Maki Kita means ‘curse us’ in Malay

From ‘Sushi chain Maki San apologises for making a mistake with name of National Day themed rolls’ 6 Aug 2017, article by Fabian Koh, ST

Puns can be creative and hilarious, but puns can also go so wrong. Local sushi chain Maki-San launched a special chicken char siew sushi roll for Singapore’s 52nd birthday, calling it the Maki Kita.

The name is a play on the lyrics of Singapore’s National Anthem, in which the first two words are “Mari kita”. In a Facebook post on Friday (Aug 4) afternoon, the chain explained that the name aimed to reflect “the cheeky and playful side” of the company, and means “Our sushi”.

Unfortunately for them, in Malay, while “kita” refers to “us” or “me”, “maki” means to curse or insult.

Thus, the name Maki Kita essentially means “Curse us”.

The sushi chain acknowledged the kerfuffle and announced in another Facebook post that night, just seven hours later, that it was changing the name to Harmony Maki.

If there’s any consolation, this is not the worst pun to pull off when it comes to promoting limited-edition culinary creations. In 2015, Breadtalk made a grave mistake with its commemorative LKY bun following his passing. While naming a pastry over a dead person was in poor taste, the Maki Kita appears to be an honest, but unfortunate, screw-up (Incidentally, Makikita also translates in Tagalog to ‘You’, though using that as a defence would probably backfire horribly as well).

Whether it’s getting hopelessly lost in translation or bastardising our food heritage, everyone seems to be jumping on the SG52 bandwagon, from pandan souffles to salted egg yolk panna cottas. Unlike McD’s Nasi Lemak Burger, there’s nothing distinctively ‘local’ about the renamed ‘Harmony Sushi’, unless we can claim ‘chicken char siew’ as a Singaporean delicacy (The other ingredients are egg, cucumber, fried shallots and coriander mayonnaise)

Tricky names aside, at least this brainchild of 4 Spectra secondary school students doesn’t strike one as an overdecorated, pompous travesty. Check out the ‘atas-trophe’ that is the ‘Satay’ : a ‘skewer of roasted Japanese eel, king prawn and squid served with a peanut-based sauce’ from French diner Saint Pierre.  Part of a $248 set that includes Nasi Lemak with goddamn King Crab, this is one luxurious starter that not all Singaporeans can afford. Or if you want something slightly less pricey, dig into Jamie’s Italian’s version of Chicken & Rice ($19.65).

Sometimes you just gotta call a risotto a risotto. And it’d rather have cucumber slices than some half-arsed broccoli. If you see any local delight corrupted by the word ‘infused’, take your money and run far, far away.

 

In the spirit of ‘maki kati’, I have a suggestion for a novelty dish that every Singaporean can enjoy. Fishball Meesua in Laksa broth. Or F.M.L.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Chinese on NTUC Foodcourt signboards

From ‘Lack of bilingual signs a wrong move’, 8 July 2017, Voices, Today

I am appalled at the removal of Chinese language on signboards at NTUC Foodfare’s food court in Block 303, Choa Chua Kang Avenue 4 after its facelift.

Many elderly patrons were perplexed on the first day of its recent reopening and had asked staff at the counters to translate the menus before they placed an order.

This oversight is detrimental to Singapore’s efforts to foster a bilingual environment against a backdrop of today’s younger generation being increasingly unable to master their mother tongue.

I hope that Foodfare could at least use Chinese on signboards in its locations where many of the residents are elderly, for their reference.

No, making signboards bilingual will not train our mother tongue. If I want to order Rojak from a foodcourt stall, I’ll look for ‘Rojak’ and not 罗惹.  I’ll also never use the Chinese translation of rojak in everyday speech. Nor will I say the words 豪大大鸡排 (hao da da ji pai) out loud without feeling slightly uncomfortable.

Has the writer even taken a look at signboards of MRT station names? Buona Vista, for example, translates to Many Beautiful Songs. Is that how we want our children to pick up Chinese? What if I want my kid to learn Malay? Is he fated to eat Nasi Padang for the rest of his life?

Removing Chinese from menus may well be a smart business decision, simply because not ALL our elderly are Chinese as the writer presumes. It may confuse non-Chinese speakers, or even turn some off altogether, like this writer who felt left out because the electronic signboard at the Arrival Hall in Changi Airport that welcomes Singaporeans home lacks Malay and Tamil translations.

