By Tom Benner
Mainichi Weekly, 5 December 2017
The following is a longer version of a column I did for Mainichi Weekly on Singapore’s Little India. For this piece I interviewed Chef Devagi Sanmugam, the Spice Queen of Singapore, and I am greatly indebted to her for allowing me to access her vast store of knowledge as well as the food recommendations for specific restaurants and favorite dishes that she shares below.
Chef Devagi Sanmugam, the Spice Queen of Singapore
You can eat your way through the whole Indian subcontinent — just by walking around one neighborhood in Singapore.
Singapore’s Little India is many different things to many people.
It is a shopping paradise, for everything from hard to find Indian spices to colorful flower garlands, beautiful sarees and men’s shirts, colourful bangles, even henna designs.
It is a gathering place for South Asians living in Singapore — including the foreign workers from all over the region who spend their one day a week off (Sundays) by meeting and socializing in Little India.
It is a cultural center, where you can see performances, learn about Indian culture, or just walk about taking in the sounds of the of the latest Bollywood songs or classical Indian music.
And it is a food paradise, with restaurants that specialize in the various regions found in and around the Indian subcontinent.
As a resident of Singapore, I quickly learned that restaurants in Little India differ vastly, depending on regional cuisines. You don’t go out for Indian food — you go out for different kinds of regional foods from around the Indian subcontinent. I started out knowing little, other than to equate South Indian cuisine with spicy with lots of rice-based dishes, and North Indian not so spicy with lots of wheat based breads.
So I turned for expert opinion to Chef Devagi Sanmugam http://spice-queen.com , the award-winning author of 22 cookbooks, to teach me some of the differences. Chef Devagi — called the Spice Queen of Singapore — has family roots going back to Tamil Nadu, on the southeast coast of Indian Peninsula, and she is a self-taught cook.