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.
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.