What Will The Michelin Guide Mean for Singapore's Legendary Hawker Scene?
Photo courtesy of Singapore Tourism Board
Singapore has announced that it will be the newest destination to have a Michelin guide. The city-state’s version of the celebrated restaurant review publication will be rolling off the presses in the second half of 2016. It will be the 26th city to earn coverage from Michelin, but the first in Southeast Asia.
Singapore has long been a food-lover’s destination. You will find haute cuisine, creative fusion restaurants and chefs obsessed with molecular gastronomy here. But, if you ask, most people will send you to so-called hawker centers (basically food courts featuring non-chain street food vendors) or to mom-and-pop eateries that only have two or three items on the menu.
Michelin's long overdue trip to Singapore
The response to the Michelin announcement has been surprisingly mixed. Some have the expected excitement: “who wouldn’t want a Michelin guide in their city?” Singapore is already considered a great place to eat by locals and tourists, so getting this kind of coverage from a respected international source seems like a logical “next step” in the evolution of the eating scene.
And getting a Michelin guide can be good for tourism. The Singapore Tourism Board (along with the Robert Parker Wine Advocate) will both be involved in the publication. So there is a practical aspect to the Michelin guide. It’s not simply a matter of pride that your city has a guide; it can actually increase the foodie tourist traffic.
The street food controversy
The biggest question that most people have, however, is whether or not the guide will cover the scene in the hawker centers. Many locals are of the opinion that this is where the best food in Singapore is found, and leaving it out would mean that the guide would not provide a true picture of the eating scene.
At the same time, it would only take a few good reviews to drive up the prices and make the lines that much longer if these humble venues are included in the guide. Singapore has the reputation as an expensive city. Hawker centers have that hard-to-find dining dynamic that is highly prized by diners: great food at low prices.
This won’t be an issue if Michelin sticks to fine dining restaurants. However, if the publisher decides that a guide to Singapore’s eating scene would not be complete without street food, hawker centers could be highlighted.
Should Michelin stick to its niche in Singapore?
Price isn’t the only worry. Michelin has been criticized in the past for not understanding the local food scene and culture when making its ratings decisions. Singapore-based chef Ivan Brehm, who has already worked in three-star kitchens in the UK, told CNN that he hopes the guide’s inspectors stay away from the street food: "Michelin should, in my opinion, stay clear from the coffee shop and hawker stall culture. These run deep in the makeup of Singaporean society and any unnecessary polemic could undermine the guide's overall relevance."
Singapore is one of the best food destinations in Southeast Asia regardless of its status as Michelin city. The hope is that the guide will stay in its niche and leave the vibrant street food scene as it is. But everyone will have to wait and see what is included when the guide comes out later next year.
More by Josh Lew
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