THE winners of the Fay Khoo Award for Food+Drink Writing were recently announced at this year’s George Town Literary Festival.
From a shortlist of six, three entries were selected to receive cash prizes and the iconic Fay Khoo tiffin trophies. The judges vetted almost 50 entries from Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Britain, and even as far away as Guatemala.
Set up in 2017 to honour the memory of the late Fay Khoo – a much-loved author, publisher, food critic, radio host, journalist, dedicated environmentalist and Penang native – the Fay Khoo Award for Food+Drink Writing has quickly established itself as a leading champion of fine writing on food and drink in Southeast Asia.
Founder and director Bettina Chua Abdullah described food writing as the story of humanity, saying there was no topic of writing more varied than that of food.
“Food is about more than sustenance and cooking: writers in this genre are exploring aspects of culture, health, the social and entertainment facets of food, technology and even business and economics,” she said.
“The aim of this award is to recognise new and talented voices, and to encourage and develop excellence in food and drink writing. For the last three years, it has been a privilege to read some truly beautifully crafted, thoughtful and just delicious narratives that remind us we are social, creative, cultural, thinking beings bound by food.”
Among the three winners is The Taste of Goodbye by Paula Tan Poh Lin, which follows the protagonist out of a thunderstorm into the small, food-famous town of Bentong, Pahang, where an anguished heart finds solace in the kindness of strangers and the meals they prepared.
Lee Say Lor’s entry Food Memories recalls how shared late-night supper treats with her family were the clearest indication of love from her very traditional Chinese parents who rarely expressed affection.
The third winner is Khowa by Singapore-based writer Damyanti Biswas, an account of growing up with her beloved grandmother, who dispatched homemade Indian sweets, wit and wisdom in equal measure.
Chief judge John Brunton commented: “I can only say that each year the quality and diversity of the entries have been a delight for all of us on the jury to read and then carry out the difficult task of selection from longlist to shortlist to the three final winners.
“Maybe there should be no winners at all as everyone taking part has put in a great deal of effort to explore a myriad of fascinating food and drink themes.”
This year is particularly meaningful for Brunton – UK paper The Guardian’s independent food, wine and travel writer – who is stepping down after three years as chief judge.
Previous judges include Darren Teoh of Dewakan, Basira Yeuseff of Agak-Agak Initiative, and Melissa De Silva, author of Others Is Not a Race.
Alongside the presentation of the prizes, the award also unveiled its new publication, titled Telltale Food: Writings from the Fay Khoo Award 2017–2019.
The book is an anthology compiled from three years of submissions. A total of 31 stories were chosen to mark the third year of the award.
“This wonderful anthology will open up a new world of storytelling, both for those who love reading and those who aspire to write themselves,” said Brunton.
Telltale Food is published by Hikayat, which also manages the Fay Khoo Award.