Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Let's Turn the Tables...of Food

I'm turning the tables on myself today. Because I'm always talking about the weird food I find in Asia, I decided that I needed to take a step back and look at my own culture.

I know I've already blogged about how Singaporeans find American food boring, but I wanted to dig a lil' deeper. There must be food that they find downright disgusting. I mean, even I can't stomach liver and onions or stuffed mushrooms.

I wanted to know their take on what American foods just sound downright nasty.

So I asked one of the Singaporean girls at work, who just came back from a trip to the States, to tell me what American foods sound gross to her.

Some of her responses surprised me and some didn't. Here's four of them:

1) Peanut butter and celery.

For my Singaporean friend, the thought of pairing the sweet taste of peanut butter and a vegetable just grossed her out. She also couldn't understand peanut butter and apples, peanut butter and chocolate and well, just about anything paired with peanut butter.

"You Americans put peanut butter on everything! It's everywhere! You even have peanut butter milkshakes!"

Oh my dear Singaporean friend, that's because it's delicious. Peanut butter makes anything instantly better.

2) Biscuits and Gravy

This dish literally took me 15 minutes to describe to her. She just couldn't wrap her head around it. To her, a biscuit is a cookie. Looking back, I probably should have described it as a plain scone, but oh well. I think the kicker for her was gravy as a topping. In Singapore, gravy is usually mixed in with the rest of the dish and it's also usually spicy or sweet. Definitely not creamy, milky and full of sausage chunks. Gravy is definitely not served on mashed potatoes on this part of the world. I don't even think they have mashed potatoes here. Hmmm. Never thought about that.

3) Cold pizza for breakfast

Now I realize that this could just be a weird college kid thing. Or even a weird Megan thing. But I just love cold pizza for breakfast. I like it better than hot pizza fresh out of the oven. Call me crazy, but I know at least 25 other people who do too.

My Singaporean friend does not. She turned up her nose as far as she could when I let this revelation slip out. She also does not understand my pizza and ranch dressing addiction. She and the other ladies were pretty confused the day I dipped my microwave pizza into a pool of ranch. It was kind of funny at the time. I thought one of them was going to have a heart attack.

4) Chips as a side dish.

When I bring my lunch to work, I often times will bring a sandwich and a bag of chips (American style chips, not British chips, which are really French fries.) The girls found this very confusing. In Singapore, chips are strictly a snack food item. They're not typically served as a side dish for lunch. It's a snack and that's it. They thought I was such a weirdo for confusing my food categories.

That's all she told me for now. She's going to think up more later (probably as I bring stuff in that confuses her.)

I must admit, I loved this conversation. It was so interesting to see how our culture is viewed from different eyes. If you're not an American and find one of our foods or customs weird, please send me a comment. I'd love to hear it.

Just please be nice about it. Some of you have been a little irritable lately. :)


TC said...
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Dawn said...

I have to say as a born and bred Singaporean, who are you hanging out with Megan? :)

Mashed potatoes are not mashed potatoes without gravy. Have had them that way since I was a kid. You can even buy the dehydrated stuff and reconstutite it (eww). Also chips as a side dish - did that all the time too.

As for cold pizza, I think that when you had pizza at home, your parents looked askance if you ate it cold :) I totally do it now but I prefer it hot.

And ok, I didn't get the peanut butter thing till I got to the US. Now I love the fact they have SQUEEZE tubes so you can just squeeze it right onto the apple. So good.

TC said...
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Brad F. said...

I agree that peanut butter makes anything better. In fact I was just eating peanut butter on an apple the other night. Funny story though, is that my wife said she'd had peanut butter on bread and jelly on bread but never peanut butter and jelly together. What the hell? So I introduced it to her. I also introduced her to the concept of eating peanut butter and banana sandwiches and peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches. She didn't realize what she was missing out on!

I love biscuits and gravy. My grandmother makes it from scratch. I miss that a lot, and ya, you probably should've said "scone". It took me a while to figure out what was going on when people around me were calling crackers "biscuits". I guess that's another word for that previous post.

