For an entire populace that loves food as much as a single self-described “foodie” Chowhound poster, the Singapore Food Festival is a way to bring the varied homegrown culinary traditions under one roof, or several roofs, so to speak. Rather than an industry-oriented event with steep prices, the festival is more like one grand taste of Singapore, with a “village” of country’s most celebrated hawkers among other events that include a cruise and a “Longest Table” lunch that’s a Guinness record hopeful.
Unlike the World Gourmet Summit, an annual event studded with culinary luminaries, the July affair is a food festival for the people with a spirit as inclusive as Singapore’s culture. Even though the country is about 70 percent Chinese, the Malay and Indian heritages figure just as prominently in the national conciousness, whether in the public signs packed with four languages (including the widely spoken English) or the faces of diners in restaurants in Kampong, Little India, or one of the many hawker centers.
In its 18th year, the Singapore Food Festival runs from July 14-24th, and its crown jewel is the SFF Village, a tented collection of over 60 food stalls that represent the best and brightest from hawker centers, restaurateurs, and street food vendors across the city. Among them figure Katong laksa, the ultimate location for the rich coconut curry noodle soup; Jumbo chili crab, a contender for one of the city’s best (and most competitive) national dishes; West Lake’s steamed pork buns; and Fillings’ popiah (right). Expect to also find Thai food, doner kebabs, and Northern Indian cuisine among other offerings.
It’s nearly impossible to visit every culinary landmark on a regular trip to the food-lover’s paradise that is this island nation, so the SFF is the perfect opportunity to taste much of what the city has to offer in one fell swoop. Plus you’ll get some cooking tips from the live chef demonstrations at the Village to try at home. For instance, when making the famed chili crab, Jumbo’s head chef recommends boiling the crabs in the chili spiced liquid for no less than 10 minutes so that you can easily suck the rich meat from the shell. Just sayin'.
Throughout the week, festival organizers are also offering “tiffin” dinner cruises on the winding Singapore River (right). Like a mix between the classic lunch pail and a bento box, tiffins are multi-tiered enamel canisters in which Singaporeans traditionally transport food from hawker centers back home or to work. Small boats with painted wooden bows ferry around passengers, mainly tourists, seated at tables on a short tour of downtown, offering a unique glimpse at colonial-era Singapore contrasted against the backdrop of its many starkly structural buildings, which is the culture in a nutshell — embracing the future, cradling bits of the past.