From farm to table

From farm to table

Singaporean culture celebrates food. In this cosmopolitan city-state, you can find a myriad of hawker centres, cafes and fine dining restaurants which fuse together the many cultures that call this island home. You'll often be asked “have you eaten?” in lieu of a greeting, and in this city humble street food sellers are awarded Michelin stars.

Despite Singaporean's love of food, historically the same focus hasn't been given to where ingredients are produced. Due to the extreme space constraints on the island, 90% of Singapore's food is imported into the country. This has created a lack of connection between the ingredients used and their origin.

However, this connection is slowly being forged. In the last five years, locavorism has spread across Singapore. The worldwide movement champions locally produced food, encourages people to consider where their food comes from and think about its impact on the planet. Despite the population still being dependent on imported produce, there are now over 1,000 different community farm projects on the island - many of which have sprouted up in public housing estates - and countless new agricultural businesses.

A key part of this change is due to Singapore's chefs. A growing group of local and international chefs who call Singapore home are outspoken advocates of the locavore movement and celebrate the Singaporean produce they use. The message they send to fine dining fans is that local is best, which fights against the common Singaporean perception that produce from the city is of poorer quality, and that ingredients from Australia, Japan and Europe are preferable. At Open Farm Community, a farm-to-table restaurant in Tanglin, head chef Oliver Truesdale-Jutras creates their menus by exploring the best produce available on the island: “We go out and visit farms, such as those in Kranji, to see what is good, and then we build the dish[es] from there.”

As well as this, more urban farms are being founded. Fish farm Ah Hua Kelong has worked on the coasts of Pasir Ris and Sembawang for a long time, but recently 27-year-old entrepreneurs Bryan Ang and Wong Jing Kai joined the company, managing it in partnership with the previous staff. Since then, they've worked hard to champion sustainable methods of fish farming and promote it to restaurants around the city. They've now supplied many of Singapore's top fine dining restaurants. Meanwhile, organic farming company Citiponics, led by Teo Hwa Kok, has repurposed the rooftop of a multi-story carpark into an innovative vertical farm. On 164 “growing towers”, the space accommodates 25 different varieties of vegetables and herbs, such as lettuce, spinach, dill and sweet basil.

Despite these successes, finding space to promote local agriculture is still a problem. Singapore is one of the most densely populated cities in Asia, and sourcing places for local growing is a constant challenge. While there are still rural areas in Singapore - in particular Kranji, in the north of Singapore, where Hay Dairies (an organic goat farm) and Bollywood Veggies (a farming collective with an onsite bistro) operate – most farmers have worked on integrating farming into the urban landscape, rather than farming on large plots of land which are often expensive and hard to come by.

This has been successful so far, with many food producers using urban farming initiatives like vertical farming and hydroponics, and the government supporting schemes to grow food in public spaces, like rooftops and common areas in public housing estates. If their innovation of urban farming continues like this, Singapore may well be able to transform the practice of urban agriculture and create a blueprint for other cities around the world.

From the Kranji countryside to the roofs of car parks, Singapore is becoming even more of a “garden city” as it skilfully integrates farming into the fabric of its urban landscape.

Vegetarian or vegan in Singapore

Vegetarian or vegan in Singapore

Singapore's fascinating mix of cultures has created a food-crazy city with no end of options, from Malay to Indian, Chinese to Peranakan, and Western to Japanese. If you're vegetarian or vegan and visiting Singapore, there is a huge array of dining options available that will allow you to explore the city's food culture just as well as any omnivore.

Whole Earth, 76 Peck Seah Street, Tanjong Pagar (in photo)

This affordable restaurant located in Chinatown focuses on Thai, Chinese and Peranakan (Straits Chinese) cuisine, and aims to cook food that appeals to both vegetarians and meat-eaters. They do this by emphasising the texture of their food and exploring soy products and tofu. A highlight is the Penang Rendang, which blends the umami bite of shiitake mushrooms with a delicate mix of traditional Peranakan spices. The eatery has also earned a Michelin Bib Gourmand award, a testament to its skilled mastery of vegetarian cookery.

Loving Hut, 229 Joo Chiat Road, Geylang

For a vegan restaurant serving local, Asian and Western favourites, Loving Hut is a great option which also happens to be easy on the purse strings. The global vegan chain, with over 200 outlets worldwide, plays with meat free versions of local classics with great results. Start with their soy-based version of hawker favourite chicken satay and enjoy their char kway teow (stir fried flat rice noodles), made with mushrooms. Subtle Teochew dessert Or Nee, made from yam paste, is the perfect way to finish off. This is undoubtedly one of the best places in Singapore for vegans to sample local food.

