Mod Sin & The World Expo

Posted on April 28, 2010 by Aun

A few months ago, I was approached by a friend with a really interesting request. Would I be interested in shooting photographs of local food to be showcased as part of an interactive exhibition in the Singapore Pavilion at this year’s World Expo in Shanghai? Of course I said yes. Repeatedly. The 2010 World Expo, which opens in just a few days, is expected to draw some 70 million visitors. To have my pictures seen by even a small percentage of these people, supposedly coming from all corners of the globe, would be pretty darned awesome.

Plus, I had an pretty immediate idea for the kind of photographs that I wanted to shoot. Or rather, I knew how I wanted the food to be portrayed. I didn’t want to shoot the dishes that were selected — obviously iconic Singaporean foods — in their traditional forms. I wanted to shoot them as re-imagined and re-invented by one of our most talented chefs. I wanted, through the photographs, to portray both our heritage and our innovativeness. In some ways, for me, this project wasn’t just about food but about our culture and where we’re headed.

To help pull off the food I’d be shooting, I called upon a chef whose culinary concepts and continued exploration of our cuisine have always impressed me. To my great satisfaction, Willin Low, chef-owner of Wild Rocket, accepted my challenge and became my collaborator on this project.

I gave Willin the list of dishes that needed to be photographed and thus re-imagined. Some we discussed. For others, Willin knew exactly what he wanted to do, having already served playful and modernized riffs of these dishes at his highly-respected restaurant for years.

In all, we shot 11 fabulous modern versions of some classic Singaporean dishes. I’m showing just seven of these here — to see the rest, I guess you’ll have to go to Shanghai. I’m also running Willin’s commentary on the dishes so you can get a sense of what he was thinking when he came up with these dishes.

“Roti John
I love Roti John and one of the things I always associate roti john with is the radioactive looking colour of the chilli and tomato sauce. This sauce forms the base of my dish and the cubed French toast is a tribute to fantastic cubed French Toast dessert at Iggy’s, one of Singapore’s very best restaurants.

“Nasi Lemak
I’ve been eating nasi lemak a great deal in recent months and this dish is actually on Wild Rocket’s menu right now. I decided to cook the rice in coconut milk until it has an almost porridge-like consistency and then blend it to make it into a sauce. And since it is a sauce I decided to make the sambal dry (fried spcies with peanuts and ikan bilis). What’s usually wet is now served dry and vice-versa. Although this doesn’t look like nasi lemak, the flavours are unmistakable.”

“Laksa
No ingredient on its own can represent Singapore laksa as it requires a whole long list of ingredients (“laksa” actually means hundreds of thousands in Sanskrit), except for the laksa leaf. We almost never use this herb other than in laksa which is why when you smell this herb you will immediately think of laksa. I decided to make a pesto out of this and serve it with pasta. To this day this dish remains our signature dish even though it is controversial – you either love it or hate it!

“Fish Head Curry
I was tempted to use the cheek of the fish head in this dish as it is highly prized, but what is also highly prized but less talked about is the fish eye. So I decided to let the eye represent the whole head. I also wanted to feature the other usual accompanying ingredients such as the eggplants (which are baked with mashed fish cheek curry paste), the okra (which are more ornamental in my dish) and the poppadum (which I always eat when I have fish head curry).

“Kaya Toast with Eggs
I eliminated the soft boiled eggs in this dish as I thought there were enough eggs in the kaya panna cotta! I have always eaten kaya sandwiches with cheddar cheese as a child and all my friends thought I was crazy. But it really is not that crazy if you think about the savouriness of the butter that is added to kaya toast; it is used to compliment and counter the sweetness of the jam. In a tribute to my kaya and cheese sandwiches, this panna cotta has salted cream cheese and is drizzled with gula Melaka.

“Chili Crab
Chili Crab is many Singaporean’s favourite dish and, at least according to some, our national dish. It is something I have always wanted to serve at my restaurant but I doubt our guests would be keen on getting their hands too dirty so we decided to do it with deep-fried soft shell crab – this way you can eat the whole crustacean and keep your hands clean.”

“Bak Kut Teh
I wanted to turn this traditional consommé on its head without changing a single ingredient. Since Chef Christophe Megel first planted the idea in my head of making a jello out of a soup, I have been thinking about doing something like this non-stop.”

This whole project was fun from start to finish. I hope I have the time to make it to Shanghai sometime in the next six months to actually visit the Singapore Pavilion and see the pictures on display.

On a rather tangential note, Chef Willin Low is in New York right now, representing Singapore at the Lucky Rice Festival. He’s serving up some awesome Mod Sin snacks at the Grand Feast on Saturday, 1 May. He’ll also be doing a demo the following day. If you’re free, please go support him. He’s a great guy and a fabulous chef.

