by Teng, Sharon
On 8 August 2011, local daily freesheet Today published a news feature that mentioned a dispute between a migrant family from China and a Singaporean Indian family over the smell of curry emanating from the latter’s home. Following the publication of the news article, the “curry dispute”, as the incident came to be known, provoked public uproar – the settlement terms of the dispute were perceived as unfair.1 The “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry” campaign was subsequently organised by some members of the public as a grassroots response to the incident.2
Event, as reported
In the Today article, it was reported in a sidebar that a Chinese family, newly arrived from China, could not tolerate the smell that wafted over from next-door whenever their Singaporean Indian neighbours cooked curry. Out of consideration to the Chinese family’s aversion to the curry smell, the Indian family would shut their doors and windows whenever they cooked curry. However, the Chinese family deemed this measure insufficient, and entreated their neighbours to refrain from cooking the dish altogether. The request was met with a firm refusal from the Indian family. Both families then approached the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) for help in resolving the disagreement. The settlement that was reached following the mediation was that the Indian family would cook curry only when their Chinese neighbours were out. In turn, the Chinese family acceded to their Indian neighbours’ request to try out the curry dish.3
After the publication of the newspaper report highlighting the “curry dispute”, a segment of the public voiced their disgruntlement over the “unfair” outcome that had apparently been brought about by the mediation process conducted by the CMC. Some were also angered by the perceived intolerance that both the Chinese family and the CMC mediator had displayed towards the cultural practices of another ethnic group. This was viewed as unacceptable behaviour that was contrary to Singapore’s inclusive and multiracial society.4
A member of the public uploaded a three-minute video clip on video-sharing website YouTube on 14 August 2011, casting aspersions on the Chinese family involved in the curry saga as well as on Chinese nationals in general and castigating them for their bigotry towards Singaporeans. Within three days of its uploading, the video had been viewed 9,000 times. The creator of the video was both complimented and censured by the online public for the video, with some detractors labelling her as “racist”. The contents of her video was also said to border on running foul of Singapore’s sedition law.5
Some online commenters felt that immigrants who were critical of Singaporeans’ lifestyle and culture should return to their home countries. On the other hand, some urged both Singaporeans and foreigners alike to show mutual respect for and understanding towards each other. The outpouring of vitriol against foreigners was said to belie an underlying resentment among some locals towards people from a different culture who had settled here.6
In response, the CMC, which is a body under the Ministry of Law, issued a press release on 11 August 2011 stating that the newspaper article had inaccurately reported the mediator’s involvement in the dispute settlement. The CMC explained that the mediator had performed her role as a nonpartisan party to help facilitate the discussion between the two families. One of the families had in fact suggested the final resolution, which was accepted by the other family.7
Due to the magnitude of the online public reaction and heightened emotions resulting from inaccuracies in the original news report, Minister for Law K. Shanmugam held a press conference on 16 August 2011 to clarify the true course of events regarding the incident.8 He explained that the dispute had occurred six to seven years prior to the publication of the Today news report on 8 August 2011 and that the terms of settlement resulting from the mediation had been entirely volitional between the two parties involved.9 The solution as initially reported in the media had been proposed by one family, and was acceded to by the other family. The government stated that the CMC mediator was meant to be a neutral, independent party, and in the case had neither suggested the solution nor imposed or mandated it upon both families.
Shanmugam also commented positively on the strong community spirit demonstrated by the people from different races and cultures who had united to affirm the Singaporean national identity and to vocalise their condemnation of the disparagement of local Indian culture. However, Shanmugam cautioned Singaporeans against letting the unhappy feelings generated by the curry dispute ferment into a blanket dislike of all foreigners in general.10
The following day, on 17 August 2011, Today published an article in which the paper’s editor acknowledged that the roles played by CMC and the mediator in the curry dispute had been incorrectly represented in the original news report.11
“Cook and Share a Pot of Curry” campaign
On 11 August 2011, freelance writer Florence Leow, together with some friends, announced the “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry” event via social media platform Facebook. The event encouraged Singaporeans to cook curry at home on 21 August 2011 and invited foreigners to share in the repast as a way “to celebrate curries as part of our way of life and to share this celebration with those who are new to our shores”.12
Gabriel Yeap, Leow’s friend and fellow moderator of the “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry” Facebook page, also started a “CurryLoversSG” Facebook page with the aim of inspiring Singaporeans to celebrate “national curry day” on the third Saturday of August every year, beginning with 18 August 2012 the following year.13
Through virtual word-of-mouth and the news media, the “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry” event, which was held on 21 August 2011, gained widespread publicity. More than 60,000 residents in Singapore indicated their support and participation in the event. On this day, Leow held a curry feast at her home in Toa Payoh and invited 11 others, including newly arrived migrants, to enjoy the spread of Peranakan-style chicken, Indian vegetable and Japanese curries.14
The so-called “curry movement” also prompted Torte, a café-cum-restaurant situated on Waterloo Street, to serve chicken, stingray and vegetable curries for Sunday brunch on 21 August instead of its usual Western dishes such as pancakes and sausages – an initiative that was said to have met with positive response from patrons. The widespread publicity that the “Cook and Share a Pot of Curry” event received also led some to create curry-themed music videos and catchphrases about curry. Pledges and similar spin-off events from overseas Singaporeans also sprang up.15
Said to have been inspired by the “curry incident” in 2011, the following year, from 17 to 23 August 2012, local snack chain Old Chang Kee partnered with the National Heritage Board in organising a weeklong series of curry-themed events called “Curry, a Celebration of Singapore’s Heritage”.16
1. Quek, S. W. C. (2011, August 8). Number of neighbour disputes hit high; Neighbours lack communication and increasingly intolerant: CMC. Today. Retrieved from Factiva; Quek, S. W. C. (2011, August 8). When neighbours disagree... Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
