Amateur bloggers spice up Singapore's food scene
With a big digital camera slung around his neck, Leslie Tay could easily have been mistaken for a professional photographer as he took shots of sizzling grilled pork chops on a table.
But he's a medical doctor, and Tay was simply checking out another restaurant for his food blog http://ieatishootipost.sg/, one of Singapore's most popular personal websites for foodies.
Tay said his blog, launched in 2006 with the aim of listing the best places to find local delights, averages around 10,000 hits daily.
"Basically the blog is all about the best food in Singapore," Tay, a slim 41-year-old father of two, told AFP over lunch at a restaurant in the Joo Chiat district famous for its local cafes and food stalls.
Singapore is fast gaining a reputation for luxury western restaurants, thanks to growing affluence and a large expatriate community, not to mention 10 million tourists visiting the island each year.
Two European restaurants in Singapore have made it to the S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants list and high-end dining is getting a further boost from two new casino resorts that opened this year.
But most Singaporeans still swear by the city-state's unique blend of Chinese, Indian, Malay and Indonesian cuisine, and many of them rely on amateur critics like Tay to tell them where they can find the best dishes.
Known as "hawker" food after peddlers who went around Singapore when it was still a poor city of immigrants, it includes chicken rice, chilli crab, prawn noodles and satay - bite-size, charcoal-barbecued meat in bamboo skewers.
Bloggers like Tay have emerged as gurus on what's good and bad, what's in and out, as food-obsessed Singaporeans follow their illustrated reviews and head for the deepest corners of the island to find a particular stall.
The bloggers compete for public attention alongside more established commercial websites like http://www.makansutra.com and the mainstream media.
With just five million people and, by one count, more than 10,000 eateries and food stalls, Singapore is spoilt for choice.
A good review from a blogger like Tay can result in a sudden surge in customers. The doctor says he has had food sellers paying surprise visits to his medical clinic just to thank him personally for good reviews.
"Consumers are drawn to reviews by bloggers because they feel that they can trust other consumers more than brands and their advertisements," said Daphne Kasriel, a consumer affairs editor with market research firm Euromonitor International.
"The whole point about the Internet is that it empowers people and they feel they have a voice," said Kasriel.
Aun Koh, another Singaporean blogger who attracts monthly hits of over three million to his blog http://www.chubbyhubby.net/blog/, concurs.
"They weren't doing it because some editor was paying them a dollar a word. It was a pure grassroots movement that was just so marvellous to discover," said Koh.
"And it's just grown and grown tremendously. The beauty of the Internet is that it has helped this disparate community come together and allowed each person to find his or her own voice, by starting his or her own blog."
Banker Calvin Ng is among the latest to join the blogging fraternity after having been inspired by what he read on chubbyhubby.net and ieatishootipost.sg.
"I think it's kind of cool to blog about what you have eaten and somewhere out there, there is someone reading it," said Ng, who recently created http://chilliornochilli.blogspot.com.
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