Have you seen the Singapore episode of No Reservations? Tony Bourdain meets up with KF Seetoh, food blogger extraordinaire and author of Makansutra, the comprehensive guide to the tiny nation’s insanely dynamic street food culture, who shows him that this is a country that makes our foodies look like nerds. The only cure for the American foodie? Heading to “the fine country” for some laksa, char kway teow and, of course, the slurping of bone marrow and shirt-ruining food coloring through drinking straws.
Now a spokesperson for the Singapore Tourism Board, Bourdain hosted a luncheon at NYC’s Laut, where he spouted some of the best noodle poetry, skewered meat hymns and general praise for chicken I’ve heard in recent memory. Was I surprised? Of course not, Bourdain has been my religion on Facebook since before I could legally drink. What did surprise me was the honest-to-goodness, not-just-cause-they’re-paying-me love he had for everything Singapore gets right. And it’s a lot. Singapore may have the reputation of an authoritarian “nanny state,” with emphasis on hygiene and aesthetic appeal, but, as Tony pointed out, their embedded tradition of hawker stalls cooking raw meat in the open air would simply never fly in New York, home of food poisoning at expensive restaurants.
Bourdain noted especially that for all of Singapore’s superb food and love of eating, there are few celebrity chefs. When someone’s been making chicken rice for 50 years because their father made it for 50 years and grandmother made it for 50 years, there’s really no need for fanfare.
What you’re about to eat is very special not because you snagged reservations using the latest app or because the chef in question has however many stars. It’s because the same family has been making chicken rice the same way for 150 years…probably because they figured out how to do it in a way that makes the food blogger population (largest in the world) come back time and again. No reality show, charity galas or polyester-blend shirts with flame accents necessary. However, as Bourdain acknowledged, “The most annoying celeb chef is still better than a Kardashian.”
Take Bourdain’s travel advice — it’s as good as travel advice comes. If you want a gastrotour you’ll remember for the rest of your life, forgo Provence or Rome and head to Singapore with a plastic-wrapped copy of KF Seetoh’s Makansutra and a burning desire to really expand your palate.