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Reflections: crowd saucing

Wee Kek Koon

 

Many Hongkongers think Singaporeans put chilli in everything we eat. We don't. There are many foods that aren't spicy; and even when they are, the condiments used in Singapore (and Malaysia) are more sophisticated and complex than what the average Hongkonger imagines to be just "chilli sauce". Our sauces, pastes and dips contain many ingredients, of which chilli is just one.

Such variety is comparable to that of soy sauce, many types of which are used across cooking styles and cuisines. The predecessors of soy sauce were made from the fermentation of salted foods such as meat, fish and shellfish. The royalty and noblemen of the Zhou dynasty (1046-256BC) had professional saucemakers on their staff, and it became a sign of good breeding to pair one's victuals with the right sauce.

In The Analects, Confucius is recorded as being a finicky eater who, among other annoying habits, "did not eat meat which was not cut properly, nor what was served without its proper sauce". Such sauces were probably quite delicious but they were more than likely expensive, too. In time, commoners discovered that a similar sauce could be made using cheap soya beans, and soy sauce was born.

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