Tau Quay.

Bin there, done that

A traditonal kueh lapis cake has 9 layers, but our Government is proposing a fat 18 tier program. If our income structure were like a layered cake it’s an uneven mix, with the prime ingredients like the prunes and rum right at the top, where our 27 and counting billionaires reside. At the bottom of the heap, you have people living in vans, along the corridor, in tents, folks who’re invisible to us just because we don’t see them scrounging garbage or begging for food on the streets. Poverty line or no, it’s troubling if our ministers are unwilling to acknowledge the hidden shame of abject poverty in the first place, just like how we pretend that litter doesn’t exist. Or an emperor denying that he ever fathered a bastard son with a peasant teenager.

The truth is out there, you’d just have to open your eyes and look beyond the Singapore you see in postcards and brochures, the statistics, bar charts, Queens of Instagram, over-hyped success stories; a whitewashed country led by men in white, not so much kueh lapis, but Kueh Tutu.

Singaporeans queuing overnight for Krispy Kreme doughnuts

From ‘Krispy Kreme fans start queuing for doughnuts’, 11 Oct 2013, article by Mohd Azhar Aziz, Today

It seemed a promising start for the American doughnut giant with the queue for Krispy Kreme doughnuts starting from as early as 11.42am today (Oct 11), ahead of the store opening tomorrow. Yet, at about 10.30pm, there were only eight people in the queue at Tangs Orchard – after one person dropped out – with several curious onlookers.

“It is heartwarming to see fans of Krispy Kreme queuing up. We are expecting more to come to the place. But the night is still early,” said a Krispy Kreme spokesperson.

The opening of Krispy Kreme’s first store in Singapore, at Tangs Orchard Basement, has been a widely-anticipated affair with free doughnuts offered to the first three customers and goodie bags for the first 500 customers.

The first customer will win a one-year supply of the Original Glazed Doughnuts — a dozen doughnuts every week for an entire year. The runner up will be awarded with a dozen Krispy Kreme doughnuts every week for the next six months, while the third in line will get 12 doughnuts every week for the next three months.

MMMMM.. Doughnuts

MMMMM.. Doughnuts

When Singapore’s own Donut factory was established in 2007, thereby kickstarting the doughnut craze, this was how people queued at Raffles City Basement before the shop opened. A familiar sight whether it’s for a new HnM store, Hello Kitty, iPads of Bak Kwa.

D’oh! Nuts

If Donut Factory hadn’t set up shop within the mall premises, you would have had Singaporeans pitching tents overnight like how we do today. A promising start, but foiled by the likes of J Co, Vinco (later Dippin’ Donuts), Munchy Donut, and eventually Dunkin’ Donuts penetrating the market. The ‘donut craze’ of 2007-2008 filled a gaping hole in our appetite for deep-fried confectionery. In its hey-day, carrying a box of dozen around was a status symbol like flashing Lim Chee Guan bak kwa during CNY, and it was only a matter of time before the sugar-high and novelty began to wear off and we glazed over anything ‘Donut’.  Even the cops couldn’t save it from near extinction then.

By 2011, Donut Factory realised they couldn’t just sell donuts anymore, no matter how ‘artisan’ or exotically flavoured they made them. They experimented with ‘bon-bons’ or mini-donuts for the calorie-conscious. Then burgers, cakes, patisserie before going bust in June this year just after starting an online delivery service.  Enter Krispy Kreme, which until today has been the stuff of gastronomical legend and described by Singaporeans who tried it overseas as if it were manna from heaven or rare 1000 year old honey, a must-eat holy grail and the MOTHER OF ALL DOUGHNUTS , like the Haj for sweet-tooths. It’s also the only doughnut shop around that spells its products as ‘DOUGHNUTS’ and not ‘DONUTS’, though the deliberate misspelling of ‘Crispy Cream’ looks more to me like the name of a circus clown rapper than a donut joint (‘Yo give it up for MC Krispy Kreme!’).

Donut or doughnut, this sickly sweet snack is the comeback kid of food fads. In 1983, Dunkin Donuts landed in Singapore, and Mister Donut was scheduled to follow in June 1984, though I’m not sure if that actually opened shop here. DD disappeared for more than a decade and made a comeback at Ion Orchard in 2009, though even that flagship store has since closed down. With KK making its ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’-style appearance to bring out the greedy kid in all of us, rival DD has its work cut out.  As it is, they’re already diversifying with sandwiches, bagels and wraps, looking more like a Subway ripoff than a donut shop. In August this year, they came up with a bizarre star ‘donut’ to celebrate Ramadan, which will appeal to anyone below the age of 5. Things do not bode well if you make your donuts anything but ROUND.

