Interview

Singapore Food Blog of the Month: Chef-Blogger Hairil Sukaime’s Eat Food Live Food

Every month, we feature a Singapore food blog or instagram: (1) to cultivate goodwill and camaraderie among the online community; (2) to encourage more people to blog and instagram about food; and (3) to empower bloggers and instagrammers through an insight and understanding to their lives.  

hairil-sukaime-eat-food-live-food Photo credit: Eat Food Live Food

When Hairil Sukaime first applied to attend Food Socialikes Connect (FSC), the inaugural food social media conference in Singapore under his blog, Eat Food Live Food, we the organizers were surprised. “You mean, there is another halal food blog, besides The Halal Food Blog???”

We have studied Hairil’s blog and found that he is doing something different with it. It doesn’t do many food reviews, and it doesn’t provide many recipes. He writes long, detailed, scholarly treatises about food; such writing implies he’s writing for the sake of his personal enjoyment and knowledge, not for popularity. We rebels at RERG always have an independent, speakeasy streak, and Eat Food Live Food fits right in with our spirit. You can sit with us, Hairil, you’re alright.

We met at FSC and I know that you’re a culinary school graduate. Do you follow any chef-bloggers? And do you find a difference in food writing between chef-bloggers and bloggers with little culinary background?

Chef-bloggers are a pretty rare breed, seeing that most of their waking hours are spent in kitchens – something I wholly understand and have experienced myself. However, I do follow a number of chef-writers on Instagram; with Anthony Bourdain being one of my favourites (despite the fact that he doesn’t really cook professionally anymore). His witty nature, gonzo-journalism and (often acerbic) style of writing is something that I can resonate with.

In the local context; though not technically a chef, I find Daniel Goh’s blog thought-provoking. He highlights grave issues in terms of the reality of the in and outs of our local food and local food culture; particularly those pertaining to hawkers, hawker centres, and its future. Cookbook author Christopher Tan is also someone I highly regard when it comes to talking and writing about food. His passion about food is clearly evident whenever I read his columns in the papers, and especially when he is part of any food-themed discussion – most notably during sessions at the annual Singapore Writers Festival. I like to think of him as a cross between Harold McGee and Alton Brown.

I tend to find that writers who have had experience in the food and beverage industry usually evoke a more sentimental and emotional relationship with food as well as in their writing. Such individuals have the advantage of being on both sides of the story; as someone from within the industry, as well as that of being a patron visiting various eating establishments. Without risking the ire of writers with little or no culinary background; I think some of them do pen good content, but they just seem to lack a certain je ne sais quoi in their writing. While I’m not asking local food bloggers to enrol themselves in culinary schools, I believe that some basic foundation on food studies and techniques (among other related things) would probably be a good thing to have on one’s resume – especially for food bloggers and food writers.

Your blog is a little different from others. You don’t write food reviews nor recipes. Why don’t you write reviews and recipes? What do you write on? And has the material limited the things you can write?

Food writing encompasses more than just reviews and recipes, and I find myself talking and writing about food-related subjects other than the aforementioned two branches of the food writing tree. I enjoy reading almost any food-related publication – books, blogs, newspaper articles, etc. – and I prefer to write on subjects and/or issues that are in the current scrutiny of the local population; especially those concerning local food and local food culture. There is certainly no lack of material when it comes to food writing, and I think local bloggers and writers should look beyond reviews, recipes, and listicles.

I have quite a number of drafts with bullet-point notes of certain food-related topics on my blog’s dashboard, but I often find myself experiencing writers’ block; which explains the unfortunate lack of posts on my blog. Additionally, I can be somewhat of a perfectionist when it comes to writing (grammar, vocabulary, tenses, punctuation, etc.), and I’ll find myself mulling and going through each and every line of a draft before I finally decide to publish my blog post.

