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.
(Instagram = IG, instagrammer = iger)
This month’s featured instagrammers are not individuals, but our local university dining clubs.
Varsity dining clubs have a long history since the 18th century. Oxford University’s Bullingdon Club, arguably the most notorious dining club in the world and not officially recognized by the university, admits only males from aristocratic, wealthy background. Members include kings from England, then Siam (now Thailand), and Denmark; current UK Prime Minister David Cameron, etc. Members were students at Oxford, but because of their family connections, they grew to become powerful men in society.
As you can imagine, their feasts tend to be ostentatious, debauched, and rambunctious. It is widely known that they trash the restaurants but since, they are wealthy, they can afford to pay for damages. (The Riot Club, a fictionalized film on Bullingdon Club, is worth watching to understand the English culture and how a rational person may commit insane acts in a group.)
Knowing the history behind varsity dining clubs, we are curious to check out how NTU Deli Aprecio Club and SMU Gourmet Club operate. We asked them similar questions. NTUDAC’s replies are coded in blue, while SMUGC’s in pink.
What is the purpose of the CCA? And what is the inspiration behind setting up the club? Why do you think NUS has no such CCA? What is the main difference between NTUDAC and SMUGC?
NTUDAC: NTU DAC was set up in 2003 as an interest club to bring NTU foodies (from undergrads to postgrads, matriculated students to alumnus) together. The club is registered and recognized by the university as an official CCA.
From 2003 – 2014, the club focuses on 3 main areas, “Gathering-over-food”, “Group buys” and the annual “food-fair (Foodelicious)”. Over the years, due to changes in the characteristics of NTU students and school policies, the club has evolved into one that focuses mainly on Education on F&B and also social media influencing.
SMUGC and NTUDAC are similar in terms of our club’s objective; however, the main difference would be that we focus more on food education for our activities. Both clubs will be working together for the annual Ultimate Food Trail Challenge this year for the second time running.
SMUGC: SMUGC’s purpose is to create a platform for members to form long lasting and genuine friendships through the effortless bonding that takes place over great meals.
The inspiration behind the foundation of the club was the idea that part of being a global citizen is being appreciative of global cuisines. The club was thus founded, hoping to develop this love and appreciation for global cuisine in SMU students while simultaneously facilitating great companionship.
We are the largest official club among the special interest cluster with a membership population that currently exceeds 800 students.
We believe that it is just a matter of time before NUS has a similar club again. They used to have one which unfortunately ceased operations a few years ago. However, Singapore is a food crazy city and it just takes one or two passionate individuals to start the process for the formation of a gourmet club there again.
SMUGC and NTUDAC were originally founded on similar ideas of increasing awareness among members of global cuisine. However, our club’s purpose has changed. While we still seek to continually offer new food experiences from different cultures to our members, we now focus primarily on facilitating the development of friendships over food. Therefore, instead of a strong focus on understanding the cuisine itself, we utilize it as a delicious platform to bridge people from different backgrounds. Furthermore, we have also branched out into food skills training. More than just being able to appreciate good food and ingredients, we now seek to also offer workshops to members that teach cooking skills.
I understand that the club gathers at restaurants and cafes, and reviews them. How often do you hold gatherings? How do you choose a venue for a gathering? Does the club meet at hawker centres and kopitiams? (If not, why not?) Since you’re students, does price play a factor in selecting the venue? (On a side note, do you think the club is elitist since eating is an expensive hobby and not every student has financial means to join the gatherings?)
NTUDAC: Generally we hold our gatherings on alternate months. Our event director will shortlist a few cafes/restaurants according to the pre-planned theme. The final venue will be selected through voting by the Main Committee.
Our hawker center and kopitiam gatherings are usually ad hoc, with our Publicity team asking members informally (through a common Whatsapp Group chat).
In general, our club receives funding from the school for each event, which we use to subsidize for our members. As our gathering may not be just about eating, a student who may not be able to afford an event may join other less expensive or free events, like our coffee appreciation class.
SMUGC: We hold gatherings between 6-8 times during each school term as well as host extra events such as our signature “Delicieux” event during the holidays.
We choose venues based on a range of criteria, including but not exclusive to: prior experience at venue, price, external reviews and ambience.
