To many in Singapore, making local favourites such as laksa or chicken rice fancy is the worst of crimes. Yet it may be one of the ways to ensure the longevity of street food.
This was one of the many issues raised during the World Street Food Congress Dialogue-Hackathon, which started yesterday. The two-day dialogue continues today and is attended by about 300 participants, including regional media and industry professionals.
Speakers today will include Mr Stephen Werther, who is currently working with celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain on the upcoming Singapore-style hawker centre called Bourdain Market in New York.
Yesterday's topics included the revolution of street food culture in the Philippines and India, the growth of street food culture in Bolivia, and how street food is presented as fancy cuisine in London.
Executive chef Peter Lloyd of Southeast Asian restaurant Spice Market in London's W Hotel presents diners with his interpretation of various dishes, inspired by cuisines in the region.
He was head chef at Malaysian restaurant Suka at the Sanderson Hotel seven years ago, and is known for dishes such as black pepper shrimp with sundried pineapple, inspired by Singapore's black pepper crab.
The 40-year-old calls his foray into South-east Asian cuisine "studying again" as he had to learn all about the ingredients and techniques required for cooking the smorgasbord of dishes.
On convincing diners about his culinary skills in cooking Asian dishes, he says: "It's like I'm given a free pass. I'm allowed to have the freedom to learn and remember how dishes are created, and to modify them slightly. I could do Vietnamese spring rolls with lobster and it would be a five-star dish."
Singapore's breakfast favourite - kaya toast and soft-boiled eggs - is also given the five-star transformation, into a pandan macaron with kaya jam and soya sauce ice cream.
Spice Market, started by three- Michelin-starred chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten in New York, also has an outpost in Doha.
The dialogue is part of the congress, which includes a street food Jamboree that is open to the public. It runs till Sunday at the open field beside Tan Quee Lan Street in North Bridge Road, near Bugis MRT station.
Entry is free and dishes cost from $4.50. Payment can be made via Nets FlashPay, Nets or coupons bought on site.
The event is organised by food consultancy and food guide publisher Makansutra and supported by the Singapore Tourism Board.
Mr Anton Diaz, founder of food and travel blog Our Awesome Planet in the Philippines, is pushing for awareness of Filipino cuisine, some dishes updated for a broader audience.
He highlights Filipino dishes that are part of the Jamboree, including Cebu lechon (roast suckling pig) stuffed with truffle oil paella from Pepita's Kitchen, and sisig - pig ears, cheek and jowl, boiled then grilled and mixed with chicken liver, onions, calamansi and chilli - from Bale Dutung Sisig.
Modernised local dishes include har cheong gai (prawn paste chicken) burger with sweet potato fries from Hong Kong Street Chun Kee; and mee kuah - thick spicy noodle soup with half-boiled egg and minced meat - from Ma Deen Biasa.
These stalls are in the SG Pavilion, part of the National Heritage Board's SG50 Deliciously Singaporean exhibition.
The exhibition highlights local food heritage and will feature 50 uniquely Singapore dishes and pop-up cooking demonstrations around the island.
Mr Lawrence Wong, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth, and chairman of the SG50 Programme Office, was guest of honour at the opening of the congress yesterday, where he took part in a roti john cooking demonstration.
Student Fadzil Alip, 19, who is doing a final-year course in culinary and catering management at Temasek Polytechnic, says the dialogue was an eye-opener on street food culture overseas. "I love hawker food and I think we take our hawker heritage for granted here. With more people going to cafes and restaurants, the culture may die out.
"I wouldn't mind being a hawker, as my grandparents used to sell mee soto in Geylang Serai. But I would probably do something more modern with the mee soto so that it remains trendy."
STALLS TO LOOK OUT FOR
TUCK NYONYA CATERING
What: Mr Ooi Joon Tuck, 60, and his Thai wife Lee Khoe Moei, 42, specialise in Nonya dishes in their private catering business in Penang. They showcase fried turnip lettuce wrap with black satay ($9).
SOTO AYAM AMBENGAN PAK SADI
What: This Indonesian soto ayam ($8) dish was created in 1970 by the father of owner Hartono Sadi. The spiced chicken soup is topped with lime juice, chilli and "koya" powder, made with a blend of fried shrimp crackers, shallots and onions.
What: Cool down with a churros sundae ($8) from Churros Locos, a two-year-old food cart from Portland, Oregon. The sundae includes vanilla ice cream and two fried dough pastry sticks rolled in cinnamon sugar.
KUPAT TAUHU GEMPOL
What: This Javanese tofu salad ($7) includes deepfried beancurd served with rice cakes, noodles, bean sprouts and nuts. It is drenched in a coconut milk and peanut sauce, and topped with onion crackers.
WORLD STREET FOOD CONGRESS
Where: Open field opposite Parco Bugis Junction, Tan Quee Lan Street, at the intersection of Rochor and North Bridge roads
When: Jamboree: Today, 5 to 11pm; Tomorrow, 4 to 11pm; Saturday & Sunday, 1 to 11pm
Admission: Jamboree: Free entry, food prices start at $4.50; payment via Nets FlashPay, Nets or coupons
Info: Call 6438-4038 or go to www.wsfcongress.com
This article was first published on April 9, 2015.
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