At $2.60 for an original glazed, KK’s doughnuts are the most expensive to date, though you do get your money’s worth of calories (200), fat (12g) and sodium(95mg) for ONE doughnut.  A Snickers bar, in comparison, has 250 calories, the same amount of fat, and 120mg of sodium, and in my opinion more satisfying and value-for-money than chewing on air wrapped in deep fried dough. A KK doughnut also has SIX TIMES the amount of fat you get from one Goreng Pisang. A ‘Golden Ticket’ thus entitles you to a dozen doughnuts a week, or 144 g of fat, equivalent to 12 bars of snickers, or 72 freakin’ pieces of goreng pisangs. A Golden Ticket to a cardiac arrest, more like it. Does it come with a free bypass surgery, I wonder.

Getting fat isn’t the only thing you need to worry about if you overindulge in KK. An original glazed is made up of more than 50 INGREDIENTS, making it the McNugget of Donuts, including ‘dough conditioners’, corn maltodextrin and locust bean gum. It also has a seemingly innocuous preservative called BHT, or butylated hydroxytoulene, the same chemical we use in cosmetics, jet fuel and EMBALMING FLUID. If you leave a KK doughnut in a closed jar, it would probably remain intact and edible until the craze wears off once more. If this is the food of the Gods, then we must have been praying to very evil gods indeed.

I’m no doughnut market analyst, but I think we were all addicted and fell for Krispy Kreme BECAUSE it was relatively inaccessible and was ‘forbidden fruit (tastes the sweetest)’ prior to its launch here. When it starts popping up all over the island, it’ll be like hearing your favourite song on repeat airplay for at least a few months. They have successfully regressed us all into slobbering babies with their Golden ticket gimmick, and it’s only a matter of time before we wean off it. Does ‘Beard Papa’ (probably the best cream puff in the world) ring a bell? Anyone?

Le Restaurant’s Buddha statue in the wrong place

From ‘Buddha statue in wrong place’, 5 Oct 2013, ST Life!

(Danny Cheong): I refer to the story Chinese Goes Chic (SundayLife!, Sept 29).

In Buddhism, devotees become vegetarian in order to refrain from killing livestock. It is improper and discourteous of Le Restaurant of Paradise Group to place a huge Buddha statue in its meateating outlet.

Even if it is a piece of art, it is certainly in the wrong place

Amita-Bar

Le Restaurant is the brainchild of former Entrepreneur of the Year Eldwin Chua, and has been described as a ‘bar featuring Nordic-style wooden latticed ceiling, sexy pink lighting, and a DJ spinning soulful house music’(Chinese goes chic, 29 Sept 2013, Sunday Lifestyle). It also serves ‘Asian tapas’, which sounds to me like swanky fusion dim sum with toothpicks, where you can pass off mantou as ‘sliders’. Not a place to celebrate Grandma’s 80th birthday I suppose.

A Buddha statue in Le Restaurant or plush ‘Asian bistros’ like Tao in New York seems ‘right’ for the concept, since the idea of Buddha and Buddhism has come to represent everything ‘hip’ and ‘mystical’ about the Orient, but wrong to those who revere the image as how one prostrates before the same statue at an altar. Other than sprucing up the place, a Buddha statue can even double up as a feng shui talisman for prosperity and luck. Westerners may find such themes appealing in a ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ kinda way but to me it’s just tacky decor, like a stuffed antelope in a BBQ diner, or a wax figure of Sly Stallone as Rambo in Planet Hollywood.

The liberal use of religious artifacts as a restaurant/bar/lounge theme isn’t new. The Buddha Bar was the pioneer of modern ‘buddhist chic’ back in 1996, with its own range of exotic new age CDs to bring the ‘neo-spiritual’ vibe of the establishment right into your living room.  Nevermind if the tracklisting contains titles like ‘Egyptian Disco’ or ‘Salaam‘, which makes you wonder if the French who came up with the idea thought Buddha resided in the ancient Pyramids or traversed vast Deserts on the back of a magical camel.

