On Oct. 26, the Singapore Student Association held its annual Makan-Mania in the Okenshields Dining Hall. Makan means “to eat” in Malay. That is exactly what this event served as: An opportunity to eat traditional Singapore dishes that celebrated Singaporean culture and food in the Cornell community.
The SSA is a cultural organization here at Cornell University that strives to provide a community of support for those of Singaporean descent and promote Singapore culture on campus. One main way SSA does this is through Makan-Mania. The members of the organization prepare all the food themselves and started the process days before the event. SSA members even bring spices all the way from Singapore to make the food truly authentic.
Food is a large part of the Singaporean identity and one could even argue that it is one of the biggest parts of the Singaporean culture. Singaporean cuisine was even brought to mainstream media when the “Crazy Rich Asians” series highlighted the community’s obsession with food.
The cuisine is unique in its diversity, derived from a large immigrant population. The multi-ethnic cuisine is influenced by dishes from Malaysia, China, India, Indonesia, Thailand and more. The SSA highlighted this uniqueness in Singaporean food by expanding its menu to include a more culturally diverse selection of cuisine than in previous years.
For $7, guests had the opportunity to try all seven dishes on the menu: three entrees, two sweet dishes and two drinks. Of course, I tasted each one.
The process of getting your food is a bit chaotic due to the number of people who attend the event. Every time you pick up an item, they mark it off of your ticket, which you pick up at a table where you verify that you purchased the ticket beforehand. The strategy I used (and the one I think is the best) is to first reserve your seats and then get in line for each dish and bring them back to your table. Make sure to get all the dishes you want, then sit down and enjoy!
The first dish I tried was the nasi lemak, a rice dish of Malay origin served with coconut-infused rice, a crispy fried egg, cucumber, roasted peanuts, chicken rendang and sambal (a chili sauce). The rice was not as fragrant as I expected it to be — there was just a slight hint of coconut. The fried egg was a bit tough and overcooked, and there was very little runny yolk. The chicken was tender and savory and paired well with the mouth-watering sambal, the spiciness of which was balanced by the refreshing cucumbers. The dish was topped with roasted peanuts, which added the perfect finishing touch of a nice crunch to the dish.
The next dish I tried was the bak kut teh, a pork rib dish with Malay and Chinese influence and a favorite from last year’s Makan-Mania. The dish was served with two pork ribs in a pepper-infused pork bone broth. The broth had a hint of spice and sweetness, was very light and even felt refreshing. The pork ribs came clean off the bone, making me wish they gave more than just two ribs per serving.
The last of the savory dishes was the mee siam, a vermicelli noodle dish also of Malay origin. This dish was served as a deconstructed version of the original mee siam. The broth was served in a separate bowl and the noodles, shrimp, half a hard-boiled egg, crispy tofu and a quarter of a lime were served on a plate. The broth is typically supposed to be sour, but this version definitely leaned more toward the sweet and spicy side. Even adding the lime juice did not add much tartness to the broth, but regardless, it was flavorful. After adding all the components to the broth, you got the perfect spoonful of flavor.
After the savory dishes, I decided to move onto the sweeter items. I opted to try the Kaya toast first. Kaya toast is a favorite Singaporean breakfast dish often served at Hawker centers. The Kaya toast consisted of two slices of white toast filled with butter and coconut jam. The bread was a bit tough from being toasted beforehand, but the combination of butter and creamy coconut jam was perfect. The layer of butter was a quarter of an inch thick — the correct amount of butter needed. The coconut jam was sweet and creamy and balanced out the fatty butter. I can definitely see why people would eat this for breakfast every day.
The second sweet dish was the pulut hitam, an Indonesian black glutinous rice porridge dessert topped with coconut milk. The dessert was a dark red and purple color, with more of the consistency of a soup than a porridge; however, the richness of the coconut milk helped balance out the sugariness of the dessert, creating the perfect level of sweetness.
The two drinks served were bandung and the “Michael Jackson.” Bandung is not only a popular drink in Singapore, but also in India and Malaysia. It has a floral and honey flavor from being flavored with rose syrup and was very fragrant. However, the Bandung was also a very vibrant pink color that resembled Pepto-Bismol, and after a while, it began to be a little off-putting. Overall, though, the drink was refreshing and had the right amount of sweetness. On the other hand, the “Michael Jackson,” a popular soymilk drink with grass jelly served during breakfast in both Singapore and Malaysia, was not sweet at all. This was my favorite drink out of the two. The grass jelly was soft and silky, giving the drink a nice texture.
While the food at Makan-Mania was definitely a highlight of the event, the event went beyond just that. Makan-Mania gives the opportunity for Singaporean members of the Cornell community to share what makes up their identity and their unique cultural experiences with others who may not know anything about the country. So, for authentic Singaporean food that you cannot find anywhere else in Ithaca and to be able to experience and learn more about the Singaporean community, join SSA for their annual Makan-Mania next year.