“Cheee, what is that stench?” exclaimed my mother-in-law, wrinkling her nose at the pungent fishy smell emanating from a neighbor’s kitchen. Visiting from Tamil Nadu, my mother-in-law was staying in our apartment in Singapore. Inhaling the scent appreciatively, I sighed, “That is the smell of toasting fermented shrimp paste (belacan in Malay) for making sambal (chili relish). I am so hungry.” Both my mother-in-law and I were born in rural Tamil Nadu. While she spent her whole life in Tamil Nadu, I migrated to Singapore when I was three years old.1 In Singapore, I grew up among mainly Malay and Chinese neighbors and friends. Both my mother-in-law and I are intimately familiar with Tamil foods. However, our varying degrees of exposure to different cultures because of migration or the lack thereof makes our tastes decidedly different. Continuing engagement with Tamil Nadu—visiting my relatives, long-term ethnographic fieldwork in Vaduvur, the...
Cooking Up a Distinctly Singaporean Tamil Cuisine
Indira Arumugam is an anthropologist working in Tamil Nadu, South India, and among the Tamil diaspora in Singapore. She is an assistant professor in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the National University of Singapore. She is working on a forthcoming book titled Visceral Politics: Intimate Imaginaries of Power in South India.
Indira Arumugam; Cooking Up a Distinctly Singaporean Tamil Cuisine. Gastronomica 1 May 2023; 23 (2): 65–70. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/gfc.2023.23.2.65
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