Penang laksa beats chilli crab

From ‘Penang assam laksa tastier than chilli crab?’ 25 July 2011, article by Wong Ah Yoke in ST

…Chilli crab was ranked 35th on the list published online in the news channel CNNGO lifestyle guide (World’s 50 most delicious foods), with chicken rice just slipped in at 45th.

…Well known Singapore food consultant Violet Oon, 62, said she was surprised to see chilli crab so far down the list, compared with Penang’s laksa (No. 7). ‘One reason could be that we don’t have many Singapore restaurants abroad, so not many have tasted chilli crab,’ she said.

‘I know there are Penang restaurants in cities like London and New York, because many Malaysians immigrate to these places. But we don’t have that many Singaporeans emigrating.’

Losing out to Penang laksa is fine, though this is yet another victory for Malaysia since beating us to the most peaceful country in South East Asia. But here’s are a couple of  undeserving ‘foods’ which scored higher than chilli crab or chicken rice according to the CNNGo list.

No 39: Ketchup, USA

Some chilli crab recipes do call for tomato sauce, which I believe is synonymous with ketchup. Nobody eats ketchup on its own, which makes the inclusion of this CONDIMENT rather unfair since the reviewers could have paired ketchup with the tastiest fish and chips on the planet (ranked no. 33 by the way). There are two personal favorites of mine which are ketchup based but completely omitted from this chart though: Baked beans and the humble spaghetti with meatballs.

No 9: Ice cream, USA

Now it really depends on what flavour or brand you’re talking about isn’t it. I won’t have much to argue if  this was more specific, like Cookies and Cream Ice Cream, or Raspberry Sorbet, but surely this wouldn’t be anywhere near the top 10 if people had considered the likes of pistachio, green tea or God forbid, YAM ice cream when rating this. Again, an unfair and vague comparison and an insult to the whole artistry and tradition of a solid chilli crab dish. The only ice-cream based food that deserves to be in the top 10 is the almighty Banana Split.

Of course such lists should be taken with a pinch of salt; the reviewers could have eaten rather mediocre chilli crab in Singapore but excellent Penang laksa in Malaysia. It all depends on accessibility to the best representative of the type of food contending for this listing.  If you look at the top 10 foods, you will notice how ubiquitous some of these are in their homeland, or even on a global scale. You don’t need to ever go to Mexico to realise how delicious chocolate is (no. 3)., and Sushi (no. 4) is EVERYWHERE in Japan. How many Singaporeans, not to mention CNNgo food critics, get to sample chilli crab on a regular basis in their own country? But availability in every corner of the island doesn’t explain the dismal ranking of chicken rice though. Rice dishes generally don’t fare well here, with only 3 listed (seafood paella, sushi and chicken rice) in the top 50, which probably says something about the cultural appetites of the critics involved. Hell, I don’t see a single leafy vegetable being featured here. Has anyone even thought of  Grilled white asparagus, or Coleslaw?

Violet Oon was right about overseas Malaysian presence though, a random search through Yelp revealed that in New York alone, you have 27 Malaysian restaurants, some of which have sneakily included some Singaporean staples, including Hainan Chicken Rice. If you key the search tag ‘Singaporean’, you have a miserable two results: Sentosa Malaysian Cuisine and Penang Malaysian and Thai cuisine, none of which even has ‘Singapore’ in its name. Which suggests that our local laksa with its prawn paste broth, which I personally find the better of the two, isn’t making the rounds that it ought to be. It also suggests some gastronomical, and cultural, hijacking: In London, there is a ‘Kiasu’ restaurant but is listed as ‘Malaysian’, which has every Southeast Asian delicacy you can think of in its menu, living up to its typically Singaporean name indeed.  But therein lies the problem of foods from our region going global, it’s always part Malaysian, Indonesian and Singaporean, a fusion of cuisines brought about by centuries of intermingling. It’s time to bring on the only worthy contender to Penang laksa, otherwise we’re out of the running for good the next time round.






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