About Aun Koh

Aun has always loved food and travel, passions passed down to him from his parents. This foundation, plus a background in media, pushed him to start Chubby Hubby in 2005. He loves that this site allows him to write about the things he adores--food, style, travel, his wife and his bouncing baby boy!

What Others Are Saying

  1. Gretchen April 28, 2010 at 9:56 am

    Love the pix but not sure I would ever be comfortable being served a dish in which the main component was a fish eyeball.

  2. Fred Lin April 28, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    give me a shout on twitter (winterain) or something if you do pop by Shanghai! ;)

  3. Dave April 28, 2010 at 4:08 pm

    I have never seen my favourite dishes served so beautifully.
    It is a change though to see Nasi Lemak updated. I like it.
    I never got to eat at Mt Emily as my friend always insists on taking to his favourite eateries in Singapore. Nest time.
    Good luck in Shanghai..

  4. Weng April 28, 2010 at 4:20 pm

    I’m going to the Shanghai World Expo on 1st and 2nd May. Wonder if I will make to the Singapore Pavilion, which in my opinion falls short compared to other stunning pavilions from other nations. Willin is a dear friend of many years, still am not sure it’s wise to showcase Singapore food to the world in this manner. However having not seen the project in context, that’s all I will comment. Personally I feel Singapore is strong enough in its present state to showcase and that this might give a wrong impression.

  5. Jacqui April 28, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    Although they are nice photos, I really think that they are not really representative of Singapore food. Just a small gem of an idea is singaporean food.

  6. Pete April 29, 2010 at 12:45 pm

    Pity the visitors to the Singapore pavilion who’re not already familiar with our hawker fare!

  7. jt April 29, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    I like the way Wilin plays with his Food, nice modern interpretation to (traditional) singaporean food!! i should be up in Shanghai in may, Would drop by to see the singaporean pavillion, and dream of eating my home favs!

  8. Chubby Hubby April 29, 2010 at 3:38 pm

    I should say that the normal traditional versions of the dishes will still be showcased. Also, there’s a cafe in the Pavilion serving traditional fare. :-)

  9. Paul Cypert April 29, 2010 at 8:49 pm

    That’s really awesome. I brought the post to the attention of some of the faculty at SHATEC. Hoping they use it to spark a discussion about where one can head as a modern Singaporean chef and how one can think about plating / presentation. Really great photos.

    Paul

  10. Window On The Prairie April 30, 2010 at 2:40 am

    Lovely photos.

  11. Rain April 30, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Aun, I will be in Shanghai on May 27 and can’t wait to see the entire line-up of photos. From what is posted here, they are certainly beautiful. The Singapore pavilion itself will be a representation of modern Singapore, so I do not see why the cuisine cannot follow suit. Modern, but still with the same soul, I think that is what is most important.

  12. eunice May 3, 2010 at 12:31 am

    amazing shots, wonder how they’ll be received by the western audience, maybe these are what can be introduced in london!

  13. Weng May 8, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    Well, I am back from the Shanghai World EXPO. The Singapore pavilion was a total mess. Did not see your photos, where was the display. All the Singapore pavilion had was phony trampolines that try to fit into the equally phony Urban Symphony theme. Maybe the photos were hidden behind the Far East property adverts that line the pavilion walls or hidden behind osim’s massage chairs. Even the video presentation that followed the Fast East Ad malfunction and one of 3 images got stuck in the 3 video screen. The souviner fan they gave out broke in 2 minutes, the modern building with bamboo trellis was cut and past. the rest of the display were mostly words and cardboard cut outs from a school project. It was disgraceful. Perhaps your photos were on display in the refreshment stand that sold Singapore foods like Hainanese chicken rice on the pivilion’s outside. And on opening day , the water fountain display didn’t work or wasn’t turned on. It was truely a wasted opportunity in such a great world EXPO, where countries that bothered really impressed. Urban Symphony, no, ,more like Urban So Phony. Advise to Singaporeans going to the World Expo, waste not your time visiting the SingaporePavilion, spend time at the other pavilions and the chinese theme pavilions that truely impressed.

  14. dee June 7, 2010 at 11:41 am

    the photos are amazing, the mod-sin dishes are definately creative

    but to showcase this at the world expo is not representative of singapore food at its best. it will only serve to confuse foreigners the next time they visit singapore looking for “authentic local food”

  15. Mel June 27, 2010 at 5:19 am

    sometimes i love it that the advice to “not play with your food” is not heeded. in this case it has yielded stunning results!! beautiful.

  16. zmm September 23, 2010 at 5:19 pm

    These are lovely pohtos..

  17. Pingback: Commenting on Food « Steam in Flavours

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