The last few days have seen a meeting of heavyweights, in more ways than one. The world drew a collective breath as American President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un entered the ring for a historic peace summit in Singapore this week. Tensions were high. No one knew what to expect from the famously fiery leaders. Global interest was peaked.
What both sides were hoping to achieve was a topic of considerable debate. Indeed, it remained unclear up until Trump and Kim first clasped one another what format the talks would take. However, despite the erratic dignitaries taking centre stage, behind the scenes were an army of diplomatic experts working to keep everyone happy.
As anyone who’s ever organised an event knows, the first rule of bringing people together is giving them enough to eat. You can’t expect a man of Donald Trump’s stature to instigate a North Korean denuclearisation programme on an empty stomach. Nor can you expect the Supreme Leader to be in a good mood with a rumbly tummy. If these talks were to amount to anything, food would have to be of paramount importance.
Both leaders are known to have their dietary foibles, so getting the menu right was going to be crucial. In particular, many observers were worried about how The President might react to diplomatically sensitive items that didn’t look anything like a well done steak and fries. Certainly, a lot of the menu left concerned parties feeling vindicated.
In an attempt to make Kim feel as at home as possible, the Singaporean chefs pulled out all the culinary stops. Dishes served included Korean stuffed cucumber and “daegu jorim” - soy-braised cod fish with radish. Of particular interest was Oiseon, a dish dating from the 14th century and traditionally served to Korean royalty. The BBC compared it to a British prime minister being given a swan.
To a man as famously unadventurous as POTUS 45, this collection of exotic treats must have seemed about as appetising as a bag of cat sick. Fortunately, foreseeing a presidential tantrum, the chefs also whipped up an alternative collection of familiar comestibles. On offer were a traditional prawn cocktail, as well as a confit of beef short rib with dauphinoise potatoes. Both leaders finished their meal with a serving of vanilla Haagen Dazs and cherry coulis.
Perhaps symbolically, the Singaporean hosts were also quick to impose their own food on the event. Local dishes at the banquet included a Malay “green mango kerabu with honey lime dressing and fresh octopus” and a “combination of sweet and sour crispy pork and Yangzhou fried rice with homemade XO chilli sauce”.
As a meeting called to reconcile the pariah North Korean state with the rest of the modern world, it remains to be seen how successful the Trump/Kim summit will be. But it is perhaps significant that we now live in a world where Trump is prepared to share his all-American table with some added extras from the other side of the world. As with many key meetings throughout history, it may be that food proves the best way for two angry leaders to find common ground.