I love cold pizza in the morning. Is that picture a pizza from here in Singapore? It actually looks good. Oh, and I have a fascination with pizza and ranch, or hot wings and ranch. I was just telling my wife about that the other day.

You really want to confuse your colleagues and freak them out? Try this:

Peanut butter, jelly, and plain potato chip sandwich.

I wonder if they'd get that one?

@TC Prairie oysters? Is that like Rocky Mountain Oysters? Either way I think I know what it is, and I wouldn't eat it.

Mac and cheese is classic man. I guess you didn't have the Velveeta Mac and Cheese. There are some that really suck.

I don't like sloppy jo or spam either, though I eat both if it's free (like at a relatives house or something and that's what they were making for lunch).


Ah, and I don't like Xiaxue, but that should have been obvious.

Brad F. said...

Oh and Megan! I noticed you added a left sidebar but you didn't adjust the margins, so it's all squashed together.

Go to THIS link for a tutorial on how to fix that. Scroll down to item number 8.

Megan said...

Hey Brad, thanks so much for letting me know. I was half asleep when I was editing HTML again. I must have just skipped the last two steps. Ha ha. Whoopsie.

Also, I have tried the PB & J with potato chips! I love it. In fact, I prefer most homemade sandwiches to have potato chips on it. I just love the added crunch.

Oh and TC, I'm convinced Chick-fil-A is food of the gods. I haven't gotten a chicken filet sandwich anywhere since I've had one there. Simply to die for.

Anonymous said...

How could you possibly say that gravy isn't eaten with mashed potatoes in Singapore? It's the complete opposite and for this you have to thank KFC. Their mashed potatoes with gravy are a major comfort food for many Singaporeans. We now live in the UK and shockingly, KFC here does not serve mashed potatoes!

ursie said...
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Anonymous said...

potato chips as a sidedish? no wonder you guys hv one of the highest rates of obesity worldwide.. don't get me wrong, chips w/ sandwiches are awesome, but calling that a sidedish.. well, frankly that's a little sad.

& btw, mashed potatoes ALWAYS come w/ gravy. they're way too dry not to have some sort of gravy or sauce (in china i had it w/ ketchup, it was better than nthg). hvn't you been to popeye's & kfc? & yes, i'm sure non-american food outlets here in sg provide some form of gravy w/ their mashed potatoes. & if they don't, then they're not fit to offer them on the menu.


I miss having celery and peanut butter! Last time I had some was back when I lived in the US... in Malaysia celery is not that common in superstores and markets.

Brad Farless said...

@Anonymous: What's worse? To have a few chips with a sandwich, or to gorge yourself on them as a snack unto themself?

Well, you can't really blame her for thinking there's no gravy on potatoes. It isn't actually included in any local cuisine. But, ya, they do sell it at the "western" restaurants. I never really thought about it either though.

As for the biscuits and gravy, that gravy is a whole 'nother thing that I really doubt they have around here, since it's not even common in all parts of the US.

-ben said...

Pizza slices are too small in Singapore. Back in US, we regularly fold the slices at the edges and eat them as some kind of mutant sandwich. Here, you might as well be doing origami :-P

Horror foods?

Anything by Taco Hell.

Brad Farless said...

Ya, a good slice of pizza from New York City has to be folded.

But, Ben, are you kidding? I've had a craving for Taco Bell for months... Next time I'm in the Philippines I'm going to hit one up. My wife said they have them there!

warren said...

I found you when looking for "biscuits and gravy in singapore" - so other than some of your friends thinking they're weird - do you know of any places to go for them?


Anonymous said...

u want ur biscuits? get them at popeyes... mashed potatoes in singapore are ALWAYS served with gravy... ALWAYS... regardless of whether its a "westernised" food outlet or not... u just need to venture out more and not stick to ur "safe" food haven... Singapores a food heaven and u guys noe it... name a culture where their food is not served in singapore? anyhoos havent been in singapore in ages but i think theres a taco bell at the food court at the top floor of lidos... good slice of pizza? sarpinos or canadian pizza...

