Food: More Than Just a Bite

By Lin Jiawen (4K), Cheng Wenqi (19J06), Fan Wenrui (19J11)

In the spirit of every Singaporean’s favourite pastime - eating, we recently went on a food adventure to Maxwell Food Centre. We bring you on a journey of bite-sized poetry through our local hawker fare; it's truly more than just a bite.

Special food featured: sugar cane drink, char siew pie, rojak, fish soup, teh tarik, China Street Fritters and bee hoon (clockwise direction)

platters of food on table,

at a loss of what to start with,

why not try them all?

- a haiku

Traditional China Street fritters

Key ingredients that go into a delightful plate of China Street Fritters

they say,

food is a labour of love.

then for love, they have bled:

hawkers, upon a recipe

passed down through generations

from starch and water

is the sweet sauce born,

from a recipe of the past

and hope for a future

are the dreams of hawkers

sustained, serving

the marrow of their

work in each bowl

we consume, in this

tradition of food

they say,

Singapore is

built upon the backs of

hawkers toiling to feed

every student, civil servant

and office worker

for their children to fly:

to higher-paid jobs,

brighter futures, and

dreams beyond this horizon

on their once-broad shoulders

and now-hunched backs,

on plates, upon plates

of fritters

they say,

that we don’t appreciate

tradition until it’s gone

then for tradition,

for their craft, even family honour

they have stood,


guardsmen of traditions past

for who will cook

for the hawkers

when they rest, retire?

onwards, we will

sustain, salvage then

rekindle this flame

etched into history,

majulah, Singapura


Munching on the familiar crunch of crushed peanuts and deep-fried youtiao

coated in sweet and sour prawn paste,

I reminisce about the old times

when I ran back and forth in the hawker centre

carrying orders to Pa and Ma’s humble Rojak stall.

I will never forget the sweet haunting of

the wafting homely aroma from

the rhythmic thumping of ingredients in the mixing bowl,

stickiness of my sweat-drenched uniform,

and my constant companion,

a 2-metre giant cast by the evening sun.

Munching on the refreshing cucumbers and sour, acidic pineapple slices,

I remembered the sweet bitterness of childhood memories

as I looked on my peers

who swung high on the playground swings,

living the perfect, carefree life.

Clanking of round, nickel coins and

satisfying crisp of plastic notes

marks the end of a work day.

Lugging out thick homework files

from my school bag infested with loose threads,

I stared hard at the smudging graphite marks on worksheets

under the gentle moonlight.

“Study hard, ah boy.

Don’t be like Pa and Ma when you grow up,”

Ma always says as she runs her creased fingers down my hair.

I always wonder,

what will happen to the Rojak store

if I don’t follow Pa and Ma’s footsteps?

Munching on the eclectic mix of food

that creates a mini explosion of flavours in my mouth,

I remembered the soul-stirring feelings I felt

on that fateful day.

Pa’s sweat

glistened in the dazzling sunlight

as he solemnly received the wad of cold hard cash

from the trash collectors.

The emulsion of guilt and shame inundated me,

as I fear that this may mark the end of the good old times

My heart felt like an empty cage,

for the very vessel of my childhood

is long lost.

Sugarcane Juice

“let’s drink sugarcane”

we don't like to think

about the drinks we take for granted

so as we gripe about prices

in our coins, drinking sugarcane,

in plastic bags

around plastic tables

“i don't think there’ll be a day without

sugarcane juice in Singapore”

we don’t like to think

about the drinks we take for granted

so we swirl plastic straws dyed

with bright colours of youth

as it diminishes with falling

levels of sugarcane juice. i guess

i now know what they mean by

out of sight, out of mind.

“no one drinks sugarcane anymore”

we don’t like to think

about the drinks we take for granted

so stalls shut down, taking

away a part of home with them

but what is home anymore

when familiarity is homogenised

when all that is left of nostalgia

has been drained dry by the past

through sugarcane processors

“i want to have sugarcane”

we don’t like to think

about the drinks we take for granted

so as the cups slip out of our grasp

i know that this is what won’t last

and one day, the buzzing of

sugarcane processors will deafen us

with their silence; the stalks will

soon cease to grow for us

-so let’s have it while it lasts

Fish Soup

fish soup

swimming in milk

-tomatoes, tofu; thick

wafting nostalgia in the bowl’s

rich broth

- a cinquain

Teh Tarik

uncle i want teh tarik

but uncle i don’t want

my mama to push and pull

when it comes to my etiquette

uncle i want teh tarik

but uncle i don’t want

my teachers to push and pull

when it comes to my studies

uncle i want teh tarik

but uncle i don’t want

my government to push and pull

when it comes to equal rights

uncle, you know what; i just

want my teh tarik -oh but

uncle give me teh tarik siew dai ah

later get diabetes government blame me again

Char Siew Pie

i don’t want to feel

pastry flaking off my fingers

the way nostalgia

flaked off my childhood;

leaving the oily, greasy

residue of regrets

i will never get to make up for.

i don’t want to feel

the tangy touch of meat on the tip

of my tongue. because that

tastes too uncannily similar

to the tragedies

and failures

i will never get to make up for.

i don’t want to feel

this familiarity they say is comforting; i don’t

want to be the one stretched thin

by the rolling pin

or the one on the chopping block,

drenched in the crimson of those

i will never get to make up to.

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