Price plays a factor in our selection of restaurants. We attempt to source for and negotiate the best deals with restaurants, cafes, workshops and partners. Our executive committee does extensive research and contacts numerous businesses before we decide on each event. This is done to ensure that the lowest prices possible are offered to our members as we attempt to make the club open to all. Furthermore, we focus on offering a range of events which are priced differently while still offering equally exceptional experiences. This allows us to ensure that members who have different budgets all can attend our events.
Because we negotiate the best deals with restaurants for our members, and because members can eat street food on their own, we do not meet at hawker centres or kopitiams. Furthermore, we have found that these locations are not conducive for long conversations, which defeats the aims of our club’s events.
When I went around in the past, I met several prominent food bloggers from SMU Gourmet Club. NTUDAC is set up later, and since I very seldom attend tastings these days, I don’t know if your club has produced any—for the lack of a better term—“social media influencer.” (I really dislike the term.) Does your club have any prominent food bloggers or instagrammers currently? If so, who are they and what are they known for? If not, why do you think your club hasn’t produced any?
NTUDAC: Currently, our club has only 3 instagrammers who are actively involved in the F&B scene – @shermdabest, @blancheeze, and @cake.cass. Three of them officially started out as “influencers” after a F&B startup invited them to be ambassadors of the café hopping membership club.
NTUDAC only started to have their social media managed from external (non-NTU) engagement this academic year and this may be the reason for the lack of prominent influencers from the club.
There were several prominent food bloggers from your club but they gradually stopped blogging after they graduated. Why do you think they stopped? Are there any new “social media influencers” currently in the club? If there is none, why do you think it is the case?
SMUGC: The primary reason they stopped is due to external commitments from their respective careers. Many of our members share food and drink experiences via personal social media platforms. We all collaborate and share our own personal food journeys with each other, each playing a small part in influencing everyone else.
Tertiary students often ask me this question during interviews, and I’m going to throw it back to you. What is the greatest difference of food preferences between the old and young generations? How does this “generation food gap” occur?
NTUDAC: Generally the Millennial babies are more open to exotic cuisines rather than food experiences that are more rooted to local cultures, and this phenomenon may be attributed to the fast changing landscape in the F&B industry in Singapore over the past 15 years. International brands and concepts from other societies have been brought into our country, attracting novelty seekers of the generation. They are highly influenced by trends and celebrity reviews. This generation seems to be attracted mainly to “hit-and-go” concepts.
Generation X and Y of Singapore had experienced the transitional phase of the food culture in Singapore, and while they still enjoy trying out cuisines and experiences that are novel, they are also attracted to food from their memory. The two generations now are the main bulk of working class in Singapore; they would also be exposed to (and would be able to afford) higher tiered gastronomic experiences. They are more influenced by reviews from family and friends through social media as well. These generations are more careful when it comes to celebrity reviews.
The baby boomers in general are generally habitual in nature and would generally frequent establishments close to their hearts. However, it also depends on individual family culture and how “updated and open” or internet savvy these seniors are.
SMUGC: We believe that there really isn’t a big gap in food preferences of different generations. Our club believes that great food is great food and that more and more, you can see fantastic eateries that appeal to both old and young diners alike as exposure levels equalize.
The one possible cause for the establishment of the term “generation food gap” could be a difference in exposure. Some members of the older generation might not have been as exposed to ingredients or cooking methods that younger people have. Similarly to the way that any Singaporean might find a foreign cuisine such as American Creole food less appealing due to a lack of exposure, we believe that the generation gap isn’t really a difference in preference but just a difference in exposure and that this difference is quickly shrinking.
What is the most lauded eatery by your club members during gatherings?
NTUDAC: It is definitely “Gurhka Palace Restaurant”. They serve authentic Nepalese food and our members were amazed by the Nepalese food culture presented personally by the owner herself.
SMUGC: Our members enjoy a diverse range of food and our executive committee tries our best to accommodate this. We try numerous different eateries for each unique cuisine. Therefore, we do not have one particular most lauded establishment.
Thanks, NTUDAC and SMUGC, for answering these questions during their exam period! Will check out Gurhka Palace Restaurant soon. And hopefully, NUS will set up a dining club soon.
Written by A. Nathanael Ho, NTUDAC, and SMUGC.