With regards to food reviews, pretty much everybody would agree that they are very subjective. I am of the opinion that, regardless of one’s background and/or training, neither an individual nor entity can accurately pen down the ultimate review of a dish or eatery. Additionally, with the likes of social media, Yelp, and HungryGoWhere, food reviews can be penned by almost anyone with an opinion, a smartphone, and an internet connection. Unfortunately, this – along with the prevalence of (often) anonymous star-ratings of eateries – has somewhat “cheapened” the whole food reviewing branch of food writing.

As for recipes, they are similarly subjective as well: Give ten cooks the exact same ingredients for fried rice, and you’re very likely to get ten plates of varying tastes and flavours. Also, being an on-the-fly kind of cook, I’m still working on penning down exact measurements for recipes. Maybe – just maybe – I may decide to feature a recipe or two on my blog. No promises though!

Singapore is a small market for Muslim food bloggers. The Halal Food Blog seems to dominate the scene. Do you feel like you have no opportunity to break through?

I may get a good amount of heat for saying this; but I’d prefer to be known as a food blogger/writer who happens to be a Muslim, as opposed to a Muslim food blogger/writer. I believe there are differences in those two “titles”, but I’ll leave that discussion for another platform.

Being good friends with Adam and the gang behind The Halal Food Blog, we find ourselves updating each other about new food options and food news every now and then. Furthermore, it only makes sense to be allies with people who are the go-to names for halal food writing/blogging in Singapore.

I didn’t start blogging to become famous, get noticed and/or garner the most followers and/or likes; and that should never be the reason why one embarks on his or her writing journey. I wanted a place to note down my thoughts and ideas with regards to food; hence I started writing about a range of food-related topics on my blog. The blog essentially serves as a platform for me to write about food and food-related topics.

Besides me, you’re the only blogger that I know who reads academic books on Singapore food scene. I read for my academic interest and research. Why do you read?

When I’m not eating food, I usually find myself reading books or articles about food (talk about being a glutton, huh?). Since food is something I can easily relate to, I naturally find myself reading a myriad of food-related books; from food science to food memoirs. Much like you, I also read for research purposes that can lend a solid supporting hand on topics in some of the (past and upcoming) posts on my blog.

Be it a book, academic/scientific essay, or an article in the papers; I read because I believe that a day gone without learning something is a day wasted. Regardless of how trivial or irrelevant it may initially seem, we should never close our minds to constantly gaining any sort of knowledge.

What is your favorite eatery (a) in Singapore, and (b) overseas?

I’m not sure whether if it’s in the home-cook in me or something else, but I rarely find myself dining out. However on special occasions, my family members and I would unanimously choose to dine at Sinaran Seafood at Teck Whye Lane. For more than two decades, this coffee shop on the outskirts of Choa Chu Kang residential estate has consistently served good halal zhi char fare for a pretty reasonable price. The place sees a sizeable crowd during dinner hours and on weekends, not to mention on public holidays.

Additionally, I do enjoy dining and people-watching at our beloved, but extremely under-appreciated and often-overlooked hawker centres. While others may bemoan the lack of air-conditioning and questionable hygiene standards (among other trivial “first-world problems”), hawker centres reflect the true Singapore dining culture. The common saying “food brings people together” is clearly illustrated in hawker centres when you see people from all walks of life literally coming together under one roof, tucking into their chosen plate or bowl filled with unpretentiousness and no-frills goodness. Hawker centres are one of the very few places in Singapore that can provide a multi-sensory experience; the smell of food, the constant clanging of metal-on-metal courtesy of exuberant cooks honing their craft with spatulas and woks, and the colourful (sometimes neon-lit) signboards of the stalls.

While abroad, I enjoy dining where the locals do; such as street food carts and hole-in-the-wall eateries. There’s so much that one can learn from eating at a local spot; the people, the country’s culinary and cultural history, and the food (of course). Additionally, it just doesn’t make sense to eat at an upscale fine dining French restaurant while on holiday in Thailand, for example. Hit the streets, explore the sights, take in the sounds, and eat great food! I guess it goes without saying that fancy-schmancy restaurants aren’t really my cup of tea.

***

Putting Sinaran Seafood on my “To Go” list. Thanks, Hairil!

Written by  and Hairil Sukaime.

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