In 2010, Indonesian Buddhists in Jakarta protested against Buddha Bar for insulting their faith and tarnishing the ‘good name of Buddha’, not because of the meat they served, but that it came across as a debauched hangout for drunkard party-goers and prostitutes. Here, the Buddha Bar owners already decided in 2000 to change the ‘controversial’ name of their UE Square branch to ‘Siam Supperclub’ (Buddha at the Bar has gone off the Siam, 26 May 2000, ST), where not only can you gawk at Buddha statues but order a lychee martini called ‘Laughing Buddha’. If turning your restaurant/club into a temple alone isn’t New Age enough, why not name an alcoholic beverage after a deity too? Some practitioners believe the Buddha himself would turn a blind eye to the glamorous exploitation of his image. Not sure if you could pull off the same gimmick with Jesus on a crucifix; your menu would have to be restricted to wafers and red wine.

Cocktails aside, there’s even a meat broth named after Buddha, containing sharks’ fin, ham, abalone and scallop. An origin story behind this renown dish describes how monks would leap over temple walls just to have a whiff of this fragrant concoction. Why, it’s the famous ‘BUDDHA jumps over the wall’ of course, a delicacy that I’m sure some Buddhists do enjoy nonetheless without complaining that it’s not vegetarian. Not sure if Le Restaurant has its own version though. Maybe it’s called ‘Bouddha saute par-dessus le mur’ and comes in shot glasses with tiny umbrellas in it.

Dana and Stefan cooking dinner for Singaporeans

From ‘Sweet gesture hits sour note online’, 9 Sept 2013, article by Linette Lai and Walter Sim, ST

WHEN German couple Dana and Stefan invited strangers to their Singapore home for dinner last month, the response was overwhelming. Their online “open invitation” for six guests at an authentic German meal went viral, with 400 sign-ups. Netizens lauded the gesture as being “sweet” and “heartwarming”.

But all was not as it seemed. The dinner was the first of four hosted by expatriates as part of the sixth FairPrice Finest Festival, the supermarket’s annual food celebration.

And the marketing ploy has left a sour taste for some, with sign-up rates plunging after the link with FairPrice was revealed about a week after the first invite.

…Netizens speculated that the hosts were merely “paid actors” in a “staged marketing gimmick”, prompting organisers to clarify that they had “volunteered after hearing about the idea through word of mouth”.

If you see an over-friendly German couple trying their darnedest to convince complete STRANGERS to go over to their house, it calls for a healthy dose of skepticism. Personally, I wouldn’t go to a stranger’s home, expat or Singaporean, for a FREE meal without a professional taster who’s willing to sacrifice his life for me. I would expect at least a chat over coffee as a prelude to something as personal and heartfelt as home-cooking. Even then, my first instinct in a strange abode would be to spot the nearest escape route or piece of furniture to use as self-defence in case this ‘open invitation’ turns out to be a deadly cannibalistic trap. It’s either death by poison, or awkward silence.

The Singapore Kindness Movement were either in cahoots with NTUC or genuinely fooled by the video, saying that Dana and Stefan’s invitation ‘exemplifies the spirit of #bigmakan, bonding and building friendships over food’. Turns out that the couple got a nasty backlash for their hospitality which they didn’t expect coming from food-loving Singaporeans, who felt ‘cheated’ when they realised their act of ‘kindness’ was possibly sponsored by a multi-conglomerate. The follow up videos show Dana and Stefan stocking up from Fairprice Finest before cooking up a storm, though you could get fresher ingredients from the wet market or some other specialty deli. Finest does sell canned sauerkraut though, as if the reception from netizens wasn’t sour enough. I wouldn’t be surprised that some of the noisiest whiners about this ‘con-job’ were the ones who didn’t get selected to sample some Bavarian delights.

In 2011, an insurance firm ran a similar viral marketing gimmick to toy with our emotions, presenting us with a ‘forbidden love story’ between a 20-something guy and a 47 year old woman. Netizens who were fooled into tears were appalled by the dramatic revelations that unfolded, though I believe one reason for the nastiness flung at this disastrous anticlimax was the ridiculous amount of emotional investment in the story. It was like watching a tragic movie finishing with someone waking up saying ‘Phew it was all just a dream!’. You’d probably wouldn’t react like someone ripped you off half your life savings if you just took such online drama with a pinch of salt.

At first glance, Dana and Stefan look like trustworthy folks who are not likely to strangle you with a string of bratwurst sausages. I would have believed them even if they sold their souls to the devil, though NTUC comes close, but not to the extent of falling in love with their amiableness and feeling like I’ve been dealt a slap in the face because they were doing it for Fairprice Finest. I think they had good intentions, just unlucky to face the wrath of people who want a perfect, happy ending to every story they encounter online and hate to be duped and feeling played out. Food for thought, nonetheless; How many of us even cook for our neighbours, not to mention complete strangers?

