Singapore's famous street food markets face an uncertain future

Since the 1950s, Singapore has had a vibrant street food scene that draws on the many cultures of its varied inhabitants. While early on the city had vendors dotted on the street corners, they eventually consolidated into over 100 hawker centers, where stalls offer enticing foods ranging from Cantonese barbecued pork to Javanese tempeh to kopi tarik (sweet and rich pulled coffee). However, as Atlas Obscura reports, this food paradise might be on the brink of extinction.

curry laksa

Street food was born of necessity in the rebuilding years following, World War II, providing jobs in a city where employment was scarce. By the end of the 1960s, there were over 24,000 hawkers in a city of just under two million people. The food was inexpensive, plentiful, and delicious. It was a true melting pot of flavors and textures, drawing the foods of its Chinese, Malaysian, and Indian residents. 

This incredible food scene is facing some major obstacles, however, One is the rise of air-conditioned mall food courts, where the offerings are not as rich and varied but you can enjoy them in comfort. The bigger problem, however, is that experienced hawkers are retiring without training the succeeding generation. People aren't picking up the trade, and several items are already in danger of dying out. As the EYB Member who alerted us to this story noted, the situation seems to present a tremendous opportunity for a cookbook. 

Photo of Curry laksa (Malacca nyonya laksa) from Serious Eats

Kitchen items that spark joy

If you weren't going through your house getting rid of unwanted items last year, you probably are this year. Marie Kondo's life-changing advice on tidying up has become a hit series on Netflix and it's got everyone in full KonMari mode. (If you are into thrift shops, you'll probably find a lot of gems now.) Kondo's advice to keep only those items that "spark joy" has made a lot people do some soul-searching about which items they really need to keep. Over at America's Test Kitchen, they have done the same, and have reported which kitchen tools or gadgets were life changing for them

For Jack Bishop, that item is his hand-cranked pasta machine. "My manual pasta machine may not be the most essential item in my crowded kitchen-after all, it does just one thing-but nothing in my kitchen provides as much joy," he says. Julia Collin Davison's favorite item isn't a tool or gadget - it is the humble cloth napkin. "It just makes me feel good to pluck a clean, folded napkin from the tidy bin I keep inside a kitchen cupboard," says Julia. "Also, I believe they help me appreciate the food more, even if it's just a little snack, because they bring a little respect to the situation."

salt box

Other items that sparked joy included various types of coffee makers, a Thermapen, and one rather unusual item: a salt box. Even though it may seem an odd choice, I can relate to that one. For years I struggled with how to store the kosher salt that is my workhorse cooking salt. The box was ungainly, a salt pig took up valuable counter space, and a variety of containers were rejected because they were too cumbersome. The search ended when I found the lovely wall-mounted salt box pictured above. It isn't an antique, so I don't have to worry too much about accidentally damaging it, having it wall-mounted means I can utilize the counter space directly beneath it, and it is in the perfect convenient location. Plus it's gorgeous to look at (unlike the tile underneath it). Every time I flip open the wooden lid to scoop out a teaspoon or pinch of salt, I smile. Other kitchen items may come and go, but the salt box will be a mainstay for as long as I cook. What is the item that makes you smile every time you use it? 

These new liquors are going against the grain

Whiskey in the US must be made from grain, which is defined as corn, wheat, rye, or barley. That might be about to change, however, as distillers have asked the regulatory agency in charge of such definitions - the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) - to allow other plants to be used. Specifically, the manufacturers want to broaden the definition of grain to include 'pseudocereal' grains like amaranth, buckwheat, and quinoa. 

cocktail

While distillers could make an alcoholic beverage from said pseudocereals, they were previously not allowed to call it whiskey. The TTB has tentatively approved the rule change, which is now in the public comment phase. In the interim, some brands have been given the green light to call these kinds of products "whiskey." 

Nashville-based Corsair Distillery is leading the vanguard of this trend. They currently sell a whiskey that is 80% and 20% quinoa. "If I'm making a painting, I want to have as many colors in my palate that I can paint with," Corsair founder Darek Bell told National Public Radio. "So as I'm making these whiskeys going forward, maybe it's just a small touch of oatmeal that adds a little more to the body of the whiskey, or just a little bit of quinoa that adds something different." 

Is aspic poised to make a comeback?

What do you think of when you hear the word aspic? For many of us, the term conjures up garish concoctions from the 1960s: think hot dogs and macaroni in aspic. However, those applications are only one late-stage interpretion of a culinary classic. The tradition of setting meats and vegetables in aspic - a savory meat gelatin made with stock and set in a mold - traces its origins all the way back to the 1300s.

