Background Information: Amanda is a Chinese Singaporean in her 2nd year of college, and she and her family grew up in Singapore. Her family, for various reasons, and as a result do not spend as much time with each other as in the past. As such, eating together — and cooking steamboat together, in particular, serves as an important ritual. I interviewed Amanda about this ritual.
Amanda: Once in a while my grandma will get all of us together and cook steamboat, which is basically cooking soup with a ton of ingredients like prawns and leafy vegetables and all that good stuff in the middle of the table on a tabletop stove, so it was a very involved process because we all had to sit there and wait for the soup to boil and then dish out our own meals, and steamboat dinners end up taking maybe 2, slightly more than 2 hours because we’re all talking while eating. We don’t do them very often, but it’s definitely become a special thing now where if I head home to Singapore after a long time, we’ll probably kind of celebrate it or commemorate it with a steamboat dinner, and it’d be a big thing if I invited someone, like a really good friend, to join us. I don’t even know how it really started, or when, because my grandma just did it one day as a very informal thing when before, we really only had steamboats anytime extended family came over, so like for Chinese New Year or a birthday or something like that, but yeah I like that it’s become an ‘our-family’ sort of thing, like the way we like to set everything up, arrange the table, what we talk about over our food, how our conversation topics transition, and how we’ll always end up sitting at the table at least half an hour after all the food’s gone, and usually it ends up being my dad occupied by the TV so he’ll be at the sofa, and it would be one of the few times my mum’s in a joking kind of mood, so the rest of us will just talk to her and share gossip from our lives and stuff.
Thoughts: Again, it is very interesting to me how food traditions have many important social functions. Here, not only is the mere act of eating steamboat important, but also the performance of sitting together at a table and cooking it before eating it. This act is a means of bonding for Amanda’s family. Not only that, but it also seems to function as a sort of rite of passage for whoever Amanda invites to join her family It began with her grandmother, and seeing as it holds value for Amanda, it is a tradition that will be continued.