Brad Farless said...

Singapore's not a food heaven. It tries, but it gets a lot of what it tries wrong when it comes to food from other countries. Also, what they do sell that is or claims to be imported is 4 times what it should cost, even given import costs.

If you think Canadian pizza is good, you've really missed the boat. Do yourself a favor. Go to New York City and have a slice of pizza at Mariella's. Or even just order from Papa John's.

Anonymous said...

well ud have to argue with the rest of d world tht agrees abt singapore being a food haven... the prices r reasonable based on the market... If u go to any part of the globe, if they r serving non local fares, the prices r ALWAYS jacked up... For example, ive lived in NEW YORK, australia and currently new zealand and a plate of hawker style MEE GORENG is $13... THINK ABOUT THAT!!! as for pizzas... even the americans dont do it right... they serve it on bread yet i dont deny it works... True italian pizzas are not what uve come to love... Im sorry... All im saying is, canadian pizza does it right w d blend of sauce and all... believe me, ive tried papa johns and mariellas... altho i did love the latter, the former isnt really all that... *snaps*

Brad Farless said...

First of all, I wouldn't have to argue with the rest of the world that Singapore is a food "heaven" as you put it in your previous comment. I doubt I'd have to argue that point with anyone but Singaporeans. I never knew Singapore existed before I had cause to move to Southeast Asia, and most people I know think Singapore is a village in China somewhere and ask me why I want to live with communists. Singapore may have a little influence in Asia, but deflate your ego a bit. I promise my comment isn't a cyber assault against Singapore's ego.

You're not going to pay 13 bucks for mee goreng in NYC unless you're retarded. Don't go overboard trying to prove a point by making wild accusations.

All pizza is made on a variant of bread called pizza dough, which is what is used in the United States. Also, the pizzas that are served in the United States by Italian immigrants are likely a lot more genuine than what's served here in Singapore. And the Canadian pizza brand tastes like crap. It's fast food garbage that doesn't hold a candle to what you can get in New York City. It's not as bad as Pizza Hut, but it's certainly nowhere near as good as Papa John's, and it's nothing compared to NYC pizzerias.

Also, food in the US, regardless of it's national origin, doesn't have inflated prices like here in Singapore. What you pay for 1 medium pizza in Singapore can get you two larges, a side of bread sticks and a 2 liter of coke in the US.

And don't you mean it isn't all that *boomz*?

Anonymous said...

A) You'd have to be a retard to have to say that you do not know about singapore before that... I pity you... Although 2 out of 10 Americans i speak to says Singapore is a village somewhere in china, the majority knows about singapore... in fact alot of people even think Malaysia is IN Singapore... Yes! Believe it... When u have travelled and spokedn to enough people AROUND the world... then come back here... Oh and did u know, Singapore is the main trade centre of asia for THE WEST,EUROPE,MIDDLE EAST AND OCEANIA trades... If u dont... Seriously? Im done trying to get someone who is close minded and thinks the world of his own country to explore and be enriched with other cultures of the world... I stand by everything I have said and ur points arent even logical enough for me to argue on especially with someone who obviously knows nuts about A) General WORLD Knowledge and B)Food... Eating the garbage that you do, DO NOT try to argue with me on food... Im not here to argue with a daft person with a shallow knowledge...

To Megs : Sorry for the argument going on here but trust me, being a different culture opens up ur mind... soak in it and live it... u only got 3 years in Singapore, it is not so bad... I havent even had christmas with my family in 10 years... =)

Brad Farless said...

All I'm getting from you is:

"I'm Singaporean and I think my country is best and I'm going to say whatever I can to make it seem that way regardless of what anyone else says."

