The meat of memory: chewing on the affective politics of The Satay Club, Singapore

Ms Kaylene Tan1

1University of Melbourne, BRUNSWICK, Australia


This paper explores the intersection between food, senses and place through the street food snack of satay. In Singapore, the dish of skewered meat is synonymous with The Satay Club, originally a cluster of hawkers in an alleyway in the 1940s that was subsequently relocated to a purpose-built hawker centre in an island-wide clean up in 1970. The name remained and the club was resurrected several times over in recent alfresco heritage developments.

Over the years, satay and the idea of a Satay Club has been intertwined with the city’s aspirations of progress, tourism development and heritage interpretation, where the satay experience is frequently invoked for purposes of culinary tourism and gastronomic authenticity. Concurrently, the Satay Club also exists as a ‘field of care’ (Tuan, 1974) for a particular generation, and embodies a powerful imagined gustatory landscape for others.

This paper firstly looks at how state-directed processes of urban control formalized the consumption and labour of street food. Then, focussing on The Satay Club, Esplanade (1970-1995), I examine the materiality of the dish and how the cooking and eating of it invites the persistence of nostalgia, that is both a resistance to, and recapitulation from the powers that be.


A PhD candidate at the Melbourne School of Design, Kaylene’s research focus is on the process of food heritage creation through place and the senses.

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