Saturday, 28 December 2013

Carpenter & Cook Popup– Doing 'that local organic seasonal shit' in Singapore



I love food. It's because I love food that I believe food should be made from stuff you get from people who sing to their plants and name their cows Daisy and Cleopatra, not pre-packed from a factory with an expiry date 5 years later. It's a thing these days isn't it?– local, organic, seasonal blah blah. But beyond comfortably strolling through the supermarket and checking labels for the above keywords, I like to really know where my food comes from. I like to talk to the people behind that amazingly sweet strawberry, see the hens that give me eggs with yolks like orange bubbles, have my pick of fish from the fisherman and grumble about the weather at the same time.

 I've been lucky. The past 4 years as a cash-strapped student in London has seen me juggling, among many random design jobs and cooking gigs, a weekend job as a farmer's market manager. I got to know some wonderful people who really are proud of the food they produce.

I never bought into this whole local, organic, seasonal shit before. A tomato was a tomato was a tomato, right? Then I ate a tomato, British, grown by some of the greatest people I know, in summer. Oh my god it was sweet and it was juicy and I ate them like I would popcorn (they were baby plums, just in case you thought beef tomatoes). Before then, I could never eat raw tomatoes. The ones in Singapore were mostly imported and sour and had a mealy texture from being chucked into cold storage. All the flavour and nutrients that were in that organic (or not) tomato were gone.


Now, back in Singapore for a good few months, I've been trying to get to know the local producers here. It's not an easy task. Even my mum, the most anal quality-driven cook in the world, eagerly reaches for that Japanese sweet potato over a locally grown one because "it's Japanese!!!". Singapore is not known for agriculture. We are known for our airport and bak chor mee and crazy 57 storey-high infinity pools. But there are some great people here doing their thang.

Green Circle is a tiny organic eco-farm in Kranji. The owners aren't growing organic stuff to ride on a lucrative organic trend; they sometimes don't even have enough of something to sell. These are people who really love nature and want to encourage people, especially the young, to learn about their food. When I popped by, Evelyn was casually making a salad from local heritage guavas– little shrunken varieties I don't ever see nowadays because "it's not as juicy as the new ones". I had the most wonderful time nibbling on fruits and tropical herbs I never knew of. "Try this. Ulam raja, means King's salad. It tastes of mango."


There are others, not necessarily growers, but people whom I can rely on for good produce, and makers who really know their stuff.

There's the wonderful fishmongers my Mum's been going to for fresh seafood since forever, and who slip my mum cheeky discounts (see endnotes, an old post here).

And there's Ghee Leong, one of the few traditional bakeries left in Singapore. Here, there are no cakes or trendy matcha loaves; just old-school fluffy Asian bread, using the same method they've been using since they first started. It's a simple no-frills setup, but the place is filled with the heavenly scent of the type of bread I grew up with, and that, to me, is enough. The auntie warns to finish the bread quickly (no problem ma'am) because they don't use preservatives or funny stabilisers.

I have more but this post is long enough as is. I need to get to my announcement.

I'm doing a popup at Carpenter and Cook's, the hippest vintage cafe in town (uh not biased). They're opening a new shop at Jasmine Road, and for one day only, I'll be serving up open-face thick toasts, using some of the best local produce I can gather. There's minimal treatment to each ingredient, no crazy rempahs (or long shopping lists, thank god); just food brought together in a fun yummy way.

The menu is meat-free, simply because I can't find a good source of local meat, but you're not going to miss it. Thanks to some ace mouths PhillipDevon, my two best greedy friends and my Dad, for testing multiple permutations and combinations of crazy homemade mayos, pickles, chilli sauces, local herbs and grilled/fried/roasted vegetables. Thanks also to Bjorn (chef/owner of Artichoke) for sharing his ace tips for local suppliers.


I guess it's sort of a little push for local food producers. But it's nothing pretentious and let's not get all silly and romantic about it. Because yes it is impossible for Singaporeans to be all eating entirely off local producers. But it would be pretty cool if one day my mum reaches for the Singapore-grown sweet potato instead and happily says "it's Singaporean!!!"

It will be a lot of fun even if you don't care about all that bit I just ranted about earlier. 11 Jan, at Carpenter and Cook Jr, from noon till 6pm, or till I run out/ collapse.