Now if only there’s a German word for ‘the disappointment of having people accuse you of being sell-outs when you invite strangers to your home for a meal out of the warmth and  goodness of your heart’.

Lim Swee Say can never resist Din Tai Fung toothpicks

From ‘Which eatery has the best toothpicks? Din Tai Fung, says Lim Swee Say’, article by Amelia Tan, 22 July 2013

When labour chief Lim Swee Say goes to Chinese restaurant Din Tai Fung, his eyes are peeled not so much on its dumplings and noodles, but on its toothpicks. He likes them because they are well-designed and of good quality.

“Many restaurants give you toothpicks, but the toothpick is so big it can never go through, but this one is so fine that whatever is inside sure can come out,” he said on Monday.

In fact, he revealed with a laugh, the Din Tai Fung toothpicks are so good, he “can never resist” – he always takes half a box of them during each visit.

…The point he wanted to make? “Success never happens by chance,” he said…A Din Tai Fung spokesman said toothpicks are placed on all tables and customers are free to use as many as they like.

According to Lim Swee Say, the measure of a company’s success is how it pays attention to fine details. He also believes they should emulate Lady Gaga. The DTF toothpick is unusual in that it resembles an interdental brush, with bristles to give our labour chief’s oral cavity a ‘shiok’, clean feeling after every meal. Perhaps the restaurant should sell their designer picks as a side merchandise considering they have one very rich customer who’s an obvious fan of their product, an addict even.

I never had much success with the traditional wooden picks myself, but now that the Minister has put his stamp of approval on this tiny marvel of dental engineering, I simply have to give it a shot. Now I can dislodge little pieces of xiao long bao with a touch of sophistication, when all I was doing in the past was poking twigs between my gums like a caveman. Thank you Sir for showing me the way to refinement and good taste.

After this endorsement, you’re likely to have some kiasu, ugly Singaporeans following the Minister’s example and taking home half box fulls of quality toothpicks to save money on Oral-B products, a behaviour more commonly known as bad etiquette or miserliness. Maybe Lim Swee Say is a stickler for oral hygiene, but this is just shameless. Those things look like they cost more than the groundnut appetiser and if you have any decency you would leave a tip in exchange for them. Otherwise it’s like grabbing half a box of straws from McDonald’s because you’re having a last minute party, or taking scented rolled towels from a 5-star hotel’s restroom instead of paying for those provided in the Chinese restaurant next door.

Then again, no one from DTF would stop Lim Swee Say from pocketing half a box of freebies if he chose to. He could walk out of the restaurant with the dumpling tray and an empty teapot and no one would stop him either. More so if he came dressed as Zorro. Or is it Hamburglar?

Masked crusaders need clean teeth

I’ve always wondered what people need so many toothpicks for if they’re not building a miniature city out of them. In the case of our labour chief, as personal rojak utensils, perhaps?

Gordon Ramsay hawker cook-off a publicity stunt

From ‘Hawker cook-off with Ramsay a publicity stunt’, 6 July 2013, Mailbag, ST Life

(Dr Michael Loh): Is the cook-off between foul-mouthed British chef Gordon Ramsay and Singapore’s so-called Top 3 favourite Hawker Heroes on Sunday (Gordon Ramsay Takes On Hawkers, Life!, July 4) an irresponsible publicity stunt?

The reasons given for this event, organised by SingTel, are wishy-washy. SingTel’s publicity materials say: “Recently, there’s been great concern regarding the decline of local hawker culture and whether Michelin-starred accreditation would encourage fresh blood to join the trade and preserve our beloved heritage.”

If you cut through the gibberish, anyone will know that this is just another publicity stunt for the telco. There is nothing wrong for companies, in the face of fierce competition, to clutch at straws to win customers. But, to have an expletive-spewing, abusive, megalomaniac – who is hardly a role model for our children – come to Singapore and take on our hawkers is, to me, a shameless act by SingTel.

I haven’t watched a single episode of Hell’s Kitchen, but just an uncensored swearing compilation alone would give you some idea of what a nasty, violent bastard Ramsay the TV personality is, cussing at women, spitting into food and short of bashing participants senseless with crockery. As entertainment, the boot camp-in-a-kitchen concept is a success, though the vulgarities tend to lack imagination after a while.  Fans believe that his volcanic personality and potty mouth is what makes the Gordon Ramsay brand, hence the mobbing at Maxwell hawker centre while he was chopping chicken at Maxwell’s Tian Tian (incidentally the same stall that fellow celebrity chef Anthony Bourdian promoted when he was here some years back).  Singaporeans gravitate to the rude ‘bad-boy’ celebrity chef the same way they idolise meanies Simon Cowell and Donald Trump on the Apprentice, though some of the hawkers interviewed had no idea who Ramsay was (‘Is he Singaporean?) or what, or who, Michelin is (Name of a KTV girl?).

