Curry is one of Singapore’s national dishes, a dish that is equally loved by the island’s British, Chinese, Indian and Malay populations. And it recently became the catalyst for a mass campaign with political overtones in Singapore. A quarrel over the curry aromas wafting from one Singaporean Indian family’s kitchen into the home of a neighbor has bubbled up into Singapore’s spiciest protest movement.
Tens of thousands of people in the south-east Asian city-state cooked or ate curry on August 21 in a show of solidarity with the Indian family and also as a protest against increased immigration. The influx of immigrants has become a sensitive issue in Singapore, where only about two-thirds of the people are citizens. Many Singaporeans hold the view that the city-state’s relatively easy immigration policies are attracting too many foreigners, making it more difficult to find jobs and pushing up prices of homes.
The campaign was ignited after an immigrant family from China complained about the smell of curry emanating from a Singaporean Indian neighbour’s home and pressured their Indian neighbours to stop cooking it.
The family, who had just moved to Singapore from China, could not stand the smell of curry that their Singaporean Indian neighbours would often cook. The Indian family, who were mindful of their neighbour’s aversion, had already taken to closing their doors and windows whenever they cooked the dish, but this was not enough.
Apparently the immigrant family wanted their neighbor to stop cooking curry completely, taking their case to Singapore’s Community Mediation Centre for a ruling on the matter.
Marcellina Giam, the Community Mediation Centre mediator, eventually ruled that the Indian family could only cook curry when the Chinese family was not at home. In return, the Chinese family promised to try the dish.
The judgment, reported in local newspapers, created an instant uproar and incensed Singaporeans, many of whom have eyed a recent flood of mainland Chinese immigrants with some disdain.
It is estimated that almost a million mainland Chinese have arrived in Singapore in recent years, accounting for a fifth of the island’s population. Singapore’s native Chinese population have been particularly upset by the newcomers, many of whom do not come from the provinces of Fujian and Guangdong that provided the original wave of immigrants before the Second World War. Most also do not speak English, which remains Singapore’s national language.
“I am incensed with a People’s Republic of China family telling my fellowmen not to cook curry,” wrote Rosalind Lee, one of hundreds of commencers on the Today newspaper’s website. “Almost all Singaporean homes cook curry. The mediator should tell the PRC family to adjust and adapt to Singapore’s way of life and not tell the locals to adjust to the foreigner’s way of life!” she added.
A Facebook page devoted to the row after reports were published in a local newspaper has drawn tens of thousands of members, many of whom said they were cooking curry on Sunday in a show of solidarity with the Indian family. Originally organized as a fun way to spread the “message of tolerance” in Singapore’s multi-racial culture, the cooking protest on Facebook has gone viral globally, with Reuters and Bloomberg covering the story.
“Because we live in Singapore and Singapore is such a cramped place, neighbours should understand each others’ culture,” said Stanley Wong, a 37-year-old accountant who helped organise the Facebook page.
“The case could create problems with the integration of foreign nationals,” said Florence Leow, a freelance writer in her 40s who also was one of the organisers of the event.
The curry row has Singaporeans breaking out in songs about curry. Here are some of the songs that will probably make you laugh.