~

More farms and markets
A peek into Chegworth Valley
6am at a wet market in Singapore

More cooking gigs
My first plusixfive supperclub

Awesome people's addresses
Carpenter and Cook Jr.
17 Jasmine Road
Green Circle Ecofarm
41 Neo Tiew Road (Kranji)
Ghee Leong (Sing Hon Loong Bakery)
4 Whampoa Drive
Xin Ye Fish Seller
Blk 156 Bt. Batok Street 11 #01-04

35 comments:

  1. Hi Shu Han. What an awesome post. This all sounds so good. I wish I could pop over. I love what you are doing.
    Hope you have an amazing time.
    debx

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    1. Thank you so much deb! Oh it would be so fun if you could! Will definitely keep you posted x

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  2. What an interesting post, Shu! I love to go to Farmer's Markets and enjoy great produces (without all the pesticides). All the 3 toasts presented above look appetizing. Although the one topped with egg is the prettiest, if I had to choose one to taste I'd have chosen the one with prawns. I love the contrasting flavors on it. Wishing you a very happy 2014!

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    1. Thanks so much Denise! I loved working at the farmer's market. It's there that I learnt how important produce was and how important it is to have a good relationship with your producers, and to really know where your food comes from. You're lucky you can still enjoy them where you are; it's difficult here in singapore! Happy new year to you too and yeah I hope pple think the same way about the toasts that day ><

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  3. Every movement starts with a few brave souls who go against the tide and do what they feel is right. It's good that you're highlighting the efforts being made in providing quality local ingredients. That menu looks terrific! Have fun and knock their socks off!!

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    1. Yikes Gene that's a tall order! Thanks so much for those kind amazing words! I just hope above all, to have fun, and for people to have fun, and through that, hopefully understand all that bit I ranted about.

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  4. Hi Shu Han, Great posting. Thanks for sharing with us. Your toast menu look excellent and very interesting. Yes, hit the balls out of the park... congratulation and keep up the good job. Have a fun and exciting day.

    Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year to you. :))

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    1. Thanks Amelia for the well wishes. Fingers crossed balls are hit ;)
      A very happy new year to you too love!

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  5. Thanks for sharing your love for food and locally grown ingredients. I wish I was in Singapore so I could try the open face toast you are preparing. What you are doing is really amazing!

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    1. Thanks Yi! Well its not 11 jan yet so I'm keeping my fingers crossed it will be as amazing as you say it to be, yikes!

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  6. Happy New Year! Long-time lurker of your blog - this post inspired me to say hello. I love this post! I'd like to eat local too and it does seem much harder to do it here in Singapore than in UK. Really hope you can share more about what you've found here in future posts :) - Serene

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    1. Hello Serene!! Your comment made my day seriously. I don't know how many local lurkers I have and it's nerve-wrecking doing something like this with no clue whether Singaporeans give a shit about this local thing I'm going on about. Thanks so much for saying hello! Come down on the day and say hello in person :)

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  7. Oh, how great -- congrats on your popup gig! Food brought together in a fun and yummy way sounds about right to me and even if Singapore is not about to go full-tilt I would still be out there supporting local producers whenever possible. And, who knows...I like to think that some day, all things are possible :). Beautiful toasts!

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    1. Thanks so much Kelly! So happy to hear you agree. It's definitely not possible for Singapore to go full-tilt, but it's really nice to be able to buy local when I can and just to be proud of what your country does produce :)

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  8. Hi Shu Han,

    Wishing you and your loved ones a great 2014 ahead! Cheers!

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    1. A happy happy new year to you and your gorgeous family. Hey, we should makan sometime now that I'm in sg. Or pop by on 11 jan! :)

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  9. Love this idea...A VERY Happy New Year to you and yours, Shu!!!

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    1. Thanks love! And here's wishing you a great 2014 ahead too x

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  10. The toasts look absolutely delicious and extremely creative! Congratulations, Shuhan!
    I am a total organic/free-range convert in both meat and produce. I became hooked, especially since the choice got bigger. Apart from the taste, I discovered for example mandarins that don't leave this sticky chemical stuff when peeled; I had always assumed it was a part of the fruit! Unfortunately people are so used to quick supermarket shopping... Thumbs up for supporting local production! Happy New Year!

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    1. Thanks so much Sissi! It's the result of more than just my tastebuds/creativity ;) So glad to be surrounded by equally greedy friends.
      I am so glad you agree. Beyond organic and free-range though, supporting local produce is really key to getting hold of good flavour and nutrients. A lot of these organic vegetables, after being flown across continents and chucked into storage for days, lose their natural sweetness and nutrients, that tomato example I gave being one that really bugs me! I'm glad you try to shop outside of the supermarket :) It's much more exciting! Unfortunately it's not possible (at least in Singapore) to not rely on the supermarket for groceries entirely but every small step's gotta help right?