2. Lim, D. (2011, August 17). Shanmugam cautions against xenophobia. MyPaper. Retrieved from Factiva.
3. Quek, S. W. C. (2011, August 8). Number of neighbour disputes hit high; Neighbours lack communication and increasingly intolerant: CMC. Today. Retrieved from Factiva; Quek, S. W. C. (2011, August 8). When neighbours disagree... Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
4. Aw Yeong, B. (2011, August 14). Curry – our new national icon. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva.
5. Lim, A. (2011, August 17). Online video further stirs hot ‘curry’ issue. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva.
6. Aw Yeong, B. (2011, August 11). Curry – our new national icon. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva.
7. Lim, G. (2011, August 11). Clarification issued by Community Mediation Unit regarding Today article, ‘Number of neighbour disputes hit high’ [Press release]. Retrieved from Ministry of Law website: https://www.mlaw.gov.sg/content/cmc/en/media-centre/news-publications/press-releases/clarification-issued-by-community-mediation-unit-regarding-the-today-article-number-of-neighbour.html; Aw Yeong, B. (2011, August 17). I’m just a go-between. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva; Community Mediation Centre. (2014, December 11). About us. Retrieved from Ministry of Law website: https://www.mlaw.gov.sg/content/cmc/en/about-us.html
8. Lim, K. W. (2011, August 16). Families settle curry dispute, not mediators. AsiaOne. Retrieved from: http://news.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne+News/Singapore/Story/A1Story20110816-294757.html; Moore, M. (2011, August 16). Singapore’s ‘anti-Chinese curry war’. The Telegraph. Retrieved from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/singapore/8704107/Singapores-anti-Chinese-curry-war.html
9. Shanmugam clarifies ‘curry case’. (2011, August 16). Channel NewsAsia. Retrieved from Factiva.
10. Lim, K. W. (2011, August 16). Families settle curry dispute, not mediators. AsiaOne. Retrieved from website: http://news.asiaone.com/News/AsiaOne+News/Singapore/Story/A1Story20110816-294757.html; Lim, D. (2011, August 17). Shanmugam cautions against xenophobia/ Islandwide curry event to promote integration. My Paper. Retrieved from Factiva; ‘S’porean identity developing’. (2011, August 17). The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva; Lin, W. (2011, August 17). ‘Okay to affirm S’porean way but don’t be anti-foreigner’. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Kai, F. (2011, August 17). Shanmugam clarifies ‘curry issue’. Retrieved from Yahoo News website: https://sg.news.yahoo.com/blogs/singaporescene/shanmugam-clarifies-curry-issue-050053270.html
11. Ng, J. Y. (2011, August 17). Shanmugam clears up ‘curry issue’, praises unity and identity shown. Today. Retrieved from Factiva.
12. Lim, D. (2011, August 17). Shanmugam cautions against xenophobia/ Islandwide curry event to promote integration. My Paper. Retrieved from Factiva; Sunday curry event to go on. (2011, August 17). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Ho, O. (2011, August 21). Keep calm and curry on. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva.
13. Ho, O. (2011, August 21). Keep calm and curry on. The New Paper. Retrieved from Factiva.
14. Spykerman, K. (2011, August 22). A day for curry and camaraderie. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; United over curry. (2011, August 22). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Lim, D. (2011, August 22). Curry taste test for Chinese national. My Paper. Retrieved from Factiva.
15. Sunday curry event to go on. (2011, August 17). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva; Spykerman, K. (2011, August 22). A day for curry and camaraderie. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
16. Sim, W. (2012, July 29). Curry’s the heritage flavour next month. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
Furore online. (2011, September 4). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
Lee, U. (2011, August 22). Tony Tan to focus on social harmony if elected. The Business Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
Low, F. (2011, September 4). Peace and stability not a given, cautions minister. The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
Curry incident spices up presidential campaign. (2011, August 22). The Straits Times. Retrieved from Factiva.
The information in this article is valid as at 11 May 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.