That's about it. I've lived in 6 countries on 3 different continents. I do know what I'm talking about. Singapore's food is good overall, and there are certainly gems here, but it's not all that. It's not a food heaven. It's certainly not that affordable, except with hawker food. And it's certainly not getting foreign recipes quite right. That's it. Plain and simple. You can argue all day that Singapore shits gold and make up fake statistics but I'm just telling you like it is. No one that I know even knew Singapore existed before I told them about it and pointed it out on a map or they Googled it. That's nothing to be ashamed of. Singapore may be an interesting point here in Asia, but that doesn't mean it holds a great significance to the rest of the world, any more than Qatar or Kuwait does, except insomuch that US bases are there. Also, Singapore may be one important trading point in Asia, but I think China does more world trade BY FAR. And I would hazard to guess that Japan is the next biggest commercial entity, or that those two might be the other way around. Singapore has a lot going for it, but mostly just as a hub for business, because the crime rate is low here.

And what does not having Christmas with family have to do with anything? Being busy with work doesn't mean you're all multicultural or world traveled or enlightened. Most members of the US military rarely see their families on holidays. That doesn't mean they're all philosophers with enlightened perspectives on the world that can speak with some air of finality. Not that I'm insulting them, because I spent time in the Army as well. Just making a point.

Phailieur. said...

I think Brad is quite right. We Singaporeans have been terribly brainwashed by propaganda (will I get jailed for saying this?) and it's been drilled into our heads since young that Singapore's a world-class city with one of the top HDI rankings and world-class facilities and world-class everything, and it always seems like as if Singapore's better than the rest of the world and everyone looks up to us. It's plain brainwashing.

I've been stuck here quite a lot and haven't really been to many countries, but going to beautiful Japan made me realise how terrible the people are here. In Japan, especially in the towns, the people are always polite and incredibly humble and it's always clean everywhere not because there are cleaners, but because the people love the place they live in and pick up litter they see on the streets, or clean up after themselves i they've dropped/spilled something. I don't know anything about the food issue except that a lot of food here is saturated with MSG (but most of the food here's great too) but I must say that we Singaporeans need to realise that we ought to question what we've been told and what's been drilled into our heads about the country, and get out of the well we've been stuck in for so long and open our eyes to the rest of the world.

Then again, regarding the issue about Americans not knowing a thing about Singapore / thinking Singapore is in China etc, it could show that Singapore's a terribly insignificant country, yes, but it might also just be a reflection of their ignorance. I mean, there are quite a lot of prejudiced views on Asians etc, you can't refute that. With prejudice comes ignorance, right? Like, "why should I care about them?" Like in Singapore a lot of people call the Indian construction workers "banglas". But they're not all from Bangladesh! Some are from Sri Lanka, some are from other parts of India... And a lot of us have quite biased views about "banglas" too. Some really are nice/educated, but most of us don't give them a chance to show that. So see, prejudice and ignorance is everywhere.

I don't know what this has to do with the post, but yeah.

Brad Farless said...


You make some great points. A lot of it could just be geographical ignorance. I'm not above saying there are a lot of complete morons in the US. I'm also not above saying that there are a lot of incredibly racist people in the US.

Singapore does have great infrastructure as far as rail and internet goes. It's got great mobile infrastructure as well. I love wireless@sg. There's nothing like it anywhere else I've lived. Singapore also has some well ranked universities.

But, perhaps you said it best yourself. Singapore pushes itself as a world class entity on par with nations of much larger size and influence. I think the country is great in a lot of ways but I don't think it holds a candle to England, Germany, Australia or the US... YET. That may well change in time. In fact it likely will change with the amount of growth Singapore has in business. And it's definitely sitting near the top in Asia already, as I think it's probably a cozier place to live than say China, even though China does more business as a country.

I think what I'm saying here is that while Singapore is good, people should be reasonable about it. Singaporeans seem to go nuts about even the slightest hint that maybe their country isn't the best in the world.

Hm. I might blog about this ... sometime later. After I leave Singapore.

Karen said...

(I'm Phailieur. I just changed my stupid nickname to Karen.)

