“Fusion cuisine” is generally an ugly term in the culinary world. The sense of cultural appropriation behind it opposes the authenticity that chefs strive for. But “fusion” is happening everywhere. Chefs have their stockpile of references gathered from other places that influence how we think and cook, consciously or not.
We forget that food is a fluid concept. Borrowing ingredients and cooking techniques from other cultures is a long-established and universal part of cooking. The iconic German currywurst is in fact made of ingredients derived from other places. Japanese tempura did not originate from the Japanese, but from Portuguese missionaries who came to Japan in the 16th century. And pizza culture in Sweden bears influences from Turkish, Balkan and Afghan immigrants.
1949: The year currywurst was invented in Germany, using ingredients from British soldiers
Singaporean food is also fusion in nature and is an excellent representation of our country with its riotous blend of Chinese, Malay, Indian, Peranakan and Eurasian cultures. Our cuisine definitely deserves more attention on the world stage. Rempah is a great example of how deceptively complex Singaporean cuisine can be. Raw and pungent ingredients such as onion, chilli, garlic and other aromatics and spices are pounded into a paste with a specific texture, then dried in a wok over a flame until the colour of the paste deepens from its bright hue to burgundy brown. This paste develops further as the onion and garlic caramelise, and the sharper pungent flavours mellow and meld together for a product that is rich in depth and ready to be used as a base for curries, braises and sauces. All humble ingredients, but more than the sum of their parts. The trick is in the layering of flavours into one holistic dish that stands on its own.
I have worked in Sweden (at soon-to-be-closed Michelin- starred restaurant Fäviken), Hong Kong, Tokyo and Berlin, and never realised how much technique there was in Chinese food until I started looking at it from a professional standpoint through Hoon’s Chinese. While I cringe a little to say it, Hoon’s Chinese is very much a fusion concept. We serve dishes that mainly focus on Singaporean Chinese cuisine, but reference the locale of where we are cooking. For example, we may use salted trout for salt fish fried rice, or emulsify a salted-egg sauce in the style of a béarnaise, simply because we lack the same kitchen set-up here.
“Chefs have their stockpile of references gathered from other places”
My husband, who is from northern Italy and a chef himself, runs Hoon’s Chinese with me, and we see it as a way to share our love for Singaporean cuisine with people around the world. It is a pop-up kitchen for the city and the world, as well as for us, in equal measure.
Illustrations by Kouzou Sakai
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This article was originally published in the July 2019 issue of SilverKris magazine