Kampong French A Tale of Doubtful Authenticity

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Jean Duruz


Abstract: This paper refers to accounts of previous journeys on the ‘laksa trail’ in search of Peranakan cuisine and its sensory nuances. These journeys have produced narratives of migration and diaspora, shaped by the re-location of dishes and ingredients from local villages, coffee houses and home kitchens of Malaysia and Singapore to cafés and restaurants of Adelaide, Australia and Toronto, Canada. On this occasion, however, the argument comes full circle, focusing on nostalgic tastes, smells and textures that resonate in Singapore itself. The intention is to trouble meanings of authenticity in terms of specific communities’ dishes, ingredients and culinary rituals, and to frame the argument through the rich body of scholarship emerging since Fernando Ortiz’s seminal discussion of transculturation in Cuban Counterpoint (1995). Kampong French, established in the lush gardens of Singapore’s Open Farm Community, provides a ‘pop-up’ example of transculturation within a specific culinary contact zone (Pratt 1996; Farrer 2015)­—a sense of the plasticity of dishes, ingredients and meanings. It may be tempting to dismiss these re-inventions of traditional dishes and ingredients as opportunistic seizure of the ‘exotic’ or simply as expressions of creative entrepreneurialism, or even as ‘inauthentic’ adventuring on behalf of the palates of privileged middle-class consumers. Unravelling the political implications of these experiments in nomadism, however, suggests there is more to learn about meanings of authenticity in historically ‘mixed’ communities—about authenticity’s less obvious refractions of movement, ethnicity, identity and place and, in particular, about the complex ways these meanings are ingested in twenty-first century multi-culinary global cities.

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