MANILA, Philippines – When we speak of Singapore, one of the first things that come to mind is the food – from flavorful chili crab and Hainanese chicken rice to sweet kaya toast and ice kacang.
But if you think the best and most fulfilling way to enjoy Singaporean fare is through just eating, think again.
If you truly love food, there are plenty of opportunities beyond simply digging into a meal that will allow you to deepen your passion.
To get to know Singaporean cuisine, you must explore the country’s thriving culture and meet like-minded locals who love and celebrate food.
After all, they are the ones who keep the food scene special, alive, and well.
Tucked in a quiet neighborhood far from the Lion City’s bustling city center is a home that opens its doors to foodies who wish to learn how to cook and enjoy some of Singapore’s iconic dishes.
Whipping up kitchen magic
Located at 117 Fidelio St., Cookery Magic is the brainchild of 56-year old Ruqxana Vasanwala. It was borne out of a lifelong passion for cooking, which all began when Ruqxana was a little girl.
However, Ruqxana did not dive into the world of cooking right away. Instead, she followed what she calls “the conventional route into the working world” and worked as a mechanical engineer for 15 years, delved into conference management, and even joined a start-up venture as a technopreneur.
She recounted, “[But] when that bubble burst in 2001, I was, for the first time in my life, left with no direction on what I wanted to do next. That was when it came to me that I should pursue my one consistent passion in my life – cooking.
“And voila, Cookery Magic was born in 2001 and I have not looked back since.”
Ruqxana got the inspiration for Cookery Magic from a cooking class that she attended while visiting a friend overseas. Like hers, the class she participated in was held at the teacher’s home, which she felt “made it even more special.”
Wanting to bring a similar experience back home, where the food scene is extremely diverse, Ruqxana decided to welcome guests to her own home as it gives them an intimate and uniquely Singaporean experience.
“My home is an extension of my taste and personality. My home is filled with love and cats, which you get to meet. It cannot get more personal than that!” she said.
Putting meaning to cooking
For Ruqxana, cooking goes beyond whipping up meals to satiate hunger. Rather, she sees it as a form of art and something that brings people together.
“It is creative. I enjoy the creative process that goes into it. I also enjoy good food and the best way to get that is to cook it yourself.
“But more than that, I enjoy cooking for family and friends. Food brings people together. Food makes people happy. Good food evokes good conversations, friendships, and love,” she said.
Through Cookery Magic, Ruqxana gets to do as a full-time job what she’s always loved to do while meeting and learning from people from all over the world.
It has also given her priceless experiences that she wouldn’t have gotten elsewhere.
She recalled one such experience, “[My] most memorable [experience] was when one [of my students] who came for a private class said that the dish that was taught was just like that of her late mother's. She had never learned to cook from her, which was her regret.
“After the class, she cried and gave me a hug. She said she will now be able to cook [the dish] to honor and remember her mother.”
Ruqxana had another student who regularly attended her classes pursue culinary school full-time.
“She said I inspired her to make that change,” Ruqxana shared.
Teaching culture through cooking
Singapore is a melting pot of cultures from all over the globe, and that something that’s easily seen in its diverse cuisine.
As Cookery Magic’s self-styled Food Sorceress, Ruqxana mostly teaches an array of iconic Singaporean fare like fish curry and chicken satay.
She also teaches Asian favorites like Thailand’s tom yum soup and Malaysia’s beef rendang every day, as well as Peranakan food, which is the cuisine of the Straits-born Chinese.
From time to time, Ruqxana also holds special classes in a century-old Malay kampong (village) house in Pulau Ubin, a small island located northeast of Singapore that offers a glimpse of life in 1960s Singapore.
In doing all these, Ruqxana effectively imparts the nuances of the cultures these cuisines were drawn from. By simply attending her classes, her students – locals and foreigners, young and old alike – can learn so many things about the diversity of Singaporean and Asian culture and cuisine.
Ruqxana describes the current food scene in Singapore as “exciting,” with younger foodies reinventing old recipes while still showing honor and respect for the old ways.
As such, foodies and would-be chefs are encouraged to visit Singapore to try its wonderful flavors and pursue their passion by being actively seeking new ideas, ingredients, tastes, and methods of cooking that can only be found there.
“First thing they should do is come to my cooking class!” she quipped.
“Go to our very many hawker centers. [It’s the] best place to discover so many varieties of dishes without burning a hole in your pocket,” she added.
And when it’s time to go back home, Ruqxana encourages tourists, particularly Filipinos, to carry this same zeal in learning through cooking.
“Filipino culture and food is also very diverse as their people come from different provinces, with their own unique culture, language, and of course, food. Perhaps [Filipinos], too, can start to explore the various food found in the different parts of Philippines,” she said.
“Start being adventurous. Start looking for it. Start learning. Start talking to the older people to ask them about the way they ate in the old days. Start the food conversation with the family and then the community.”– Rappler.com
In this series:
Singapore is beyond a tourist destination – it’s a place where passion is made possible every day. For Filipino Foodies who are passionate about cooking, Ruqxana Vasanwala provides a unique experience with her cooking classes on Singaporean and Asian cuisine right in her own home. For more details, please click this link.