The deliciously named Glowbelly Steamboat is the creation of Singaporean designer Tan Lun Cheak. Conceived for the Imprints: Designing for Memories exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore in 2010, Glowbelly is a modern rendering of a traditional Asian cooking device. Made using ash or amber tinted pyro-ceramic glass that can withstand extreme temperatures for oven and freezer, the dish can also be inverted onto a stand for use as a lamp.
“It’s the eastern equivalent of a fondue pot,” explains Tan. “In China, it’s called a hotpot, in Japan it’s the shabu-shabu pot. Somehow here in South-east Asia it’s commonly called the steamboat … I suspect it’s got something to do with the British.”
Slices of meat and vegetables are cooked by placing them into a dish of boiling hot soup, which always takes pride of place at the centre of the table. Tan says: “The great thing about having a steamboat dinner is not about the food, but about friends and family cooking and eating from the same pot.”
Typically used on festive occasions, the dish symbolises celebration and family bonding – Glowbelly is dedicated to Tan’s grandmother. It is a case of product design coming to embody more than function and aesthetics, and an effective argument for updating traditional designs for a modern lifestyle. Tan says: “The steamboat is gaining popularity in urban families because it’s a healthier way of eating and it’s easy to prepare.”
Tan is a founding member of Little Thoughts Group, a collective of local industrial designers that are interested in the field of heritage design. “Basing designs on heritage provides a deeper meaning to the existence of an object, and it is always encouraging for me to see how culture and tradition evolve with the help of design.”
All this enthusiasm for nostalgia, however, comes with a tinge of bittersweetness. “It’s a double-edged sword,” warns Tan. “I hope we don’t introduce another buzz word into the industry (that) can easily be misconstrued as a shallow marketing facade for big brands.”