December 10, 2019
Is it considered rude to ask your local hawkers where they source their food?
This was a question posed by an exchange student on NUSWhispers, an anonymous confessions platform that caters mainly to students from the National University of Singapore (NUS).
The contributor, who claims to be a French girl on overseas exchange in NUS, shared her bad experience at a chicken rice stall on the NUS campus after she tried to ask the lady in charge where the chickens came from.
The contributor explained that she is a very health conscious person, and pays close attention to what she eats, especially the quality of the ingredients.
When eating out, she would frequently enquire about the sourcing of these ingredients, going as far as to question the conditions in which animals were reared.
[Chinese (some) believe in cooling and heaty foods and how important it is to balance the heaty and cooling elements in the body to maintain health. So if a Chinese exchange student asks a French chef if his pheasant, or escargot, or truffles is heaty or cooling, and the French chef gets angry, the Chinese exchange student would be justified to assume that the French chef is unreasonable and unknowledgeable about his own food, and about the "science" of "heaty" and "cooling" foods?]
However, when she ordered chicken rice at the stall in NUS, her questions were not well-received.
She asked the stallholder a number of questions, including whether she knew where the rice and chicken came from, how they were reared, and whether she knew the producer.
In response, the lady allegedly got angry, and began scolding the exchange student in Singlish.
Although the contributor claimed that she could not understand her scolding, she interpreted it as “you are insulting me and my food, and if you are not happy, you can go find elsewhere.”
The exchange student made it clear that she asked the question “very politely and in a friendly way,” but claimed that she did not understand the stallholder’s reaction.
She said that it is normal to want to know where food ingredients are coming from, as food should be considered your body’s fuel.
The contributor explained that in France, it is quite common to ask these questions even in a small and simple family restaurant, and chefs will readily answer these questions, as it shows the chef that you appreciate his food.
["In France. In France. Go back to France lah!"]
She also noted that restaurant owners, especially those in the countryside, directly source their ingredients from the producer.
The contributor pointed out that Singapore is similar to France, as food culture is considered highly important in both countries.
["Similar" is not the same. Duck ala Orange is not the same as Peking Duck or Roast Duck. Even if both are called Roast Duck, a French Roast Duck is not going to be the same as a Chinese Roast Duck. Heck, even Chinese Roast Duck from different stalls or restaurants might be slightly different. But then you expect an amorphous term like "Food Culture" would mean both countries would be exactly the same? Presumptuous git.]
However, she said that unlike France, Singaporeans do not appear to pay a lot of attention to the origin and quality of the primary ingredients.
She claimed that it was paradoxical, given how “good ingredients result in tasty and healthy food.”
[Fine. Then you should be able to tell from the taste. You shouldn't need to ask. If you NEED someone to tell you that the chicken is Free Range, or Organic, or Whatever, but you CANNOT TELL JUST BY THE TASTE, your criteria are just pretentious First-World sham that you adopted to make you feel morally superior. So, do you understand now why the auntie got disgusted with you?]
She then asked Singaporeans whether they agreed or disagreed with her.
Some netizens felt that although the question itself may not be rude, it could be a stretch to expect the people manning hawker stalls to know the origins of individual ingredients.Others pointed out that hawkers in Singapore are more focused on keeping food affordable, so it is unreasonable to expect organic ingredients at such low prices.
One commenter pointed out that since most of Singapore’s food is imported, locals generally do not know or care about our food’s origin, as long as it tastes good.
A fellow French student thought the contributor was being a little naive, since she cannot expect to receive free-range chicken at hawker prices.
He also explained that due to cultural differences, Singaporeans are generally less concerned about food trends that are prevalent in France.
["Naive" is one way to put it. "Culturally Inflexible", insisting on norms she is used to, are another way. Presumptuous is a less generous way of looking at it.]
One lady patiently explained that the chicken rice auntie was simply shell-shocked from the question, given how she likely does not receive these queries on a regular basis.