About the Heritage Research Grant

The Heritage Research Grant (HRG) was introduced in September 2015 by the National Heritage Board to fund research projects related to Singapore’s tangible and intangible heritage, archaeology as well as the development and adoption of technologies that support the documentation of Singapore’s heritage.

The HRG aims to encourage local institutes of higher learning, research institutions, and non-governmental organisations to embark on such heritage-related research projects; grow and develop the heritage ecosystem in Singapore; and promote the use and development of technologies for the documentation and preservation of Singapore’s heritage.


Culinary Biographies: Charting Singapore’s History Through Cooking and Consumption

Project Abstract

Culinary Biographies seeks to examine Singapore’s intangible food heritage from a longue durée perspective. Spanning Singapore’s documented 700-year history, this study will trace the pathways through which ingredients, techniques, and regional culinary philosophies converged in Singapore. The project will demonstrate how these conjunctures established crucial precedents for some of Singapore’s most iconic food offerings, mapping out the everyday historical contexts in which the island’s cuisines emerged and evolved. Through food, the study will encourage interest in Singapore’s social history among residents of different generations.

Our investigation seeks to construct the ‘culinary biographies’ of seven food items: fish-head curry, ice kachang, laksa, biryani, Milo dinosaur, sweet potato lemak, and betel quid. We combine a focus on cuisine with the novel concept that all food items have socially embedded ‘lives’ that change over time, revealing the long-term dynamics and historical underpinnings of Singapore’s food heritage. Each biography will trace the diversity of locations where each offering and its predecessors were prepared, the knowledge and practices of their creators and consumers, and each food’s underlying material realities. In doing so, our framework aims to consolidate understandings of how tangible and intangible notions of heritage can be mutually reinforcing.

Project Duration: Oct 2018 – Oct 2020

Research Publications:
1. “A Fresh Look at Fish through a Brief History of Fish Head Curry.” Berita Newsletter (Winter 2019/2020): 5-10 by Geoffrey K. Pakiam

2. ISEAS Perspective 2019/89 “Milo Dinosaur: When Southeast Asia’s Cultural Heritage Meets Nestlé” by Geoffrey K. Pakiam, Gayathrii Nathan and Toffa Abdul Wahed

3. Fiona Lim and Geoffrey Pakiam. “A Bite of History: Betel Chewing in Singapore.” BiblioAsia 16, no. 3 (Oct-Dec 2020): 4-9. 

4. “Culinary Biographies: Charting Singapore’s History through Cooking and Consumption.”  NHB-HRG-024: Final Report by Geoffrey Pakiam and Michael Yeo Chai Ming. 

Public Talks:

1. “HistoriaSG Far From Extinct? A History of the Milo Dinosaur in Singapore.” by Geoffrey K. Pakiam.  (National Museum of Singapore, 14 September 2019)   Transcript of TalkVideo

2. “Chew on This: Discussions and Collaborations – Hospitality and Food Rituals Panel Discussion with Alecia Neo, Baba GT Lye, and Geoffrey Pakiam.” (Asian Civilisations Museum, 27 June 2020)   Video

3. “Towards a Culinary Biography of Fish Head Curry.” by Geoffrey Pakiam. (Yale-NUS College, 11 November 2020)   Video

Principal Investigator:
Dr Geoffrey K. Pakiam, Fellow, ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute

1. Mr Michael Yeo Chai Ming, Department of History, University of Oxford / Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
2. Dr Loh Kah Seng, Independent Scholar (Oct 2018 – 31 Jan 2020)

For more information, please contact:
Dr Geoffrey K. Pakiam: geoffrey_pakiam@iseas.edu.sg