When Cooking was a Crime: Masak in the Singapore Prisons, 1970s–80s
In Singapore during the 1970s and 80s, inmates in prisons and rehabilitation centres took part in an illicit cooking culture known as "masak." Cooking their meals during unsupervised times, they creatively used available resources to make dishes like shrimp sambal, reconstituted milk, and fried noodles. Despite being confined, these inmates found a form of self-expression and camaraderie in this clandestine culinary activity.
Their experiences are now captured in the book "When Cooking Was A Crime" by food writer Sheere Ng and photographer Don Wong. Ng conducted extensive interviews, unveiling the inmates' resourcefulness, ingenuity, and resilience as they adapted to the challenging environment and crafted elaborate meals. On the other hand, Wong recreated 35 objects and dishes based on the inmates' recollections, providing a visual accompaniment to the narrative.
Although stricter surveillance and penalties from the 1990s resulted in the decline of masak, the echoes of this unique culinary culture continue to resonate through Ng's texts and Wong's vivid photographic recreations. Their work is a testament to the human spirit's ability to seek freedom, community, and comfort even in the most restrictive environments.
128 pages, the book is encased in a paperback format with a protective plastic sleeve. It features a unique binding style, with the bottoms of several pages left untrimmed, requiring a cut for a complete read.