SINGAPORE: Fancy going on a quick culinary trip around Southeast Asia? You don’t have to book a plane ticket – you can just drop by Bishan-Ang Mo Kio Park this weekend.
To kick off Singapore’s chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) this year, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) has organised a festival in the heartlands.
The Experience ASEAN event will be held from Jan 12 to 14 at the park's Ficus Green area. It will be open to the public from 6pm onwards on Friday, and from 11am onwards over the weekend.
“MFA is delighted to host Experience ASEAN, a festival to bring ASEAN closer to Singaporeans. ASEAN is about its people and its rich diversity. It is also about celebrating inclusivity, which is why MFA is organising this event in a heartland setting,” said Jonathan Chen, a representative of the organising committee.
The event will feature workshops and amusement rides; goodie bags for visitors; and a landscape feature spelling out "We Are ASEAN”.
One of the event's highlights are the various food and crafts stalls offering all types of food, including some regional fare.
One section of the festival features stalls by the embassies and high commissions of ASEAN member nations. Of these, the Brunei, Cambodia and Indonesian stalls will be offering freshly made, homecooked food by diplomats and their families. Others, like Laos and Myanmar, will be roping in restaurants serving their country’s cuisine.
Aside from the various embassy stalls, some regional delights can be had from other stalls, such as popular Indonesian and Malaysian banana fritter snacks called pisang keju and goreng pisang with sambal kicap, respectively.
These will be sold at The Original Pisang Keju stall by Singaporean Lynnda Hashim, who’s a self-professed fan of the popular Indonesian cheese-topped banana snack.
“It’s found everywhere in Indonesia – in Jakarta, Bandung … My husband and I used to drop our children off at school then go on day trips to Batam just to get the pisang keju,” she said, with a laugh.
The couple eventually decided to set up their own part-time business selling these banana fritter variants.
While pisang keju can be found in Singapore, Lynnda says the difference is in the cheese and texture. “In Indonesia, it’s more salty, crispy and cruch, and the cheese is different."
“Food brings people together. All of us know the importance of street food culture in ASEAN,” said Vincent Phua of To-Ricos Bak Kut Teh, which will also have a stall at the carnival.
Aside from food, Experience ASEAN also includes performances from Singaporean and regional acts, including homegrown musicians Tay Kewei and The Sam Willows; The HEART Enterprise’s Very Special Choir comprising people with special needs; Filipino and Vietnamese bands; and Indonesian cultural troupe Rumah Budaya Indonesia di Singapura.
The whole event will kick off on Friday evening with music and dance performances from different schools and a performance of the ASEAN theme song Rise by Dick Lee. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and various cabinet ministers will also be present as the opening night’s guests-of-honour.
Social media-savvy visitors will also get a chance to bring home limited edition plushies of Paddie The Rice Grain, a character specially created for the event to represent the staple diet of many in the region.
Visitors need to post on Instagram a photo of themselves at the We Are ASEAN sculpture, with the hashtags #WeAreASEAN and #ASEAN2018, and tag @mfa_sg. They can then show it at the carnival’s redemption counter.