Forefront: By TSMP takes a break from examining legal issues and discusses a much more serious problem facing Singapore.
An emergency session of the Committee had been convened.
One by one, leaders of Singapore’s business world were ushered into a small room at the back of an unassuming eatery in a run-down neighbourhood. The bank chairman was sweating as he walked in. “At least it’s air conditioned here,” he muttered in relief, taking a glass of perfectly chilled white wine from the urbane ambassador. The Riedel stemware sat somewhat incongruously beside a plate of salted egg fried fish skin.
Gathered in the cramped quarters were the cognoscenti of Singapore: top government men, banking bigwigs, listed company chiefs, the editor of a daily newspaper, three well known restaurateurs, the President of the Law Society and his wife (also a lawyer), a PR guru and a well-known doctor/blogger.
The lawyers were the most vocal:
“Wikileaks and Panama Papers we could handle, but this is much worse. A leak like this could destroy life as we know it in Singapore.”
One SME CEO voiced his agreement, loudly and colourfully, in Hokkien, causing the lady to wince. “There’s no need to bring my mother into it,” she said primly.
The newspaper editor turned to one of the most recognizable business leaders in Singapore. “We were going to develop high quality assets to distract them. Project Odette was to be spearheaded by your family. Lo and behold, when I heard it was a runaway success, I thought the situation was under control.”
The doctor’s soothing bedside manner broke in. “Those missions are still in play – Project Fat Cow and Project Wild Rocket too. They’re all getting good attention. But we didn’t know the inspectors were digging for information on other fronts. They’ve unearthed a second list of our country’s most prized covert assets.”
The editor’s accusing gaze fell on the lawyer-turned-restaurateur. “You were in charge of the decoy operation. We camouflaged it behind a nondescript storefront in Tiong Bahru on purpose, so they would think they had discovered a hidden gem. We even codenamed it “Unlisted Collection” to throw them off the scent.”
But the group knew that they were fighting a losing battle. The leak had already been announced, and the only thing to do was to try to distract them with red herrings. The PR guy kicked into professional high gear.
“We have to decide which assets we absolutely cannot have on the list, and do our best to steer them away. But the final list has to be believable, so we will need to sacrifice some well-known names. That can’t be helped. We’re in damage control mode.”
“Fine,” sighed the head of a luxury watch company. “But, I love my Bak Chor Mee, so Tai Hwa Pork Noodles cannot be on the list. Not even the stall opened by his nephew at Hong Lim food centre. Once they know about that, what’s going to stop them from outing the one at Crawford Lane? The queue is already 45 minutes long without hordes of tourists swarming the place.”
The contributions came thick and fast, like chinchalok released from a bottle after a firm thumping.
“Agreed. And don’t tell them about Damian D’Silva at Timbre+ either. The EDB already takes him all over the world as a Singapore Heritage Food ambassador. Once they find out that he makes off-menu items like Sambal Buah Keluak and Curry Yong Tau Foo, for regulars, we will never be able to get him to cater for us again!”
“We have to keep Chai Tau Kway off the list. That’s where you come in,” said the spin doctor to the editor. “The media must continue describing the dish as “carrot cake” so the AngMoh inspectors will think it’s a pastry.”
“We should also serve up Tian Tian Chicken Rice at Maxwell Food Centre. Anthony Bourdain has already blabbed about it to the world; nothing we can do about that. There’s already a line of Japanese and Korean tourists that snakes out to the car park. But make sure you don’t let the inspectors know that the former cook (the cousin of Tian Tian’s owner) has opened a new stall, Ah Tai Chicken Rice, a few units down. If I cannot get my chicken rice fix, I might have a heart attack.”
A sober note descended on the group.
“Speaking of “Heart Attack”,” broke in the PR professional, “I think we have to talk about this place.”
He gestured around the room where the Committee of Singapore Foodies had gathered. This was a private room in Singapore’s best kept food secret, a seafood restaurant hidden among car repair shops in the Sin Ming area, where ladies sporting Birkin bags have to walk past a junkyard to enter. The restaurant is well known for its grilled beef, where the beef dripping is used to make a fried rice, aptly named “Heart Attack Fried Rice”.
“No. Absolutely not,” the female lawyer was almost shouting. “This place cannot get onto the Michelin Bib Gourmand List for Singapore! It would be the end of civilization as we know it!”
Her husband, eyes suspiciously bright, put a hand on her shoulder. “Stef, you have to let go. You know he’s right. They won’t believe it if this cult restaurant isn’t on the list.”
And so the meeting broke up, with a new, but resigned, resolve. Give the Michelin inspectors the names of some of Singapore’s top hawkers and include plenty of lesser known names, to divert their attention from Singaporeans’ favourite food stalls.
The politicians in the room were relieved. You can bring in thousands of foreign workers who put a strain on public services; foreigners can run our banks and drive up property prices, but if tourists start monopolizing our hawker stalls, the ruling party will get a drubbing in the next election.
Thinking of the freak result of Brexit, they shuddered.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this tongue-in-cheek piece. TSMP congratulates all 34 Singapore eateries who have been awarded the inaugural Bib Gourmand by Michelin for Singapore, and look forward to many of Singapore’s top restaurants making it to Michelin Guide for Singapore. More importantly, we offer up a prayer of thanks for some much-loved hawker stalls that were spared from the list, at least for now.