Maybe because of what's been drilled into our minds we've become fiercely and defensively proud of our country. When Beyonce came here for the F1 Rocks Singapore concert she said that "Singaporeans don't speak English". I typed quite an angry blog post about that hahaha. But after thinking about it, most of us speak horrendous English so she wasn't really wrong.

Also, I've witnessed countless racial attacks on Asians online from racist American/Aussie jerks. As a Singaporean, I somehow feel a little... threatened when people think our country is just like any other in Southeast Asia. No offence to our "neighbours" but Msia and Indonesia aren't very developed, their economies aren't as stable and neither are their governments, and their HDI rankings are much lower than Singapore's, so I hate it when people assume our country is like theirs.
I feel like I'm going to get jailed anytime soon.

Maybe the government's just trying to keep so many of us from migrating (: If our population growth rates go any lower we won't be able to sustain our developmental status and economy because of the smaller working force. (Learnt that in Social Studies!)

By the way, I'm also the one who recently commented on your blog about a bird shitting on me and Stomp being a waste of time. Hahaha. I happened to find these blogs of ang mohs living in Singapore and I'm always very eager to know about what they think.

Brad Farless said...

Well, since you said it first...

I grew up speaking English and I still have to ask people to repeat themselves 3 or 4 times on occasion before I can figure out what they're trying to say. I've met Singaporeans that speak perfect English. Better than mine for one guy. Mostly though, I have to listen and then decipher what I hear. It's gotten easier after being here for a while, but I remember when I first came to Singapore I honestly didn't realize that people were speaking English to me. My wife (then fiance) had to translate for me. Singaporeans seem to be proud of their Singlish, but it's really not cool, at all. I always felt that if a Singaporean can't speak English worth crap, they should speak their first language, whether that be Tamil, Mandarin, etc., instead. I hear people speaking bad English to each other all the time and while I understand that practice will help them improve, they're not trying to improve. They all speak Singlish together and are happy with it.

It seems to me that the people that know about Singapore to start with have a pretty good idea that it's not the same as Malaysia or Indonesia and after hearing it's a city-state are likely to equate it with Hong Kong.

With the way Singapore's influx of foreigners is going, combined with the increase in housing costs and the decrease in jobs that pay well, I have a feeling birth rates of locals will continue to fall as having children will be less affordable. Foreign workers and PRs are likely to stick around for years or maybe even decades but most will probably return home and use Singapore's money in their own countries where it's worth more. That way they can live more comfortably in their retirement.

Karen said...

About the foreigners thing, I think that's why Singapore will fall. (Like Venice! Oh no, I'm obsessed with Social Studies) But I don't think anyone's going to start having more children. It's not practical in a city like this with high standards of living, both parents working etc. I hate noisy babies by the way. I have to resist going up to them to punch them.

Oh I love Singlish. I always try to improve my English because I know that no matter what I want to be really good at the language, but I love speaking in Singlish. It doesn't necessarily mean crap English. You can speak grammatically correct Singlish, like "Don't look at me like that leh, I feel so pai seh". It doesn't have to be "Don't so like that one leh, I very pai seh", you know? I think one thing about Singaporeans that makes them hard to understand is their laziness in pronunciation and the fact that they (or my friends and I) speak very fast. Usually I shorten my words when I pronounce them such that "nevermind" becomes "nehmine" and "very" becomes "veh". I usually have a lot to say and not enough time to say it all! I can't stand it when people speak slowly because I already know what they mean anyway. Is it just a Singaporean thing? If you can say it in a few syllables, why waste your time speaking in proper sentences?

Brad Farless said...