Ramsay’s promo for the Hawker Heroes event was designed and scripted to irritate the most passionate hawker food lover, and nothing would please a Singaporean more than seeing a brash, haughty ang moh beaten at his own game. Yes, it’s a publicity stunt that banks on the clash of cultures – Obnoxious Western chef meets the heartland hawker – and I’m not sure how getting Ramsay to cook his own version of chicken rice, laksa or chili crab would help the hawker dilemma in any way whatsoever. If nothing is done to change the way we educate our kids or how they view employment, we will lose our heritage no matter how many top chefs we fly in to help boost it. You don’t get into the business to just to please the occasional celebrity visitor, but the people who keep you employed, Singaporeans themselves. In fact, Michelin maestros have been settling down rather nicely here since 2007 with their fancy brand extensions. If anything they’re inspiring fine dining as a profession rather than saving hawker cuisine from certain death. I, for one, wouldn’t eat at a ‘Michelin-starred’ char kuay teow stall because it’s patronising to tradition and utterly pretentious. What next, gold leaf on carrot cake?

But so what if it’s just shameless publicity? I didn’t even know this was Singtel sponsored until I read this letter. Singtel doesn’t need to sell its services anymore than the Army needs recruitment videos. This is, after all, the same telco that brought you the F1 and Singtel Grid girls. In fact, I’d rather a naughty celebrity chef fly in here to promote the country as a culinary destination, than them holding a energy-consuming, air-polluting monster night race. So far, reports of Ramsay’s behaviour have been described as ‘kind’ and somewhat humane and I doubt he’d throw a hissy fit at the chicken rice aunty and jeopardise his contract with Singtel and even reputation by giving her a heart attack. Interviewers would have to tread carefully when it comes to personal questions with the chef though, in case they get labelled as ‘old, ugly, lesbian pigs’ behind their backs.

As for whether children care enough about celebrity chefs to look up to them as role models I’m not sure. Ramsay’s popular TV shows sure as Hell don’t look appealing to the young and impressionable, though in the ‘F word’ he talks to his children about the harsh reality of where pork comes from. He even teaches them how to make Christmas Mint Chocolate Truffles in the clip below. Given his kitchen persona as a sadistic, arrogant bastard, Ramsay mentioning ‘honey’ and ‘chocolate’  in the same sentence is as creepy as a serial killer singing a nursery rhyme.

Postscript: Of the 3 dishes, Gordon won for chilli crab, which was the odd one out in the first place. Well, they had to give the man something.

Singapore Shiok ad makes Caucasian look like a schmuck

From ‘Singapore Shiok, or just silly?’, 28 April 2013, article by Nicholas Yong, Sunday Times

First, Singapore was marketed as uniquely itself as a tourist destination. Then, it became yours. Now, it is “shiok” too. The Singapore Tourism Board’s (STB) latest marketing video on YouTube revolves around the Singlish expression – derived from the Malay word “syok”, which means nice – for extreme pleasure. Cold ice kacang on a hot day? Shiok. The adrenaline rush of sky-diving? Shiok! Being massaged at a posh spa? Shhh…iok.

…In the Singapore video, a Caucasian man struggling to pronounce “shiok” – defined helpfully on screen as “a Singaporean expression denoting extreme pleasure or the highest quality” – opens the clip. When he finally succeeds, his Singaporean friends applaud him…Branding expert Tim Clark, a Briton in his 60s, thinks “using the local language to help visitors to connect with a country is a good thing”.

…Professor Gemma Calvert, a British professor at NTU’s Institute for Asian Consumer Studies, agrees with Mr Clark that the video makes the featured foreigner struggling to pronounce “shiok” look “a bit of a shmuck“. She says: “The phrase isn’t particularly difficult to pronounce and therefore may come across as slightly patronising to outsiders. As a Caucasian myself, I admit I cringed to some extent at the representation portrayed by this particular individual.”

