Rebecca Catching

Migratory Feasts: Voices from the Kitchens of Singapore

I was originally brought on to help edit this project but pretty soon found myself knee-deep in it—as if wading in a pool of molasses—and totally powerless to escape. Food has always been an obsession of mine and I am eternally grateful to Anurag Viswanath for inviting me along on this ride as her editor and co-author. It’s been one of the most rewarding projects of my career—bar none. Here’s an intro to the book:

Photos by Camilla Businger

Growing up in Denpasar Indonesia, Elly Evyana watched her mother literally grind out meals every day in a sweltering kitchen, armed with a mortar and pestle, churning out spice pastes and coconut milk from scratch. For her own family, she chose to “shake the domestic tiger off her back,” unshackling herself from the stove to pursue a career in architecture. Yet she hasn’t lost her love of food, spending time on a homemade sambal recipe—her go-to kitchen hack—a special sauce to make a simple meal sing. Meanwhile restauranteur Daisy Seah shares with us her deeply-etched memories of the symphony of sounds found in the lanes of Singapore—the siren songs of the satay sellers, the hawkers calling out “rojak!” and “beehoon!” sounds of a bygone era which she has tried to capture in her restaurant True Blue — a living museum of Peranakan food. But for others like Champaka, a Sri-Lankan refugee, food equals survival. Subsisting on little more than rice, salt, and mashed plantains for years as her family moved from one end of Sri-Lanka to another in search of food and safety — she now appreciates each morsel as a gift of the gods. Moving beyond the concept of food as a sensory indulgence, Migratory Feasts looks at the intersection of food, gender, society and politics using Singapore as a point of orbit in the global culinary conversation.

Photos by Camilla Businger

With liberal dashes of Indian, Malay, Hakka, Cantonese and Indonesian cuisines, Singapore is home to a unique cosmopolitanism—one commonly found in New York and London—but which is surprisingly rare in Asia. Using Singapore as a springboard, Migratory Feasts takes a deep dive into the food traditions of Asia and beyond—following foodways and mapping out the points where food traditions intersect and diverge. Written from a multicultural, decentered and distinctly female vantage point, Migratory Feasts seeks to give voice to the female chefs of Singapore, chronicling the journeys of 16 Singapore migrants from as nearby Indonesia and Malaysia and as far away as Algeria, Lithuania, Guadeloupe, and Peru. Their stories reveal not only their native traditions and foodways, but also the connections between food, identity, and home, tracing the adaptation of their palates and transformations of their beliefs. Through these personal narratives, the reader learns of the impact of colonialism on global eating habits, the challenges of putting a meal together in times of scarcity, the “feminization of food”—and how women are navigating new relationships with their kitchens which serve not just the needs of their families but their own personal and creative goals. Migratory Feasts uses a mix of memoir and narrative non-fiction, to explore history, post-colonialism, gender, and culinary philosophy—pairing stunning portraiture and mouth-watering food descriptions—to make for a nourishing and “moreish” read.