Recently VICE stumbled on a Facebook page in Singapore promoting something called “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry Day.” Details of the event called for “every Singapore citizen or true-blooded natives to COOK a pot of curry… let the aroma-therapy of CURRIES permeate the whole nation!! SHOW them we will not be coerced and DUN COME and bully our Indian Malay, Eurasian, or Peranakan friends! Roar!”
It left us both confused and hungry for some palak paneer. Digging a bit deeper, we discovered that the event is related to the spiciest curry-related kerfuffle in history. Dumbfounded, we contacted Straits Times reporter Tessa Wong, who criticized Curry Day in a blog post, to find out what it was all about and why nearly 60,000 Singaporeans wanted to get involved.
VICE: What’s this Curry Day all about, because it sounds deeeelicious.
Tessa Wong: In the early to middle 2000s, Singapore experienced a significant influx of foreign workers. The government allowed this because it said it was necessary to plug up labor shortages in certain industries, and also so that the economy could remain competitive. Foreigners coming to Singapore to work is nothing new, but this time it happened so rapidly and people felt the squeeze more acutely—in areas like public transport, housing, and jobs. There was a feeling also that foreign workers come in to earn money, but they can leave anytime they feel like or when the going gets tough.
How do you explain the popularity of the campaign?
I think there was some frustration and resentment regarding foreigners [coming into the country], so the campaign really tapped into that groundswell of feeling. It also caught on because it was a simple idea and appealed to Singaporeans on a very basic emotional level. We are a nation of foodies after all, and we take pride in our cuisine as a national symbol. Finally, we’re a small country and quite a wired nation. I think close to 100 percent of us have internet access at home and many are on Facebook [a recent study showed that Singaporeans, on average, spend more time on the social-networking site than any country in the world], so news of the campaign spread fast.
You gotta love a good bowl of massaman.
I do like curry. It’s one of my favorite dishes, actually, but I didn’t like what I saw as xenophobic overtones in the original description of the event. It was too aggressive, which is ironic because it was premised on annoying foreigners rather than getting them to appreciate our culture. The organizers later changed their tune to a more positive, inclusive one, which I appreciated.
What’s the best curry in Singapore?
There are so many different types of curries in Singapore, but the one I like best is the butter curry at Chutney Mary’s on East Coast Road. It’s really tasty!