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The Financial Express

Singaporean cooks up Eid feast for migrant workers in lockdown

| Updated: May 26, 2020 09:21:06


Jason Chua cooks in his stall at Hong Lim Market & Food Centre, amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in Singapore on Apr 27. REUTERS  Previous Jason Chua cooks in his stall at Hong Lim Market & Food Centre, amid the coronavirus disease outbreak in Singapore on Apr 27. REUTERS Previous

As Muslims around the world celebrate Eid-ull-Fitr to mark the end of the fasting month, thousands of migrant workers in Singapore have had to spend the holiday in quarantine because of outbreaks of the novel coronavirus in their dormitories, Reuters reports.

To cheer them up, Singaporean businessman Dushyant Kumar, his wife and a team of chefs cooked up a giant biryani for a Sunday evening Eid feast for at least 600 migrants.

Kumar used a family recipe for the South Asian rice dish often eaten during festive occasions.

"Usually, if they are with their family, they will get to enjoy these kinds of dishes, because everyone will cook and eat, but here these guys are alone," said Kumar, in between tasting the dish being prepared in big cooking pots at the kitchen of a restaurant.

There are about 300,000 foreign labourers in Singapore, most of them from Bangladesh, China and India, and most staying in purpose-built dormitories, in rooms with bunks for 12 to 20 men.

"So we want to make sure they don't feel left out," said Kumar, whose imitative is supported by funds from donors and a non-governmental organisation.

"The smile on their face gives you a lot of satisfaction," said Kumar, who has been overseeing the delivery of more than 1,000 meals a day to migrants in quarantine since early April.

The government has said employers are required to provide sufficient food for workers during this lockdown, but it is also working with charity groups to make up any shortfalls.

Singapore has had more than 30,000 COVID-19 cases, one of the highest tallies in Asia, with the vast majority of infections among migrant workers in their dormitory accommodation.

But Kumar is not alone in extending a helping hand to Singapore's reeling mirgrant community.

As food stalls around him closed during the coronavirus outbreak in Singapore, 28-year-old cook Jason Chua has vowed to stay open for the many that now depend on him.

The tattoo-covered, former boxer has been serving up dozens of free meals for those in need since early April, when the city-state imposed a lockdown aimed at curbing virus cases now among the highest in Asia.

Known as "Beng Who Cooks", beng being Singaporean slang for hooligan, Chua said that the pandemic has not been great for business although he is getting by.

"Yes, we are losing, we are not exactly taking salary for a few months already, but we still do maybe 10 to 25 orders per day for our business side, so that we can still sustain ourselves throughout this period of time," said Chua.

He was inspired to start giving out free meals after a close friend described his experience of buying food for a homeless man. Now he's making about 50-60 free meals a day through a foundation, "Beng Who Cares," co-run by his friend Sean Hung.

Singapore is facing the deepest recession in its 55-year history, compounded by a lockdown due to last until June 1 that has forced many businesses to close.

Authorities have also warned that unemployment will likely rise due to these strict containment measures and an uncertain economic outlook. 

Those requesting free meals, mainly low income families, contact the foundation online via their Instagram or Facebook pages to arrange home delivery or collect in person. 

Chua said the foundation refuses to accept donations since they believe it "isn't right" for people to give during current times of economic hardship, but there have been a few "forceful" donors of cash, oil and rice. 

Although it's hard work, Chua, a self-described adrenaline junkie, said his biggest motivation is to hear praise from anyone who enjoys his food. 

"Surprisingly, the feedback is amazing…It motivates you. I crave a lot of praises, and those praises are what is pushing me and motivating me to do what I really love," he said. 

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