I think it must be a cultural difference then. I agree that sometimes I know what someone is going to say before they finish saying it, but it's polite to listen. It shows you care about the person and what they want to say. By the same token, if someone starts speaking to you in clipped words, not pronouncing things right, and otherwise indicating that they want to spend as little time talking to you as possible (your shortened words) then it feels insulting. It indicates that we're not worth your time and so you don't want to have a good conversation with us. Not to mention it bothers us because we then have to 'decode' what you've said and try to make sense of it before we can figure it out. When someone speaks proper English there are patterns that we can pick up and that's how we follow the conversation. When everything has to be interpreted, even though it's spoken in semi-English, then the conversation becomes a taxing chore that's no longer pleasant, and because you've done that to us, we don't appreciate it as much, if at all.

Megan said...

In general, I find Singlish a really cool part of the Singaporean culture. Much like American slang, it's a unifying element and is a unique part of their culture that is completely their own, something hard to find in such a young country.

With that being said, I hate when it's spoken to me. I'm very obviously a native English speaker and not from this country. So when a Singaporean starts speaking to me in Singlish, I get very anxious and annoyed. I have no idea what "pai seh" means. I do not understand the need for lehs and lahs at the end of every sentence. As a journalism major, the sentence structure even drives me up a wall. I even go out of my way to avoid having conversations with Singaporeans that I know will speak to me in only Singlish. A conversation shouldn't be that much work. If the other person can understand me, then why should I have to sit and interpret what they are saying? They obviously know what I'm saying so speak to me the same way, please. It'd be like a French person speaking to me in French and then me only responding in English even though he or she doesn't know the language. It'd be rude in this instance, so why is it ok to speak Singlish to an English speaker?

I don't have a problem with Singlish when it's used between Singaporeans. I do, however, feel it's rude and inconsiderate when it's spoken to a native English speaker.

I went to high school with a guy from Singapore (small world, huh?) and I remember that he spoke so fast that I often just smiled and nodded at most things he said. I rarely ever knew what he was saying. Why such a hurry? If you speak so fast, then isn't it taking the same amount of time to have to repeat what you just said?

Brad Farless said...

Well said Megan.

Karen said...

Brad: I like speaking fast because I know what I want to get across before I'm done saying it and I can't stand wasting time. I'm an incredibly impatient person, haha! I guess it does seem like we can't be bothered to speak to that person sometimes... Thanks, I as a fast-speaking Singaporean will take note of that when I speak to a stranger/non-Singaporean (:

Haha, I understand completely. I think it's not very nice when a Singaporean constantly speaks in his/her comfortable Singlish way to someone who doesn't speak Singlish, because you're expecting the other person to decipher what you're saying. It's just not polite. I do it all the time to my China friend though, because we're very close, and she understands what I say even though she doesn't understand when others speak in Singlish for some weird reason.

Oh by the way, let me explain. "Pai seh" is Hokkien and it means something like "embarrassing" or "humiliating", sometimes with an element of apology or shyness too. Like "Pai seh, I was late because I overslept" or "Take picture with the President? Don't want lah, I'm too pai seh".

About the sentence structure, most of the time Singlish follows the Chinese sentence structure. Like, "别这样啦" literally translates into "Don't like that lah" and that's how it's said in Singlish a lot, instead of "Don't be like that!"

The lahs, lehs and whatever just... add more feeling into the sentence, in my opinion. Like, "Don't do this lah!" and "Don't talk with your mouth full lah!" expresses a tinge of annoyance, impatience and frustration as compared to "Don't do this!" or "Don't talk with your mouth full!"

I think the reason Singaporeans are proud of their Singlish is because it is expressive, more expressive and emotive than English (just like Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French and just about any other language, because English's actually quite an expressionless, emotionless language as compared to the rest, no offence of course) and it's something only a true Singaporean or someone who's been living here long enough will be able to understand and speak properly. To us "natives", it's like instinct, like second nature; we know how to speak it perfectly without being taught, and we know when it's wrong. To someone who "tries", or someone who hasn't lived here long enough, it's impossible to grasp entirely.

Of course, I agree that when speaking to non-Singaporeans we should just use proper English. It's basic respect and courtesy.
(I find it quite stressful to make sure I'm pronouncing all my words properly and speak in proper English sometimes though)