From MOLD Magazine: Issue 04, Designing for the Senses. Order your limited edition issue here.
Tapow, derived from the Chinese phrase for “take-away,” is a common phrase heard on the streets of Singapore, where the consumption of takeout is almost an everyday affair. While it is common to find food wrapped in a flat piece of paper, some people are unsure what to call this type of packaging. Some call it “chicken rice paper”—as it is commonly associated with the local dish—or “kertas bungkus,” which loosely translates to “wrapping paper” in the Malay language. For the sake of clarity, we shall call this form of food wrapper with a water-resistant coating on one side tapow paper.
Images by Atelier Hoko.
Atelier HOKO, the Singapore-based design research practice, explores the implicit conditions and forms that define our experience of this everyday artifact.
THE FLAT FINDER
In recent years, tapow paper has been steadily replaced by plastic or foam containers as many people lament the inconvenience of having to find a flat surface to support the structureless tapow packet when eating. Over-reliance on robust containers has consequently dulled our awareness of the surrounding environment—we no longer need to improvise or identify a flat surface that is “just flat enough” to eat from.
Not all takeaway food packaging is created equally. Some manufacturers take pride in how well their products seal and prevent spillage, some excel in presentation and effective compartmentalisation, while others emphasize eco-friendliness and biodegradability. Tapow paper, belonging to all or none of the criteria above, is concerned with something else altogether. Each step taken to unravel a tapow packet builds toward a sensorial encounter of the food inside, not unlike the anticipation of unwrapping a gift.
TAKE IT AWAY!
With the aid of rubber bands, what started off as a flat, structureless wrapping paper becomes an effective food container. Multiple packets can be stacked and transported with ease.
Containing overly wet or greasy food can be achieved by simply layering two sheets of tapow paper. This makes for a clever and no-frills solution without the need for excessive packaging.
AN OPEN PLAN
For the uninitiated, the flatness of tapow paper may pose certain difficulties when moving food from surface to mouth. Such sentiments, typically felt by those who only know the manners of a table filled with an unnecessary amount of tableware and cutlery, are expected but can hardly be justified given the inherent versatility of tapow paper. Across South-East Asia, diverse, vernacular culinary practices have accumulated unspoken wisdom on making the tapow paper work optimally with the food inside.
Laying tapow paper side by side produces a large, hygienic surface where food can be eaten and shared all around, eliminating boundaries commonly found on the edges of formal tableware and disposable food containers.
PICK AND MIX
The generous and expansive surface of tapow paper provides ample space to separate the ingredients, allowing the diner to pick and mix freely without the constraints defined by plates.
FAR FROM FLAT
When unwrapped, the edges of the tapow paper are often slightly crumpled and rarely lay flat on the surface beneath. It is common to find people appropriating this as a “flexible wall” to assist one in scooping up food without the need for additional utensils.
IT’S A WRAP
When the last slivers of gravy are meticulously scraped and scooped from paper to mouth, one need not overthink how to dispose of the tapow paper; simply re-fold, roll or crush it into a ball before tossing it into the bin.