Yet, at the same time, you can’t afford to have all 4 languages to describe something like mixed economic rice. It’s like watching a movie with 3 sets of subtitles. For reasons known only to civil aviation authorities, airport signboards directing human traffic are selective in the languages used. If you’ve travelled enough, you’ll wonder why signs only have English and French, others English and Korean/German/Chinese etc. If all is to be fair in this world, we should have signs in EVERY KNOWN LANGUAGE on this godforsaken planet.

There’s a more practical reason for avoiding excessive translations of signs – The tendency for the people in charge to screw things up, like insert a curse word in the Tamil version Lau Pa Sat, or make you squirm in embarrassment at the Chinese translation of Bras Basah. 

Also, this image below is exactly why we should leave Chinese-only signboards in the Geylang eateries the hell alone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Millennials spending money on avocado toast

From ‘Reality check for the avocado generation’, 28 May 2017, article by Olivia Ho, ST

Are millennials the avocado generation – expensive, high-maintenance and incapable of surviving in the long term?

Australian millionaire Tim Gurner made the assumption earlier this month, when he slammed millennial spending habits during a news programme and drew outrage from Generation Y worldwide.

“When I was trying to buy my first home, I wasn’t buying smashed avocado for $19 and four coffees at $4 each,” the real estate mogul, 35, told Australian current affairs programme 60 Minutes.

…The price of avocado toast in Singapore can range from $9.50 for the basics at Monument Lifestyle cafe in Duxton Road to $20 with a scoop of ricotta at The LoKal in Neil Road.

Avocado is the Greek Yogurt of fruits. On its own it’s bland as fuck, but mash it with some seasoning and spread it on bread and it becomes a symbol of millennial decadence. Just like how eating sashimi in the 80’s made you stand out as the class epicurean, eating (and snapping) ‘handcrafted’ avocado toast these days is one of the prerequisites for becoming a micro-influencer or trendy food blogger. Alas, there’s nothing groundbreaking about ‘smashed’ avocado. The Aztecs invented a similar dish in the days of conquistadors and smallpox. It’s called guacamole.

Some curious footnotes about this Superfood:

  • Avocado was first cultivated in this region sometime in the late 1920’s, when it was referred to as the ‘avocado pear’. Presumably because it looks like a pear (though that doesn’t explain ‘pineapple’)
  • In 1937, an Avocado Salad recipe called for cantaloupe, vinegar, chopped cucumber and paprika. Yes, that hipster cafe version is at least 70 years old.
  • Thought stuffing seafood in an avocado pit is the hottest culinary trend? Nope. It was done with crab meat. In 1958.

So why don’t cafe owners call a spade a spade and call guacamole guacamole? Simply because when you see guacamole on a menu, nachos come to mind. And nachos aren’t hip or cool. Unless you rename them ‘hand-cut baked corn crisps’ or something.

Random browsing through the #avocadotoast hashtag on Instagram led me to this. The green mother of all avocado toasts. It’s Ciabatta Hulk, with a rooftop garden.

Screen Shot 2017-05-28 at 10.08.27 AM

As unnecessarily ‘atas’ as the avocado toast phenomenon is, it’s probably unfair to lay the blame on this dish as the reason why millennials are being foolish with their money. The reason: nobody eats it EVERY DAY. If there’s one food that exploits the millennial economy, a food that is daylight robbery personified, it’s the morning and tea-break Venti-sized coffee from your friendly neighbourhood Starbucks.

There’s one way, though, to kill this fad and make the Millennials run back to their beloved artisan lattes – When McDonalds’ comes up with its own Avocado Burger (which is really just putting guacamole sauce in a Cheeseburger) and charge you $7.50 for it with fries and avocado mayo sauce. Oh wait. It’s already been done before.

In the meantime, I’ll skip the $20 avocado toast and get my avocado fix from Alexandra Fruit Stall ($2.50 avocado shake), thank you very much.

The danger of running with durian for charity

From ‘Running with a prickly companion for charity’, 28 May 2017, article by Tay Hong Yi, ST

A quirky charity run is raising a stink on social media. In the Run for Good Durian on July 13, each runner will get a durian to run with for 5km. After that, he can eat it.

The cause is nothing to sniff at, as proceeds will be donated to the Ang Mo Kio-Hougang Community Development Welfare Fund.

…Said Twitter user Gwen Guo: “(This is) possibly (the) most Singaporean charity run I’ve seen.” But there was room for some thorny questions too. In the comments section of the community centre’s post, Facebook user Ho Shigure asked: “Has anyone conducted a risk assessment?”

The run’s official website encouraged runners to “be creative” with transporting their durian safely.

“At 8am sharp, the race will be flagged off by the special guest and participants will carry, lug or hug their durians for a 5km distance until the finish,” said the organisers.

However, no recommendations on safely handling the King of Fruits were offered, beyond suggesting that “a backpack, plastic bag, gloves or other creative ways” could be used to minimise the risk of injury to oneself and others.

Participants will receive a T-shirt, while those who complete the run will receive a medal, a coconut and, of course, a chance to win a mao shan wang durian in a lucky draw.

People have done things worthy of the Darwin awards in the name of charity, of course. You could walk on flaming charcoal barefoot over 100m, volunteer to be shot with 21,000 paintballs, or be like Jack Neo and lie on a bed of glass. The difference is you don’t risk hurting anyone else other than yourself.

Safety is always the number one priority for any kind of race, whether it’s imposing restrictions on light sabres for the Star Wars Run, ensuring that zombies don’t actually bite people during ‘Race the Dead’, or that nobody sneaks anthrax powder into the Color Run.  The record shows, however, that more people have died running an actual Marathon than all these gimmicky events combined.

The number of ways a Durian Run could go wrong is easy to imagine. Though unlikely to kill anyone since this is a horizontal run and not a race up a building, one probable scenario is that people may drop the King of Fruits along the way. A runner behind could be injured not so much by stepping on the fallen durian or falling face-first onto it and getting iris incarceration, but from a rear-end collision with the durian dropper. A heated argument could result in the prize being used as a mace to hit someone in the face, like what happened to a bus driver in 1985. Yes you could go home not just with a durian but a few minor skin punctures along the way but at least that beats a fatal cardiac arrest near a 42 km finish line. 

Common sense would tell participants that under no circumstances should you, no matter how creative you are:

  1. Tape a durian to chest while running
  2. Walk in stilts while juggling durian
  3. Or go dressed like this

Still, all these hazards are at best hypothetical. The only scientific risk assessment one could ever conduct for a race of this nature is to determine if the combined odour of durian and sweat is potent enough to knock passers-by out cold.

A pity that the race doesn’t end at the Esplanade, though.

Singapore must steal other people’s lunches

From ‘Singapore must steal other people’s lunches to stay ahead of competition’, 30 Apr 2017, article by Toh Ee Ming, Today

Amid growing competition, and workers hungry to learn in places like Chengdu and even further away such as Russia, Singapore must not only protect its lunch but steal other people’s lunches, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong has urged.

…Ms Zuhaina Ahmad, a career guide at the NTUC Youth Career Network, said she has spoken to a few young Singaporeans “who feel that they’re in an era where they’re entitled or privileged to what the Government is giving”.

“If you study up to a degree level, this is what you’re entitled to. Not all of them are like that, but I think we need to manage their expectations as well,” she said.

Mr Lee said in reply: “It’s something that we have to work on, always. You must always want to do better, but you cannot always want to hope for the sky, and that’s the challenge. Because if you’re not hungry, you wouldn’t try, but if you’re unrealistic, you’d be disappointed.”

Of course our PM meant ‘stealing other people’s lunches’ as a figure of speech, just a darker version of ‘punching above our own weight’. The language of success is often filled with bloodthirsty metaphors:  We’re told to ‘seize’ the day and ‘conquer’ our doubts, words usually used in military parlance to mean plunder and destroy. We ‘grab’ the bull by the horns and ‘eliminate’ the competition in a ‘dog-eat-dog’ world. The harsh truth is just that – success usually means having to tread on some heads along the way, and there are people who excel in their careers at the merciless expense of others’ ‘lunches’. These days, others’ trust seems to be an even bigger bounty than actual money. Just ask Kong Hee and gang.

Even Teamy the Bee, our forgotten productivity mascot, makes a living by ‘stealing’ nectar from flowers. Corporate banditry happens all the time; a small start-up gets chewed to bits when a bigger company copies i.e ‘steals’ its ideas. Aspiring inventors fall prey to patent disputes with entities armed to the teeth with lawyers. The use of the phrase in the context of ailing productivity, though, seems to suggest that it’s time for workers to switch to survivalist fight-or-flight mode, that in the event that we may not be able to punch above our weight, sometimes we just have to hit below the belt for our lunch money. But still, the only thing stealing our lunches eventually will not be other people, but robots, which makes our PM’s statement, in the grand scheme of things, ultimately redundant, like what most blue-collar workers will be in the silicon age. Needless to say a politician’s job is robot-proof and he doesn’t need to worry about lunch for the rest of his life.

‘Lunch’ is always a sensitive topic for food-loving Singaporeans. You could tell by how aggressively we reserve tables at hawker centres. When an ex Transport Minister told Singaporeans that ‘there is no free lunch‘ during a public transport hike, we went ballistic as the Toa Payoh couple refusing to share their table with an old man would.

Yes, there’s a time to be hungry and rise up to the challenge when it comes to our precious lunches, but we are also in desperate need for compassion. Beg, cheat and steal like Robin Hood if you have to, but share your ‘lunches’ with less fortunate human beings, especially those who can only afford 3 meals a day at a hawker centre instead of restaurants.

So let’s take PM Lee’s metaphor with a pinch of salt, and sprinkle it on our lunch of the day before someone sneaks up from behind to steal it.

Cold storage having beef promotion on Deepavali

From ‘Cold Storage apologises for insensitive beef promotion during Deepavali’, 2 Nov 2016, article by Lee Min Kok, ST

Supermarket chain Cold Storage has apologised for a price promotion on beef at one of its outlets during Deepavali, acknowledging that it was “insensitive” to Hindus. A photo of the promotion, which advertised a 38 per cent discount for certain beef products, was uploaded by Twitter user @AdamFlinter on Monday (Oct 31).

“Cold Storage’s #deepavali promotion was on beef!!! Cultural understanding eh?” he wrote, adding that the photo was from a friend.

Hindus generally abstain from eating beef as they regard the cow as sacred. In a statement to The Straits Times on Wednesday, Cold Storage explained that the promotion was put up at one store by a junior team member who had “overlooked the cultural sensitivity“.

It added: “We have since explained and coached him on the cultural sensitivity and he assured us that he had no intention to disrespect the Hindus. We also took this opportunity immediately to coach all our team members to be mindful of cultural sensitivities in Singapore.

“We sincerely apologise to all Hindus who are celebrating Deepavali on this matter.”

Someone's beef with Cold Storage

Someone has a beef with Cold Storage

It’s also culturally ‘insensitive’ to wear black on Deepavali. Just ask ex CNA presenter Otelli Edwards, who got a complaint for turning the Festival of Lights into the abyss of Hades. Someone else blasted the premature setting up of Christmas Lights in conjunction with Deepavali celebrations. Elsewhere, Burger King had to apologise for suggesting that Hindu deity Lakshmi feasts on beef burgers. Yes, our beloved gods don’t eat sacred animals. In some cases you can’t depict them in any form out of scripture. Period.

British Airways went the whole hog and banned beef from their inflight meals entirely, in order not to offend Hindu travellers. Why not extend this ‘cultural understanding’ to some non-Hindu folk who frown on beef, like some Chinese Buddhists for example – which means you should think twice about lelong-ing beef, or meat of any sort, during Vesak Day too. Milk this ‘sensitivity’ further and you’re going into Malaysian ‘ban the word dog from hot dog’ fiasco.

I personally know someone from India and enjoys beef, and has no qualms eating it in front of everyone, saying that it was a ‘state’ preference. Wouldn’t CS be depriving this group of Indians of the promotion too? Being culturally ‘sensitive’ is just one side of the racial harmony coin. Let’s put more meat on the ‘tolerance’ side, like – I think eating beef is a sin worse that those committed by Kong Hee, but my faith is compassionate and forgiving of those who get divine joy feasting on cheap murdered cows.

