NLB video series explores Singapore's past by recreating historical dishes

5 days ago 37

SINGAPORE - Recreating a dish from a recipe 60 years ago is no easy task.

First, the units of measurement - such as kati and tahil - used before the 1970s make no sense to modern ears.

Then, some important steps were so common back then that they are omitted in the text.

A simple instruction to shape the noodles using a "sieve" can lead to hours of trial and error, with the modern sieve used to drain water completely ill-equipped for the task.

Finally, one must keep in mind the difference between old and new ingredients, which can affect the taste of the dish.

A little historical imagination - and plenty of food knowledge - is required to decide on the mix of all-purpose flour and pastry flour to match the lower-protein wheat flour of the past, creating noodles of a softer consistency similar to the ones in the 1960s.

This dynamic process of food recreation is explored in the National Library Board's (NLB) new video series, From Book To Cook, which was released on YouTube in April and May.

In five episodes, the series explores different facets of Singapore's history through different dishes, from what a ketchup sausage pasta recipe in a home economics textbook in the 1990s reveals about gender stereotypes, to how spices were adapted by British colonial families in the 1920s to make a "rendang" to be eaten with spaghetti.

In each video, lasting about 20 minutes, librarian-host Paddy Ong, 34, meets a chef or food researcher to try to reproduce a historic dish, while talking about the social and economic issues surrounding a now extinct dish.

It is a novel take on the trove of food-related archival materials and cookbooks in NLB's collection, part of its efforts to share lesser-known stories with a new audience that might require more of a hook to appreciate the vast diversity of resources at the library's - and the public's - disposal.

Mr Christopher Tan, 50, a writer and culinary instructor who was a guest chef invited to the show, led a recreation of a milk noodle dish taken from a reci...

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