Taking the farm route to revive traditional, indigenous fare

By Zhao Xu ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-08-20 07:33:32

Taking the farm route to revive traditional, indigenous fare

The Edible Gardens is a restaurant and garden attempting to revive Singapore's indigenous flavors with locally grown plants. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Bjorn Low never expected that he would one day be involved in the revival of Singapore's culinary traditions.

"By tradition, I mean the tradition of the indigenous Malay people, before the arrival of immigrants from China, India and other parts of the world," says the 35-year-old, who had been working in the advertising industry in the UK before returning to Singapore in 2013 to discover his new calling.

"Over the past half millennium, and especially over the past 100 years, Singapore has turned from a speck on the Indian Ocean to one of the world's busiest trading ports," he says.

"In the process, it has seen people of various ethnicities coming and going, altering and ultimately reshaping the island's culinary landscape.

According to Low, the result was fusion food long before the term became a restaurant clich��.

"Most people simply laud Singapore's vibrant food scene without realizing that the vibrancy has in part come at the cost of some truly indigenous food, prepared using local plants - and flowers - that grew or were cultivated by Malays on the island for centuries or longer," he says.

"So, any effort to revive the tradition must start with farming."

These days, a visitor to Singapore can sample Low's idea by touring his Edible Gardens, located in the Open Farm Community at 130E Minden Road, before treating oneself to a plate of mud crab pappardelle with Thai curry sauce, prepared by the Italian chef of the restaurant, to which the garden is attached.

"Not every dish has local ingredients. But we try to work with the chef to make sure that what we have planted in the gardens will eventually appear on the table," says Low.

Under a scorching mid-noon sun, Low ushers me and my media colleagues - we were visiting the country at the invitation of the Singapore International Foundation - into his tropical garden before announcing: "You can chew up everything you see here!"

Instantly recognizable is sugar cane as well as banana and coffee plants, while the less familiar ones include passion fruit, tropical cherry and a type of herb called ulam rajah, or, more famously, "the king of salad".

Coincidently, a local Malay vegetable is called man's cai, with cai having the same pronunciation as the Mandarin word for "vegetable".

Flowers abound in the garden too.

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