Still, when it comes to incurring religious wrath due to taboo food , nothing beats the hoax Fairprice ‘halal pork‘ incident, which actually involved the police. If anyone did call the police in for Deepavali promo beef, they better not be coming fully clad in black.

Queue for 1 Michelin Star hawker as long as Great Wall of China

From ‘Here’s what they queue an hour for’, 23 July 2016, article by Benson Ang, ST

After his hawker stall was awarded a prestigious Michelin star, hawker Chan Hon Meng, 51, decided to open 45 minutes earlier than his usual 10am.

On Thursday night, right after the awards were announced, the owner of Hong Kong Soya Sauce Chicken Rice & Noodle at Chinatown Food Complex said: “I know more people will come. I want to open earlier so the crowds will be more manageable.”

He was right. Some customers were there as early as 8.50am. By 9.15am, a queue had formed and it grew to more than 20 people at 10.30am.

…Hill Street Tai Hwa Pork Noodle in Crawford Lane, the other hawker stall with one Michelin star, also saw a longer queue. The stall sells about 400 bowls a day, with prices starting at $5 a bowl. Customers said they usually stand in line for about 45 minutes but yesterday, some queued for more than an hour.

Ms Lynn Chen, 42, who lives in the same block, started queuing at 11.10pm, but got her food only at 12.15pm. The part-time telemarketer, who has been patronising the stall two or three times a week for more than a decade, said: “The good thing is that we now have a Michelin- starred eatery below our block. The bad news is that the queue now will be as long as the Great Wall of China. The stall wins the award, but we customers lose.

“But I will still queue because my husband and I like the food.”

 

Now that we finally have a place in the ‘little red book’, Singaporeans can proudly say our cuisine is of ‘global standard’, and in typical kiasu fashion, despite our hyperbolic complaints about long queues, we still do it anyway. Come on, 1 hour is nothing! We have queued longer for things far less deserving. Like goddamn Krispy Kreme. Yes, there was a time when you could literally fly to visit the actual Great Wall of China during the period you spend queuing overnight for donuts.

While it’s easy for us to say we should take the Michelin Guide with a ‘pinch of salt’ and that this will spark meaningful conversations among Singaporeans about local cuisine regardless of our preferences, it may place unnecessarily high expectations on its recipients. The Michelin folks are known to take away stars should the quality of food fall below minimum standards. One chef took the grade so seriously he shot himself in the mouth when he heard that his 3 star restaurant might be downgraded to a measly 2 star one.

The pressure to maintain the rating could deter hawkers from experimenting with new flavours, or prevent them from retiring early lest their successors are unable to fill their Michelin shoes. IF they have any successors left. It would be interesting also to see how NEA would grade a one-star hawker stall, though I doubt a hygiene rating of D or a sporadic roach sighting would make the queues for Tai Hwa Bak Chor Mee any shorter.  On the other hand, a one-star could make an already ya-ya hawker even worse. He may ditch his straw hat and put on an actual chef’s hat instead. He may change the stall name to ‘Le Baque Chor Mee’, or ‘Poulet de Soy’.

Some critics call the whole thing a publicity stunt, similar to Gordon Ramsay pitting his Western culinary skills against locals in laksa cooking contests. Others cry foul because trailblazers and veterans who dabble in true-blue Singaporean food like Wilin Low and Violet Oon were snubbed. We should remember, however, that Michelin critics are anonymous foreigners with taste buds probably attuned to ‘Michelin-friendly’ cuisine who’re unlikely to award a restaurant that’s renown for serving the best durian pengat in the country, or something you could find in a SAF cookhouse like fried chicken wings.

Looking at the nagging disparity between the unpronounceable L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon with its sommeliers and fine customised cutlery vs the humble pork noodle hawker with his sweaty towel and smelly trays, the results somehow reek of gastronomic tokenism, given that Singapore has marketed itself so aggressively as a hawkers’ paradise. Michelin could be saying ‘OK people, let’s do the MBS thing and then choose a few small-timers just to show we appreciate hawker food too’.

Let’s hope our one star hawkers don’t let the Michelin star go over their heads and keep up the good work.  For the rest who didn’t make the cut, don’t fret, there’s always Singapore Day.