      HAPPY NEW YEAR TOO! x

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    2. I totally agree, the first step towards healthy and flavoursome food is to develop local production, so I understand very well the different situation in Singapore. Every step is important!
      I hate choosing between local (and pumped with pesticides) vs imported (from other European countries) and organic. Of course I dream of local and good quality produce... Luckily I can buy Swiss or French or at worst Italian organic produce most of the time, which doesn't mean very long routes. Meat and eggs are quite often from local producers too. I prefer buying imported, but not pumped with pesticides. (Unfortunately I find less and less good quality local food at farmers market, so luckily my organic shops has more choice every year and their ugly, dirty produce feels almost like buying from a market stall ;-) ).
      As you see, it's quite complicated... I wish I could buy everything from local producers who have stalls on my market, with who I can talk about their products, etc.. (I must visit your London market, by the way!!! ). Happy New Year, once more!

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  11. Love your toast party and the way you present it, Shu Han.
    Have a blessed and joyful New Year!
    Angie

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  12. Happy New Year Shu Han!! :-) May the year bring you all good things and Happiness....
    This is such a lovely post, I've enjoyed reading it so much!
    Nothing beats the local flavors of home, eh? ;-)

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    1. Thanks christy! A happy new year to you too and really glad you enjoyed the post!

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  13. Happy New Year Shu Han! Sounds like you are having an interesting time championing locally produced food. I hope the pop up is a huge success. Who doesn't love toast!

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    1. happy new year Caz!! Thanks so much, I'm freaking out a little bit now that I realise it's a week away..

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  14. Aghhhh this is so awesome! Luckily my parents grew bok choy and spring onions at home as a kid so I appreciated the difference from a young age, but I didn't really know much about the environmental implications of cheap crap food until much later. Ultimately I think the taste factor is what really wins people over, so it's a good approach to make food that is simply irresistible and also difficult to do justice with ingredients that are produced for a quick buck.

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    1. We grow chilli and sweet potato leaves and papaya and lemongrass and pandan! Thank you!! It really makes my day to hear from people who understand what I'm rambling on about. I hope the toast party shows people something, but first of all, and above all, I just hope everyone has fun- and then after that maybe, just maybe, change their minds a little :)

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  15. I'm all for buying into the "seasonal shit" as you say, but damn it drives me nuts (or "boils my piss" as a friend would say) that some things I love - nay, some things I almost "NEED" - are so freaking expensive out of season. Yes, I should just do the seasonal thing, but dear God I love aubergine and I got nailed for that today... had to buy two... 45 SEK a kilo... that's like £4.20!

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    1. That's nuts!! All the more reason to buy in season then I would say?! Though, must say, completely understand the aubergine craving. I loveeeee it.

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  16. Congrats on the event, Shu Han!! I really really wish I could've made it to support you when I was in Singapore that weekend but just ran out of time. Was only there for 2 nights, too short of a time to spend in the awesome Singapore. Am sure you kicked butt that day. Congrats again!

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  17. Amazing. But as an aside, I truly love your airport. Almost as much as bcm. And that 57th floor infinity pool is a-may-zingaling. :-) x

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    1. Ha! Yeah our airport is pretty awesome huh. And that infinity pool. I show them off all the time. ;)

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  18. Hi Shu Han!

    Glad to have met you at the fermentation workshop last Saturday! The aunty seem so impressed with your food blog, I told myself I had to visit it soon - and as I was reading this post, I found myself relating to your journey to seek out local produce! I spent the last couple of months at A Rocha Canada where they engage in organic community shared agriculture and we cook with mostly what we grow - the whole eat local, organic and seasonal concept was a fascinating experience for this Singaporean girl! So coming back home, I was pleasantly surprised to find communities like Edible Gardens that champion urban organic farming and I've also started a personal journey to search out and support food grown locally (a few surprising finds even in ntuc)! I agree with you that it's unlikely that Singaporeans will be eating entirely off local produce, yet every small step to learning about our food, where it comes from and what we can grow here (a step beyond our national food culture of finding the best food stalls around) is worth taking and sharing. If you do come across more people/communities who grow their own food, please do tell! :)

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    1. Hello Pamela!

      So good to have met you and hope you enjoyed the workshop! Haha that aunty.. #awkward!! Thank you for checking the blog out though! Really pleased to meet like-minded people in Singapore who love food enough to find out where it comes from. I'm hoping to share more stuff on facebook because I'm getting a bit lazy with the blog hah so do check back on the other platforms too! And thanks again for dropping by and taking time to leave a comment :) p.s. hope your kimchi is bubbling well!

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