Eggs in aspic

Aspic became popular at the end of the 19th century and remained a staple of fine dining well into the 20th century before rather unfortunate renditions caused it to fall out of favor. But if chef Harold Moore of Bistro Pierre Lapin in New York City has his way, aspic will experience a renaissance

Moore isn't interested in merely copying classic French cuisine with his aspic; he infuses his with bolder flavors by incorporating pieces of Paris ham along with bits of the pork-hock meat from his consommé to the aspic jelly that surrounds a soft-boiled egg. Adding these non-traditional items gives the dish a more "bacony" flavor, because as the chef notes, "who doesn't love bacon and eggs?"

We may be on the cusp of an aspic renaissance; there have been rumblings about its resurgence for a couple of years now. The rise of bone broth - essentially the building block of aspic - and the Instagram-ready images that result when you suspend items in aspic both lend themselves to renewed interest in this age-old dish. Do you think aspic is poised to make a comeback, and more importantly, do you think it should? 

Photo of Eggs in aspic (Oeufs en gelée)  from Saveur Magazine

When the gadget bug hits

It happens to all of us - you read about a technique and want to try it at home, so you purchase the necessary appliance or gadget to perform the task. But after you get said gadget home, it often gets used only a couple of times before it gets shoved to the back of the cupboard and gathers dust. Sometimes, however, you receive a gadget and you find yourself using it more than you ever thought you might. This recently happened to British novelist Charlotte Mendelson, who writes about her experience in The New Yorker

dehydrated citrus

Mendelson received a food dehydrator as a holiday present from her girlfriend. At first she was overwhelmed and even a bit mortified by the bulky machine, but she begrudgingly decided to use it, not expecting much of a result. She was surprised by what happened next. "Eventually, resignedly, I chopped a banana, slid the surprisingly glutinous slices onto a tray, reread the manual, dribbled the fruit half-heartedly with lemon juice, fired up the stupid machine, and set the timer for an outrageous twelve hours. And, in the morning, I discovered magnificence," Mendelson says. 

That success led to another attempt, then another, and another.  Not every experiment replicated the wonderful outcome of the first - dried tomato leaves tasted like "elderly hay," and dried pine needles added to a bath soak left Mendelson looking "like a molting hedgehog." Perhaps once the novelty wears off the dehydrator will be banished to the basement, but for now Mendelson appears to be hooked on it. 

I've experienced similar fits of passion about a small appliance, although none has lasted more than a couple of months. My back porch is littered with abandoned kitchen tools: a spiralizer, a tortilla press, and yes, a dehydrator. Maybe I should pull it out, dust it off, and give it another twirl. Perhaps next week. 

Photo of Dehydrated citrus from Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan

The most popular cooking show by year

Food Network's first broadcast aired in 1993, but the history of televised cooking programs stretches back decades prior to that. Before television was invented, there were cooking programs on the radio. People have watched and listened as a variety of hosts taught them how to make dishes both simple and complicated since the 1920s. The history of these programs is a fascinating tale, and Taste of Home demonstrates with a compilation of the most popular food shows through the years

Cookbook covers

When radio was in its heyday there were programs of every type, including a cookery show - 'The Betty Crocker School of the Air' was broadcast from 1924 all the way through 1951. At first, local talent at each radio station would perform as "Betty Crocker," but after NBC picked up the show in 1927 Marjorie Husted became the voice of Betty. Starting in the mid-1940s, the BBC cooking show hosted by Philip Harben, simply called 'Cookery', was king of the airwaves. 'Cookery' was the only televised cooking show for nearly a decade. 

The idea of a flamboyant host for a cookery program certainly predates Guy Fieri: Fanny Cradock, whose show ruled in the 1950s, was definitely a character. Of course Julia Child was queen of the airwaves in the early 1960s, paving the way for a succession of popular chefs and home cooks who had shows from the late 1960s through the 1980s. You'll recognize most of the names here: legends like Graham Kerr, Delia Smith, and Jacques Pépin. The slideshow serves as an excellent reminder of the quality of televised cooking shows all the way up to the present day. 

