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52 Weeks of #ExcitingSG: Week 23 with Damian D'Silva

Damian D'Silva
Photo: Gabe Chen Photography

Welcome to Time Out Singapore's 52 Weeks of #ExcitingSG – our commitment to showing you the best of what's going on in the city this week. Every Monday, a guest writer who's "in" with the scene shares a recommendation on what to see, eat, do or buy in the city. This week, we chat with chef and MasterChef Singapore judge, Damian D'Silva of Folklore, a restaurant in Singapore that specialises in heritage food.

What gets you excited about Singapore?
Singaporeans don't really know their food. This sounds more like a negative, but I've always looked at it as a positive. That gets me excited because it gives me a chance to show and teach people a side of Singapore that has been around for such a long time. The culture that we have and the food, these are the things I want to show people – both locals and tourists alike.

What is heritage food to you?

It's food that I grew up eating. It can be Chinese, Eurasian, Peranakan or any ethnicity that's been around in Singapore since we first became known as a city. It goes back a hundred years. And it's not just the individual cuisine of those races but the intermingling of cultures that result in dishes that are very unique. Take, for example, mee siam. The Chinese cook it, the Malays cook it, the Eurasians cook it, the Peranakans cook it and the Indians cook it. But it all tastes different. How did it get that way? It's because everyone puts their own touch on it with flavours they are familiar with.

What more can we do to preserve heritage food in Singapore?

Education. I think that's the most important thing. Singaporeans need to cook more. It's fine when you go out and have dinner – I think that's wonderful – but you should also balance that out with staying at home and cooking. Take your family recipe book, close your eyes and pick a page. Find a recipe that interest you, go to the market, buy the ingredients come back home and make it. Sit down with your family, that's so important today. It makes you appreciate who you are – you're sharing grandma's recipes with the next generation. If we don't cook, these recipes are going to die.

I hate the word authentic. In my culinary vocabulary, the word does not exist. Food should be imperfect. When you cook something for the first time, you get feedback and you keep doing it and get better. Perfection is endless when it comes to food and that's the best thing about it. As long as it comes from the heart, people can tell.

What if I don't have family recipes to try?

It doesn't matter. Reach out to your friends. When you try dishes you like when you visit them, ask for recipes. All you have to do it open your mouth. Usually, people are happy to share.

What are you excited for this week?

To celebrate Folklore's one year anniversary, we're throwing a Balik Kampong Heritage Dinner that features four local chefs and their heritage recipes. Everyone's doing collaborative dinners with overseas guest chefs but I think that local chefs need to work more closely with each other. I'm excited to work with them to create the next wave of local dishes. Why do we have to take laksa and bastardise it? Why can't we create a new dish that's ours? I want local chefs to work together and elevate Singapore's cuisine. I think we're more than capable to do it.

Time Out's Balik Kampong Heritage Dinner is happening this week on July 26 and 27. Tickets are selling fast so get yours here today!