In Singapore, one of the phrases you'll here most frequently from your friends is "have you eaten" or "makan sudah" in Bahasa Melayu. This exemplifies the value of eating out as a mode of socialising and community building in this nation. The cacophony of sounds -- from a smattering of Hokkien at the noodle soup hawker stall to chattering in Tamil and Urdu at the Indian halal corner dishing out colourful rojak -- adds to the "makan" or eating out culture which is central to the Singaporean ethos. This nation is passionate about its food and takes eating out as seriously as its running culture (thanks to splendid national park connectors and its beautiful green spaces - all boons for joggers).
A few weeks ago, Singaporean statesman Lee Kuan Yew passed away, and an entire nation plunged into mourning. On March 29, the afternoon of the state funeral, I jotted down a few lines on social media to capture the sentiment of the moment:
"Watching the state funeral Service of Mr. Lee on Channel 8 (Chinese Language Station) in my packed local food court with kopitiam Aunties and Uncles whom I have known over years is a solemn occasion. Never felt so much a part of the community before. It is an inflection point and locus of convergence for the national ethos. A misty eyed rainy afternoon indeed. Farewell Mr. Lee..."
"A full food court in standing ovation ... national spirit is alive and kicking in this often chided concrete city where commerce takes precedence. Today is a different #Singapore."
As the last line emotes, the food court plays a huge role as a common public space that is also intimate at the same time. This multi-racial society mingles and connects over Tiger Beer and KopiO in its food courts. In a busy city, where cooking the evening meal is an occasional chore, the Food Court plays a critical social lever in everyday lived experience.
My recommendations: Makansutra by the Bay, near the City Centre packages the food court in a very glam manner as does Kopitiam at the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands. These swanky places, though, lack the soul of the Adam Road Hawker Centre (try the epic mutton soup) or the Novena Food Court.
All sorts of characters can be observed in the average food, often the epicentre of festivals as well as of every mundane evening. The senses are overwhelmed with the aroma of chicken rice and the steam boats, the hustle and bustle and the hum of different voices and languages contained in a single space.
The food court is a Singaporean institution bearing all the qualities of the nation -- hygienic, cost conscious, systematic and multicultural.