Veganburg, 44 Jalan Eunos, Eunos

For trendy vegan fast food by way of San Fran, Veganburg is well worth a visit. Their branch in East Singapore cooks up vegan patties with soybean and mushrooms - try the locally inspired Rasa Sayang burger, exclusive to their Singapore branch and topped off with spicy sambal and vegan fried egg - then finish off with a side of seaweed fries. Everything on the menu is handmade, cholesterol free, GMO-free and sustainable - a sin free way to get your junk food fix.

Afterglow by ANGLOW, 24 Keong Saik Road, Tanjong Pagar

Hip health food restaurant Afterglow doesn't just focus on plant-based cookery, it's also a forerunner in the farm-to-fork movement sweeping Singapore, and sources many of its fresh veggies from local farms. Start with their avocado sushi rolls, filled with homemade kimchi which is aged in house for seven days. The raw pizza here makes ample use of locally sourced ingredients, and tops off an almond crust base with flax seed and seasonal veg.

Komala Vilas, 12/14 Buffalo Road, Little India

Komala Villas is a historic institution in Little India, serving tasty, no-frills South Indian food since it was founded in 1947. All food here is 100% vegetarian and served on freshly cut banana leaves, and chefs here take basic components like rice and lentils and transform them into local delights like dosai (fermented rice and lentil pancakes), vadai (savoury fried snacks) and idlis (steamed rice cakes.) Combine them with a wide selection of currys, raitas and pickles and don't forget to wash it all down with a frothy glass of teh tarik (pulled tea.)

Peace Cafe, 4 Dalhousie Lane, Little India

Pizza joint and dessert specialist Peace Cafe, located in historic neighbourhood Rochor, serves pizza, wraps and salads with vegan and gluten free options available, and eggless desserts with a multitude of vegan options. Try their Sambal Pizza for a classic with a spicy local twist, and follow up with a mouth-watering banana walnut cupcake with chocolate chips. At Christmas, order their vegan gingerbread or triple ginger cookies to take away with you. They also offer island-wide delivery.

Brownice, 8 Sin Ming Road, Bishan

For all-vegan ice cream, visit one of Brownice's two outlets in Singapore. Most central is their store in Bishan, which produces sixteen different flavours, from Chocolate French Kiss and The Perfect Matcha to locally inspired Gila Gula Melaka, combining palm sugar and organic brown rice milk. All varieties are made using the latter, along with organic evaporated cane juice and fresh fruit and nuts, bringing each scoop to a healthful 80-140 calories each. And you can also arrange for your ice cream fix through Uber Eats or Food Panda, or if you're in the neighbourhood, visit their second branch in Jurong.

A Vending Machine for Every Need

A Vending Machine for Every Need

With an estimated of 20,000 vending machines scattered throughout in Singapore, retailers are switching from bricks-and-mortar stores to vending machines to cut their costs, as well as to maintain and scale their physical presence. When high rental and manpower costs might put a brand out of business, vending machines are the perfect solution for the brand to survive. As a result, you can buy anything from toys to electronics and jewelry from one of the many vending machines spread out in various locations around the island.

You can even purchase gifts from one of these vending machines as Kalms, a gift-shop chain, is one of the Singaporean brands that have embraced vending machines. The gift-shop chain might have shut its last four stores, but thanks to the vending machines scattered throughout the city, the chain remains in the retail business. The brand, which started as a record store in 1964 and then transformed into a household name for greeting cards and gifts in the 1980s, launched a collection of “automated retail machines.” These machines have about 70 percent lower operating costs than a retail store.

Although the gift shop chain's 25 vending machines only display 10 percent of Kalms' bricks-and-mortar inventory - including plush toys, jewelry, and electronics - the benefits “far outweigh the benefits of operating a retail store:, said Kalms' operation manager Masataka Mukai. For instance, the vending machines cost less and they are easier to be relocate to maximize profits. Thanks to the machines' monitoring system, stock can be replenished more efficiently.

Masataka Mukai said: “We used about 18 square meters of space, compared with the 250 square meters of (store) space previously, to generate about 50 percent of our previous turnover in the first five months of our operation.”

Other brands are also finding alternatives to brick-and-mortar stores and one of them is the sporting goods retailer Crazybadman. Kegan Tan, the owner of Crazybadman also shut down his store at Tampines Safra to focus on online and vending platforms. “I saw a lot of repeats in daily purchases, so I put those into a vending machine outside the store and saw a marginal growth in revenue,” he said. Thanks to the flexibility of his vending machine - which sells healthy snacks and drinks, towels and shuttlecocks - he was able to move it to a new more promising location near the upcoming Tampines East MRT station.

Convenience stores have also joined this trend and two launched at the Metropolitan Y hotel and Singapore Management University. An automated retail technology distributor SelfX Singapore houses food, drink and other necessities in glass “cabinets.”

