I look around Singapore's market hawker stalls, the queues of people the clear indicators of whose serving up the best food; no handbook guides needed in this town, just spot the longest queue.
What’s interesting though is who’s in the queue.
I look at the line of people in the Yong Tau Foo stand and there appear to be Indians, Malays, Chinese and Bangladeshis shuffling slowly closer to an array of stuffed bean curd and the look of satisfaction on those carting away their steaming bowl of soup and favourite additions is palpable.
I glance over at the Nasi Padang stand, its display shelves bursting with vegetables, deep-fried chicken wings, dried fish, sotong and curries with all number of animal parts; tongue, tail, liver, brain, intestines, cartilage, tendons – whew not much left of a cow here – and this is breakfast!
Sorry, but I just can’t get my head/palate around Nasi Padang for breakfast with the olfactory’s sending out negatives to the taste buds.
But there’s a queue a mile long, and it’s not just Muslim Indonesians but all walks of life salivating at the thought of a heavily spicy, rich in coconut milk, full-on palate assault with some Soto Padang (crispy beef in spicy soup) to boot up the papillae.
What strikes me most though in this heroic gathering at the trough and throng of ASEAN mastication is how truly multicultural Singapore is; and how harmoniously it all works – people of all races, religions and stomachs queued up at a stall serving food that has no correlation to their nationalism or patriotism – rather it’s a melting pot of cuisine and humanoids happily fuelling up for a hard day’s work ahead.
Then I spread out my Financial Times, take a sip of teh tarek and the front page headlines send a bolt of disharmony, “Cracks emerge in the EU treaty agreement”, and my mind races to what the Europeans might be having for breakfast, or how orthodox and miserable they are at breakfast.
Suddenly there is this picture of Paris and the snarl from the waiter as clearly you are not French, only to be further abused by the smell of burnt drip-percolated black coffee and a plain baguette or dried-up croissant; a breakfast austerity that you would think born out in Germany. Actually, the Germans will probably be having a plate of French brie and slabs of ham, more than likely Jambon de Paris – the grass is always greener.
The Italians will be elbowing for a spot at their local espresso bar, madly stuffing down a pastry at the same time and glaring disapprovingly at anyone drinking a latte.
The English however, will be celebrating the Berkshire pig with a full-cooked breakfast complete with bacon, sausages, blood pudding, eggs, fried potato, tomatoes and slabs of toast; no austerity here and a breakfast fit for a king, or queen, as it were. Hey, maybe that’s why they don’t fit in the European Union; they enjoy their breakfast too much.
My mind starts racing with the thought of how nationalistic European palates are and their breakfast repertoire and tongues in a straitjacket of patriotism and prejudiced phonetic articulation.
Food says a lot about people and how they view others. Having a broad appreciation for the cuisines and cultures of other countries is beneficially healthy way beyond nutrition and bringing them to the one table and a communal sharing of dishes adds a seasoning of immeasurable profundity.
It makes me wonder if there will ever really be a real Union in Europe, with such partisan palates and nationalistic menus. Maybe that’s the crux of it, there shouldn’t be a union as they are simply too diverse and bloody-minded in their ingredients.
But I can’t help thinking, the Europeans countries that are in the most trouble, Greece, Portugal, Spain, Italy all have the best appetites and wonderful food, moreover so much more friendlier than... other EU members.
Maybe the reality is there is simply no appetite for the euro, or sharing. Perhaps there should be more focus on the stomachs of the union rather than fiscal policy.
The Chinese have a saying, “We do not eat to live – we live to eat.” Now that’s what you call harmony.