If you’ve been actively following the common Instagram hashtags such as #baking, #homemade, and #cookingathome, you’ll know that it’s mostly saturated with viral trends, such as the Basque burnt cheesecake, Levain cookies or Dalgona coffee. There is nothing wrong with attempting to make those, don’t get me wrong, but why aren’t Singaporean hobby bakers or chefs creating things that showcase our local culture and tradition?
Singapore is a well-known foodie heaven because of its vast variety of food offerings. You can get a taste of every culture and cuisine in Singapore at any price range — from the very affordable hawker centres to three-starred Michelin restaurants that promises the spectacular view of the Singapore skyline as you wine and dine.
This wouldn’t have been possible if not for globalisation. However, globalisation has eroded much of our local culture too.
With the rise of the generation Zs, everyone is more interconnected on a global scale. Trends and culture from other regions gets washed up onto our sunny shores, and is adopted and recreated by local gen Zs, who then republish what they think would get them the highest views or most number of likes.
And these trends and cultures are usually adaptations of what has gained popularity in the West.
Think along the lines of Levain cookies, Basque cheesecake or even the classic cinnamon rolls. All these sweet treats emerged from the West. Even though many Singaporeans may not have tried what an actual Levain cookie or Basque burnt cheesecake may taste like, they start to emulate and recreate them, using shared recipes easily found with a quick Google search.
I’m not against local Singaporeans baking stuff like cookies or cheesecake (I do bake crispy chocolate chip cookies whenever I have the time), nor am I against Singaporeans baking stuff that they find popular or trendy. I’m just curious why Singaporeans do not make anything that’s tied to our local culture.
I am a hobby-cook and an avid baker. I do bake quite a bit of cookies, cakes, and scones, but I do like to indulge in making a good ol’ Ang Ku Kueh (red tortoise kueh) or Gao Ding Kueh (seven layer rainbow kueh) as an homage to my culture and tradition.
Yes, comparing kuehs to cookies and cakes is akin to comparing apples with oranges. Furthermore it’s not hard to get a piece of kueh from the nearby hawker centre nor is it as expensive as compared to getting a cookie or cake from a cafe. However the effort required in making the kueh is almost as much or even more than whipping up a cookie dough.
I speak from experience as I’ve done both. Although I do enjoy eating cookies and cakes, the sense of satisfaction and gratification I get when making kuehs is definitely more. And I can’t pinpoint as to why that is so.
Maybe it’s from the nods of approval I get from my grandparents and granduncles. Many of them lament that the kuehs done and sold commercially do not have the taste of nostalgia anymore, and I managed to recreate it at home.
Or maybe it’s from the lack of ubiquity it has on social media. A quick search with the hashtag #homecookingsg shows the same old cookies and cakes, but my colourful rainbow Ang Ku Kueh stands out like a rose among the weeds.
I think it’ll be great if more Singaporeans started venturing into recreating snacks that are a part of their culture. Many of us like to eat them, but don’t want to make them. We leave it to the older generations to make them, but if we don’t learn, how are we going to carry on such traditions? I guess my concern is that there will be a loss of such traditions in the near future, when the generations before us are long gone and where our culture would be remodelled into something that is reflective of what we are currently going through, and not what our past ancestors have brought down.