The joy of cooking

Chances are good that a large percentage of EYB Members have made one of two viral dishes from cookbook author Alison Roman. Both her Spiced chickpea stew with coconut and turmeric (featured in The New York Times and shown below) and her Chocolate chunk salted shortbread from her smash cookbook Dining In went viral on Instagram. Tens of thousands of people posted their own versions of said dishes with the hashtags #TheStew and #TheCookies. 


spiced chickpea stew
photo: Michael Graydon and Nikole Herriott for The New York Times

While there is no way to predict exactly which recipes will trend like those two did, the fact that it happens quite often is completely understandable, as Nikita Richardson explains in a Grub Street articles. "That the recipes are relatively easy and generally delicious is part of the appeal," says Richardson, adding that "but the most important aspect of hashtag cooking is that it allows home cooks to feel like they're part of a community - one where joining is as easy as cooking something quick."

Food has brought people together for millenia as a vital component of every celebration as well as in day-to-day family life. It's no wonder that in an age where people feel disconnected amidst a constant barrage of information that they turn to food as a way to belong to a larger group. Countless online cooking groups (like the EYB Cookbook Club and The Cookbook Junkies) celebrate this sense of connectedness by bringing together people who are passionate about food and cooking.  

Chefs step up to feed furloughed workers

If you've been paying attention to US news reports, you will know that our federal government has partially shut down over a funding dispute between Congress and the President. There is an old African saying that seems appropriate to this situation: "when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers." In this case, the grass is the federal workforce, who are affected by the lapse in funding. Just over 400,000 workers are at home without pay and no guarantee that they will be paid for this unplanned time off, while a similar number are required to work without being paid until after the shutdown ends. 

Eating with Uncle Sam

With no end to the shutdown in sight, workers are scrambling to make arrangements to pay mortgages, rent, childcare, and other expenses. Since money is tight, many workers are cutting expenses wherever possible, including eating out at restaurants. But in some areas these workers can afford to visit restaurants, as several chefs are offering free food for government workers impacted by the shutdown

You will not be surprised to learn that chef José Andrés is among those providing free food at his restaurants in the DC area, home to a considerable number of government employees. The offers are not limited to Washington, however. Chefs from Denver, Colorado to New Orleans, Louisiana are also providing meals to federal workers and their families. Neal Brown, a restaurateur in Indianapolis, Indiana, said that federal employees have taken him up on the deal. In addition, he has been overwhelmed with offers of support from restaurant patrons who want to contribute to the effort. One person wanted to know if they could chip in for wine for affected workers. Brown said "I thought, wine makes people happy, so yeah, it's been phenomenal."

Is copper cookware really worth the expense?

No one can deny that a rack of gleaming copper pots looks fantastic, but are copper pans worth their rather extravagant price? Daniel Gritzer of Serious Eats tackled this question recently and discovered that, as with many things in life, there is no clearcut answer

copper pans

There is no doubt that copper's thermal properties are unique, and that it is much more responsive to changes in heat than cast iron or stainless steel. This property "gives it a nimbleness and agility that can be very useful for delicate proteins like fish and seafood, as well as sauces, caramel, and chocolate," says Gritzer. However, other factors must be considered when discussing this feature of copper pans. If you are using an old electric coil stove, for example, the responsiveness of copper doesn't matter much since the burner itself will be slow to heat and cool. 

Quality varies greatly between different types of copper pots and pans. The thickness of the copper layers matters, as does the material with which the pan is lined. Once you get up to the top echelons of cookware, however, the differences become more aesthetic. Gritzer compares high-quality copper pans to sports cars, saying that while no one really needs one, if you have the means and desire there is no reason not to buy them - and have fun cooking. 

Items that even chefs don't make from scratch

Sometimes I like to dive deep into a culinary creation, making everything I can from scratch. However, there are a few items that I haven't really given much thought to making - ketchup immediately comes to mind. It turns out that even though they spend their days creating complex dishes where they tweak every flavor, chefs also take shortcuts, especially at home. Food and Wine talked to several chefs about what they won't make from scratch

homemade ketchup

Turns out I'm in good company - chefs Alex Guarnaschelli and Norman Van Aken both think store bought ketchup is better than homemade. You might not expect Daniel Boulud to prefer buying versus making a condiment, but he uses purchased tapenade instead of making it himself. "Usually, tapenade is made with small olives from Provence, which are pain to pit," he says. 

It isn't just condiments that chefs leave to others. "It's kind of embarrassing because I'm known for my fried chicken, but I live for Publix fried chicken," confesses chef Michelle Bernstein. Brad Kilgore - chef, restaurateur and founder of Kilgore Culinary Group - buys bacon and smoked salmon. "Both of these are really tough to do in your apartment or house, and there are really tasty, high-quality versions of both available just about anywhere," he says. 

Photo of Easy homemade chipotle ketchup from Tinned Tomatoes by Jacqueline Meldrum

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