Master Chef Changi: Illegal Prison Cooking Culture In The 70s And 80s Was Creative & Inventive

Image via ST, Don Wong

If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that we often take the simple freedoms that we have for granted. I can imagine that this feeling was heightened during Circuit Breaker last year.

A simple freedom that we dearly missed was being able to visit our favourite food establishments whenever we pleased. Food is what fuels the soul and some might not have the luxury to eat whatever they wanted on a whim.

This was the case for Singapore prison inmates in the 1970s and 80s. In a book titled When Cooking Was A Crime: Masak In The Singapore Prisons, 1970s-1980s, Food writer, Sheere Ng, documents this unknown culture of illegal cooking in prisons back in the day.

Former inmates that Ng contacted shared how unconventional cooking took place in prisons – because inmates craved a sense of normalcy while serving their terms. Inmates would masak during a two hour window between 7-9PM as there would be no guards on patrol.

Cooking methods would involve using toilet water and using candles made out of stolen plastic food trays as a heat source to cook the illegal dishes. Ingredients to make these dishes would be derived from saving portions of food from their official meal times or purchased from the prison commissary.

image credit

image credit

Some dishes that these inmates made included Laksa, Ban Mian and even Birthday Cakes made out of chocolate bars, margarine, soda biscuits and other foods would be crafted with a cake mould made out of magazine covers and rice glue.

Creativity can truly prevail in the most desperate of times when one craves nothing but normalcy.

You can buy When Cooking Was A Crime: Masak In The Singapore Prisons, 1970s-1980s, here and in Kinokuniya book stores.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *