When I was growing up, my parents and I lived in a HDB ‘point block’ that had three other families on the same floor. We weren’t close, but we were always friendly, and it would show during the festive seasons.
On the eve of Hari Raya Puasa, the most amazing smells would emanate from the neighbour whose front door faced mine. They would always send either of their daughters over with a portion of beef rendang in a tinted glass plate, and it would invariably be the most mouth-watering rendang I’d eat all year. We’d return the plate the next day with two canned or packet drinks in it.
Another neighbour had a knack for homemade love-letter biscuits. She would prepare them on a little griddle while sitting outside her gate, about a week before Chinese New Year. The love-letters were always folded the old-fashioned way, not rolled. If I were coming or going at the right time, I’d score a freshly-made piece of piping-hot love-letter to burn the roof of my mouth.
These came to mind as I read a news article about the disputes between neighbours, one of which had to do with a China-born family hating the smell of curry cooked by their Indian neighbours. Racial and nationalist tensions aside, I just find it sad that food, which is such a big part of life in Singapore, can also be such a bone of contention among neighbours. Especially in the light of my own food-related memories of HDB life.
I live in a condo now. Our front doors are designed to stay shut, and I never know what anyone else is cooking or eating.