…Creative director Hanson Ho, in his 30s, of H55 studio also notes: “‘Shiok’ is sometimes expressed somewhat artificially in certain scenes, making it seem quite unnatural.” For instance, having a little boy whisper “shiok” at the sight of zoo animals at the Night Safari seemed to be stretching it a little.

…Lawyer Samantha Ong, 31, wonders if the video could have varied its local vocabulary a little. “There’s a serious overuse of the word ‘shiok’ that’s kind of cheesy and annoying,” she says of the yelled, purred and breathed incarnations in the video.

“Aren’t there other ‘uniquely Singapore’ words or ways to express pleasure, such as ‘sedap’ or ‘ho chiak’ (delicious in Malay and Hokkien)?”

Shiok

By attempting to globalise the word and sell it to visitors, ‘Shiok’ has become as problematic as ‘Lah’: Both also ‘ANYHOW use one’. If a kid exclaimed to me that watching animals in a zoo is ‘shiok!’ I would instantly correct him that he should have used the more generic ‘Wahh’ instead. I may even tolerate the Americanised ‘Awesome’ or ‘Whoa!’. Other scenes where the use of shiok is exaggerated and unnatural include Singaporeans showing off their shopping haul, ‘shioking’ at a club, or marvelling at the LV island in MBS. A simple ‘Wow’ or ‘Niiice’ wouldn’t stick as well, but these poor examples of shiok are as misplaced as getting locals to yell ‘Yahoo’ or ‘Yippee’ while exhibiting ‘extreme pleasure’, though ‘yahoo’ is something I often say in my head with an imaginary fist-pump whenever I manage to board an MRT train during peak hour.

Singaporeans also tend to be bad teachers of their own beloved lingo. When UK boyband The Wanted popped by to perform, fans cheered when they said ‘Singaporean girls are SHIOK’. Totally wrong and even demeaning in today’s context, but the fans don’t care, and this mistake will be perpetuated to every celebrity the world over, who’ll pepper their concerts with forced Singlish like ‘You’re such a SHIOK audience, LAH’. Ugh.

Screen Shot 2013-04-28 at 8.12.39 AM

When singer Demi Lovato was in town, DJ Divian Nair decided to teach her how to use shiok (like ‘awesome’) as a warm-up during an interview, with the superstar obliging with ‘I’m feeling shiok right now’. Lucky Divian. Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine says Singapore is ‘like, TOTALLY SHIOK’. Neither of these Caucasians has difficulty pronouncing the word, which is like replacing the C in Coke with Sh- (unless you want to be picky and insist that there should be a ‘-yee-ok’ sound). We seem to have an obsession with trying to get foreigners to speak Singlish with the same sadistic enthusiasm as teasing a kitten with a laser pointer. It may well be pride on our part to promote Singlish, but it does make a sporting goon out of non-Singaporeans when they mutilate it, be it shiok, lah or ‘Ho-Say’.

The worst abuse of shiok, however, comes from our Board of Censors. In 1999, when they found the use of ‘Shagged’ in the movie title Austin Powers:The Spy who Shagged Me objectionable, they proposed to replace the offensive word to the verb-form ‘SHIOKED’, as in The Spy who SHIOKED me, which would suggest to those unfamiliar with Singlish that shiok is a euphemism for the F-word. Thanks to our authorities, IMDB now thinks that shioked means ‘to be treated nicely’. If they had really pulled the title edit off, this ad, with the zoo kid whispering a potentially foul word into Daddy’s ear, wouldn’t exist. Max George from the Wanted would have said: ‘I’m here to Shiok some Singapore Girls’. To some cheers still.

Screen Shot 2013-04-28 at 10.20.59 AM

Yet, it’s not so simple defining when exactly shiok should be used. It’s like trying to teach someone when to use ‘lah’, ‘leh’ and ‘lor’. We have been known to use it in various contexts outside of food from which I believe it originally evolved (Humorist Paik Choo described ‘shiok’ mee rebus in a 1979 ST article). Enjoying rainy weather, lying on a hard cold floor on a blistering hot day or even sprawling out on a king-size bed in a hotel room may qualify as ‘shiok’ activities today. It’s often an interjection ejaculated reflexively, like the opposite of ‘Ouch’, and preceded by a period of anticipation or suffering, specific to a relatively quick, pleasurable stimulus. Nobody goes to a club and yells ‘SHIOK’ while dancing, nor experiences shiok-ness after staring at a fancy floating building for minutes. A massage after a long day? Shiok. A hot bath after a marathon? Lagi shiok! But saying ‘Singapore is SHIOK’? GET LOST LAH.

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