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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

More bellyaching over Diner en Blanc

Some will boycott event, while others plan tongue-in-cheek alternatives.
The Straits Times - August 28, 2012
By: Rebecca Lynne Tan
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More bellyaching over Diner en Blanc Local desserts come in white and black, like soya bean curd (above) and grass jelly. -- ST PHOTOS: JOYCE FANG

THE protest against a "pop-up" open-air dinner on Thursday night is gathering steam.

At least 10 people who have signed up for the inaugural Diner en Blanc are boycotting the event, mainly because they think the organisers are giving short shrift to local food.

At least four alternative dining events are also being planned by various groups of Singaporeans.

Singapore is the first Asian country to host a Diner en Blanc, a fancy, impromptu picnic that originated in Paris 24 years ago and now takes place annually in 20 cities, including New York.

Guests come elegantly dressed in white and must bring their own tables, chairs, food and drink. The exact type of cuisine is not stipulated, but everything from crockery to tablecloths must be in white, and fit the organiser's brief.

The one-night event here will take place near the Singapore River, at a secret location to be revealed on Thursday.

Last week, food blogger Daniel Ang, 34, who was invited by the organisers, was told that no local food could be taken to the picnic. He had earlier written a post suggesting guests take local white-coloured fare like the humble tau huay, or soya bean curd.

Mr Ang said the public relations company - which said it was acting on behalf of the local and French organisers - also told him to remove the post. He removed it last Thursday, two days after it was published. He reinstated it last Friday.

He, along with other bloggers, was later "uninvited" to the picnic by the organisers.

A hullabaloo ensued, with Mr Ang and other Singaporeans questioning if the organisers deemed local fare not good enough for the event. The organiser sent an e-mail message to apologise to Mr Ang on Sunday, and reinvited him to the event. But he told The Straits Times last night that he will not be going.

Publisher Goh Eck Kheng, 57, and his wife Anita Fam, 49, who does volunteer work, said they have decided not to attend the event although they have paid participation fees of $25 each.

Ms Fam said: "We withdrew from the dinner on a matter of principle as many decisions that Diner en Blanc made smacked of poor behaviour and pretentiousness, which we do not subscribe to."

Mr Goh added: "The thing about local food was the last straw. When the event was announced, it sounded fun and spontaneous. Then more and more rules were introduced."

He spent about $475 on three tables and two chairs, as well as a pair of white trousers and white sneakers. They were planning to attend with four friends, who will now also give it a miss.

Still, there are those who will turn up, and who wonder if Singaporeans are making too big a deal about the rules, and are too defensive about local cuisine.

Bank executive Wayne Ang, 25, said: "In essence, the whole idea behind Diner en Blanc is a nice one, and it is just an event. If you are not happy about it, don't go."

Gallery manager Stella Chang, 30, who would have liked to attend but was not shortlisted, said that the purpose of having Diner en Blanc here "is not so that we can share our culture with them, but for them to share their French culture with us".

She added: "If we wanted to have a white picnic at the Padang with our local food, surely we can do that ourselves. Why do we need them?"

Nonetheless, groups have popped up, poking fun at the issue and organising tongue-in-cheek events on the same night.

These range from wearing black and eating dark-coloured hawker fare at home in the dark, to a call for a national Makan Day, featuring any kind of food.

The event here is brought in by Mr Clemen Chiang, 38, a private investor. In a report on May 13, he had said that the event "would not be a night for char kway teow or chicken rice".

Yesterday, when asked to comment on the developments, he said: "The spirit of the event is not to be too prescriptive about the food people bring with them. This is something we have addressed in response to the debate."

The food, he said, ought to complement the occasion.

He is also quoted on the event's website as saying any food that is "tasty, original or traditional" is welcome. This statement was put up at the weekend.

He said he has received only one withdrawal because of the online ruckus, and the event is otherwise experiencing a usual rate of attrition for an event of this kind.

More than 8,000 people registered for the event, and 888 seats are planned.

Shades of Singapore cuisine

WHITE or black, Singapore food has them all.

WHITE DISHES

  • Tau huay (soya bean curd)
  • Chicken rice
  • Kueh tutu (steamed rice flour cake filled with either peanuts or coconut)
  • Soon kueh (dumpling filled with braised turnip or bamboo shoots)
  • Chee cheong fun (rice flour rolls)

DARK-COLOURED FOODS

  • Chin chow (grass jelly)
  • Chye tau kway (fried carrot cake)
  • Char kway teow (fried flat rice noodles)
  • Rojak (a local salad with ingredients such as fried crullers, pineapple and turnip tossed in prawn paste and sprinkled with peanuts)
  • Kong bak (braised pork belly)
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