Q: Are Malaysian and Singaporean food the same?
If you want to fan the usually dormant flame of nationalism among Malaysians and Singaporeans, then bring up the topic of their cuisine. I was in Taipei with a Malaysian friend few years back and when we came across a Singaporean-branded hawker stall selling char kuey teow, bak kut teh and nasi lemak, I kid you not, he went on a verbal tirade that was uncharacteristic of him.
But it's a bit misleading to accuse either cuisine of copying the other. Historically, Malaysia and Singapore share the same cultural heritage; at one point in the 1960’s they were even merged into one nation! Influences in their food come from a multicultural blend of Chinese, Indian, Malay, Thai, Portuguese, and various other ethnic groups. And quite recently, perhaps due to the number of Filipinos who have been working and residing in Singapore for decades, Philippine cuisine has been absorbed in their society as well.
But where exactly is the difference? And more, importantly which is better?
In a conscious effort to save myself from a barrage of hate mails, I'd like to first qualify that I lived in Malaysia for half a decade, therefore, my taste buds lean more towards the tastier and sometimes, even spicier Malaysian version...which isn’t to conclude that Singaporean food is inferior (treading on PC-laced passive aggressiveness here) as quite easily, both cuisines are recognized as the best in the world.
There is one thing though that gives Singapore an edge over Malaysia cuisine-wise, and that’s in the shrewder and savvier way that they market their cuisine to the world. Unlike Malaysia, Singapore puts greater emphasis on their cuisine as an integral part of their tourism campaigns. From London to Mumbai to Hong Kong to Bangkok, a Singaporean restaurant is made prominently available at a tourist hot spot.
But then again, as shown by my friend’s passionate defense of his native cuisine, Malaysians would quickly jump in and argue that Singaporean food does not use the most authentic ingredients, which in this case means those that are more indulgent – Malaysian food generally uses more sugar, fatty oils and greasy spices. It has become a general understanding for both nationalities that Singaporean cuisine is less tasty because they must adhere to healthier standards imposed by their government.
But after all has been gulped and eaten, it really just boils down to personal tastes, healthier preferences, and nationalistic inclinations. But hey, if you have two of the best cuisines in the world, why not try both and choose – that is, if there’s room in your stomach!