According to Singapore Polytechnic senior lecturer in marketing and retail Amos Tan, vending machines can help to reinvent retail space, if they are well-utilized and well-located.

“It's a very flexible platform, you don't need a lot of space and inventory can be centralized in the cloud,” said Amos Tan. “But for it to work, people have to embrace vending as a new shopping channel.”

According to Spring Singapore - an enterprise development agency - such automated retail solutions are in line with the transformation of the industry, and interested retailers can work with Spring Singapore to adopt them.

What's most striking, though, is that a “vending machine” in Singapore is now offering up luxury vehicles. With vehicles on display in 60 slots, you can buy anything from a Bentley to a Ferrari or a Lamborghini.

This futuristic 15-story showroom was launched by used car seller Autobahn Motors, which marketed it as the “world's largest luxury car vending machine.” From a touch screen display, customers can choose which care they wish to see and within two minutes, the car arrives thanks to an advanced system that manages vehicle retrieval.

General manager at Autobahn Motors Gary Hong said the vending machine format was aimed at making efficient use of space in an already crowded island as well as standing out from the competition.

He said: “We needed to meet our requirement of storing a lot of cars. At the same time, we wanted to be creative and innovative.”

The company's Automotive Inventory Management System is also attractive to developers interested in upgrading parking services.

Shop till you Drop in Singapore

Shop till you Drop in Singapore

Historically a trading hub, what better place than Singapore to embrace your inner shopaholic? What once was a great market for tea, silk and tin, now is home to glittering shopping malls offering state of the art electronics and designer fashion. Singapore might appear as a small red dot on your map, but it packs in more malls per square mile than any other country in the world, which makes it one of the top shopping destinations on a global scale.

Most of the shopping malls center along Orchard Road - the commercial heart of Singapore - and they specialize in specific items. Given Singapore's cultural diversity, there are also various shopping alternatives, including jumbled markets and hip boutiques. Some of the best places to shop in Singapore come in the form of outdoor markets, bustling roads and clusters of quaint boutiques. While Chinatown and Little India offer great shopping opportunities, you shouldn't miss out on the vast Bugis Street Market.

Orchard Road

Once a quiet, market-lined street, nowadays the 2.2 kilometer street of Orchard Road is home to megamalls, making it the best place to shop in Singapore. With its front molded into futuristic metallic curves, the most impressive mall is indisputably the ION Orchard mall. Consisting of four stories extending both above and below ground, the glistening mall is lit up neon at night and contains designer labels, mid-range brands and plenty of dining options. While you'll find all the designer brands in Paragon house, bargain hunters should head to centers such as Far East Asia, famous for its cheap food and fashion, and Lucky Plaza. For arts and crafts, head to Tanglin Shopping Center, one of the first buildings to be set up here. There are also plenty of dining options after burning all those calories while shopping.

Chinatown Street Market

As 75% of the population is of Chinese descent, you can expect Chinatown to be massive and so are the shopping opportunities in the area. If you want to soak in the shopping spirit of the area, head to Chinatown Street Market, which houses stalls selling traditional candles, artwork and clothing as well as street food stalls.

One month before the Lunar New Year, either January or February, Chinatown's streets are filled with stalls touting their wares, which include foodstuffs, clothes, pottery, plants and other household items. An alternative to the Orchard Road is Ann Siang Road, which is lined by old shop houses and stand-alone boutiques that sell something more out of the ordinary than Singapore's mega malls. The area is also a great place to shop for clothes. Some of the shops you'll find here include Willow & Huxley, an umbrella shop for funky international womenswear brands, Mythology on Club Street offering colorful party dresses, head to Asian Region for independent labels, and Aston Blake offers smart-tailored shirts and suits for men. Rose citron French Design is perfect to shop for homeware, particularly the patchwork cushions.

Book lovers will also find their place herein Books Actually, an independent book store that offers a wide variety of titles - including some they have published themselves - and supports Singaporean writers. From fiction to history, they have everything to satisfy your reading needs.

Haji Lane

For a whole different kind of experience, head to Haji Lane in Kampong Glam, a historic Malay District. With small historic shop fronts repainted in pastel shades, independent boutiques, tattoo parlors and record shops, Haji Lane is Singapore's most bohemian area. Bargain hunters will probably go on a shopping spree as soon as they step on the Blog Shop, a uniquely Singaporean phenomenon. This is a big store that sells the stock of many independent internet retailers.

Shopping Tips

Bargain hunters are in for a treat during the months June and July, which is the time when the Singapore Sale takes place. During this time, the prices are reduced almost everywhere, except for big designers the likes of Chanel. You can also get discounts some other times of the year in some of the older shopping malls like Lucky Plaza. There you can haggle even to bring down the price of electronics and other goods. Shopping in Singapore can be gratifying but it can also be overwhelming; it's good to be prepared for it or take someone who is familiar with it.