Use local food to give kids taste of our culture

File Photo: Roti Prata, one of the local food choices

I met an intelligent young woman - a born-and-bred Chinese Singaporean - a few years ago and our conversation turned to the topic of food. She remarked that she couldn't understand why people thought Singaporean food was good and didn't think cooking was a form of art.

First thought: Okay, no way I'm dating this one!

That conversation was stuck in my mind for years, as I couldn't comprehend how a Singaporean could think that our food isn't good and would prefer dining in Italian restaurants.

Then, it hit me a few days ago as I observed some children around me. Our upbringing was different. She came from a rich family and I came from a middle-class one.

My breakfast as a kindergartener: Soft-boiled eggs and toast. Kolo mee. Prata and kopi-O (yeah, my grandma gave me kopi-O when I was five). I loved the kway chap that was sold behind my house and would sometimes pester my mum for it.

Lunch treats? Hokkien mee. Bak kut teh (that actually came with a pot of tea!). Char kway teow. Singapore's most famous laksa and bak chang were just around the corner of my grandma's house.

The woman I spoke to knew of these dishes but, even as an adult, had hardly tried most of them and did not enjoy them. Not as much as Italian food anyway.

When I was 14, I wanted to give my friend a birthday treat and the best food I could think of was Hokkien mee at Bedok interchange. Would the teens of today go to Pastamania instead?

As Singaporeans are more affluent now, we begin to chase treats that we ate only once in a while as kids.

McDonald's, pancakes, fish and chips. Burgers and fries, pancakes and ice cream, pasta and pizza. It may be easier to get our children to eat these kinds of food, but we're losing our culture in the process.

Many of us focus on academic education for our children, but what about cultural education?

Something as simple as our choice of food can help. Culture is what makes us Singaporean.

So, next time your children clamour for some dessert, consider a bowl of refreshing cheng tng instead of ice cream. Give the burgers a miss this week and maybe have some gado gado.

Much of our culinary heritage has already been lost, like ting ting and belekou sweets. Good roti john used to be everywhere, but now it's hard to find.

Crispy prata which hits the spot used to be in every coffee shop. Now, you have to travel to get that fix and, even then, sometimes you find that the quality has dropped.

My heart broke when the store which sells what I consider the best laksa in Singapore wasn't chosen for the Hawker Heroes Challenge. Instead, the clone across the street was.

If we don't pass on the taste for local and regional food to our children, we will lose this important part of our culture.

Like chef Gordon Ramsay, I'm sure many of us agree that the best food in Singapore isn't found in air-conditioned restaurants with fancy menus and wine lists.

Let's pass on this part of us to our children.

The writer, 33, is an iPhone and Mac app developer. This column was reproduced from his Facebook post, with his permission. His blog can be found at