When Cooking was a Crime

Exploring underground cooking within the Singapore prison system


In Plain Words

Year 2020
  • Editorial
  • Print

Researched over the course of 9 years, When Cooking was a Crime explores the illicit act of masak—the culture of illegal cooking in one’s cell or dormitory—within the Singapore prison system in the 70s and 80s. Shedding light upon the unique recipes, tools and methods devised by inmates in order to prepare suppers in the confines of their cells, the publication investigates new meanings of food within the deprived environments of Singapore’s prisons and Drug Rehabilitation Centres.

With hits of fluorescent orange and handwritten type, the book is presented in a plastic sleeve reminiscent of the 3-cent bag (Sa Jiam Long) commonly used in masak. The design responds to the excitement and escapism of the masak experience—a raw reflection on the autonomy and sense of community that this act of rebellion granted those living behind bars.

The spirit of masak is conveyed through the book’s format. The book’s french-folded format playfully hides content between its pages, inviting the reader to partake in the same cat-and-mouse game played out between inmates and wardens in order to hunt down these images and interview snippets.

Practice Theory