There is a new site called Food Republic that’s messing with my mind (so is Eataly's soon-to-open La Birreria, which I always read as birrieria and get excited that NYC's getting a Mexican goat soup restaurant) not because it’s yet one more thing Marcus Samuelsson has been dipping his colorful sneaker-shod toes into, but because Food Republic is the name of Singaporean chain of themed food courts that I love. Really love. A food court with a library motif in a massive mall? I fantasize about making like those Thai girls who brought BonChon to Bangkok and opening a franchise in NYC.
Of course, serious food-lovers and expats, in particular, hate these soulless, overpriced, contemporary adaptations of hawker stalls. This week, CNNgo wound up commenters with a “Singapore’s Top 5 New Hawker Spots” post where three of the five examples were Food Republic branches. I think the title is the biggest problem; it needs a qualifier like modern or indoor.
Me, I like the elaborate, air-conditioned evolution and street carts and worn shophouses. What I find fascinating—and what others might call sad—is that many of these vendors are street stall transplants. For instance, the beef noodles sold at Food Opera, the food court inside the ION Orchard Shopping Mall, aren’t approximations churned out by a no-nothing upstart, they are the fourth iteration of a stall that opened in the 1940s. Then again, the most recent version was relocated to the mall because the owner’s spot was subsumed by a new apartment complex. Progress over preservation, is still the order of the day in much of Asia’s urban centers.
Singapore has always come across as a bit sanitized and un-sentimental, and I don't necessarily mean that pejoratively. I wonder if they have neighborhood booster bloggers like we do in NYC, who mourn the loss of old signage, mom-and-pop businesses and last-century grit?
Photo credit: WiNG via Wikimedia Commons