- Singapore Press Holdings
Ask any Singaporean or Malaysian and they’ll tell you how much they love their kaya toast with half-boiled eggs and a cup of black kopi (coffee).
This traditional breakfast is no stranger to the locals, but for a foreigner who has never stepped foot on the sunny island, this meal of runny undercooked eggs and ultra-dark coffee may come as a surprise.
An article posted on National Geographic’s website on April 5 describes kaya as “sticky, slime-coloured coconut custard jam” and half-boiled eggs as “two eggs so undercooked that their whites retained the clarity of newly dead fish eyes”.
Titled “A toast to Singapore’s traditional breakfast”, the article written by the editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler magazine, George W. Stone, also includes an unusual description of kopi as having “an oleaginous blackness that rejected the advances of condensed milk”.
But it was not until a few days had passed that the article started to raise eyebrows for its unique choice of words, thanks to a screenshot posted by Twitter user Ruby Thiagarajan on April 10.
Posting with the handle @RubyThiagarajan, the user criticised Stone’s article, calling it an example of how not to write about foreign food.
The article goes on to be quite complimentary about Singaporean breakfasts (thanks I guess) but this should be taught as an example for how not to write about foreign food pic.twitter.com/4dxAruWcTa
— Ruby Thiagarajan (@RubyThiagarajan) April 10, 2019
And it seems many Twitter users agreed.
A number of commenters expressed their displeasure at the unusual description, and complained that it was exaggerated and unnecessary.
One netizen even mocked Stone’s style of writing by saying that cauliflower rice looks like “cooked lice, plucked fresh off my child’s infested head.”
It’s just eggs and toast and coffee >:( So we like our breakfasts a little different from them. Why is it necessary at all to describe it like that?? Do we tell them cauliflower rice looks like “cooked lice, plucked fresh off my child’s infested head”?
— Safyre (@snobadi_draws) April 11, 2019
Another netizen who was not impressed said it was shocking that the “othering and problematic” article could be published.
Is she trying to talk about kaya toast? I feel embarrassed for her & kinda shocked that something like this was published. This is so Othering and problematic.
— Babette Radclyffe-Thomas (@chicstranger) April 11, 2019
However, one particular netizen pointed out that the screenshot was provided out of context and urged others to read the entire article before jumping in to attack Stone.
It clearly plays on how bad the author saw their breakfast initially, but also how it started something grand for them, and the discovery of the traditional breakfast. Something you cannot see if you do not read the article, and only the intro lines 🙁
— DoubleZwei (Commissions Soon) 👺 (@ZweiDouble) April 11, 2019
The netizen points out that while article’s opening had bad shock value, it was merely describing the writer’s first impression of the breakfast. In subsequent paragraphs, Stone says he eventually felt a “passion” for the traditional breakfast, even admitting that he developed an obsession for kaya.
Stone also writes about his experiences trying kaya toast from various eateries in both Singapore and Malaysia, including the famous Ya Kun Kaya Toast and Toh Soon Cafe in Penang.
“My passion for kaya – a food item my father found so inscrutable he put it on ice cream – really has nothing to do with jam. And everything to do with my love for and fascination with Singapore and Singaporeans,” he writes.
Calling his three-year experience with this traditional breakfast “the kaya quest”, Stone ends his article with a list of his top three places to have a traditional Singapore breakfast – Tong Ah Eating House along Keong Saik Road, Heap Seng Leong on North Bridge Road, and Keng Wah Sung in Geylang.
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