FOOD TALK

20/20 vi­sion

Epicure (Indonesia) - - CONTENTS -

Sin­ga­pore has grown to be­come one of the world’s fore­most foodie des­ti­na­tions. Hawk­ers (Miche­lin-starred, or not) com­fort­ably co-ex­ist with fine din­ing restau­rants, such as Saint Pierre and Restau­rant Zén, and are equally cel­e­brated at renowned in­ter­na­tional events. The is­land na­tion was host to the ultra-pres­ti­gious The World's 50 Best Restau­rants in 2019 (and its coun­ter­part, Asia's 50 Best Bars). And to top it off, home­grown restau­rants Les Amis and Odette snagged the three Miche­lin stars once held only by Joël Robu­chon.

It’s clear to see why eyes are on our coun­try. There is, how­ever, much room left for Sin­ga­pore to grow and set the tone for the global and re­gional din­ing scene in the com­ing year.

Here’s how.

A More home cooks in the kitchen, please

Turns out I’m not the only one who’ve let gen­er­a­tions of ah mas (grandma) down by opt­ing for De­liv­eroo or Food­panda. In 2019, a study com­mis­sioned by De­liv­eroo re­ported that 76% of con­sumers pre­fer the con­ve­nience of or­der­ing in rather than cook­ing; 47% of who are in their thir­ties. Un­der­stand­ably, who wants to wear them­selves out over a meal after an ar­du­ous day at work?

Asian cook­ing, whether it’s a seem­ingly sim­ple dish of mee siam or thun­der tea rice, can take hours of com­pli­cated prepa­ra­tion. Mod­ern day busy bees just can’t af­ford that sort of com­mit­ment. En­trepreneur­s, in­clud­ing Jeremy Nguee and Sher­may Lee, may have made it eas­ier with their col­lec­tions of pre-packed sauces but it misses the cru­cial in­gre­di­ent — the time to pre­pare your own meals.

That’s where meal-kits, much like Europe’s Hellofresh and U.S.A.’S Blue Apron, but with a fo­cus on Sin­ga­pore’s multi-cul­tural culi­nary clas­sics can come in. Imag­ine: pre-packed in­gre­di­ents in the right mea­sure­ments and easy-to-fol­low recipe cards shipped straight to your doorstep, al­low­ing even the unini­ti­ated to whip up a soul-warm­ing Ny­onya ayam buah keluak or Hakka-style yel­low wine chicken. The best part? There’s no need to lug groceries or sit through long preps.

B Earth hour

Sus­tain­abil­ity and zero-waste are on ev­ery­one’s lips, but gutsy Do­minique Crenn takes it fur­ther. Last Novem­ber, she made the mo­men­tous de­ci­sion to com­mit all her restau­rants to meat-free din­ing, chal­leng­ing chefs to con­sider the en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of their es­tab­lish­ments.

Back in Sin­ga­pore, Black Swan head chef Alysia Chan has proven that chop­houses can also re­duce their im­pact on Mother Earth. And wasn’t it Grand Hy­att Sin­ga­pore that jump­started the plant-based meal move­ment with its food trucks in 2018? Many es­tab­lish­ments are also shun­ning plas­tic straws for pa­per, stain­less steel or glass, and biodegrad­able pack­ag­ing are be­ing looked into.

Th­ese ini­tia­tives only make up a per­cent­age of restau­rants in Sin­ga­pore. What’s hap­pen­ing on the lo­cal scene is enough to make Greta Thun­berg shud­der. Hawker cen­tres use pre­dom­i­nantly plas­tic uten­sils; take­away ser­vices still rely on plas­tic con­tain­ers; and plas­tic bags rule the day at su­per­mar­kets. Our coun­try has to come to­gether to push for­ward a more eco-re­spon­si­ble way of din­ing. Gov­ern­ment ini­tia­tives and in­vest­ments aside, chefs, key in­dus­try play­ers and, ul­ti­mately, con­sumers need a mind­set shift be­fore an im­pact can be felt.

C Get into the Chi­nese spirit

While Sin­ga­pore has be­come an un­of­fi­cial launch­ing pad for unique spir­its — take Fin­land’s Kyrö Dis­tillery Com­pany or Ger­many’s wine-in­fused Fer­di­nand’s Gin, for ex­am­ple — con­sumers re­main ap­pre­hen­sive about Chi­nese spirit brands like Moutai or Wu­liangye. It’s not to say th­ese names have not es­tab­lished them­selves in the mar­ket; they are fa­mous in the in­ter­na­tional cir­cuit. (Wu­liangye also hosted an event in Paris along the Seine River in 2019.)

Ger­ald Lu, vice pres­i­dent to the Som­me­lier As­so­ci­a­tion and Sin­ga­pore and owner of Praelum, stocks a small but re­mark­able

bai­jiu col­lec­tion in his bar. While more than happy to of­fer a sip, he ad­mits it’s “a bumpy road ahead be­fore con­sumers change their pre­con­ceived no­tions about bai­jiu as a 'harsh' spirit”. In­ter­est­ingly

bai­jiu pre­dates many liquors. It dates to at least the sec­ond cen­tury BCE, and is cel­e­brated through­out Chi­nese his­tory. Yet, we have lit­tle to no knowl­edge of it.

Bars such as Telok Ayer Arts Club are al­ready dab­bling in

bai­jiu-based cock­tails, show­cas­ing its po­ten­tial stand­ing in Sin­ga­pore’s cock­tail scene. Chee Wei De, head bar­tender of The Sin­gle Cask, praises the com­plex­ity of Langjiu, a sauce-aroma

bai­jiu, not­ing lay­ers of flora, co­coa and tea. So, rather than scratch our heads on which bot­tle of Pinot Noir goes with laz­iji (Sichuan mala chicken), Chi­nese restau­rants can look into pro­mot­ing the spirit. If any­thing, they are made to go along with the flavour pro­file of Chi­nese cui­sine.

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