As we were compiling our ‘New Restaurants’ series this year, which unfortunately will be discontinued next year, we also kept our eyes on the food trends in Singapore. Many of these food trends have a logical reasoning behind them. We see that Singaporeans are getting more health-conscious, which lead to several trends on this list.
As we advance as a nation, we become more affluent, resulting in a market in premium ingredients or specialised cafes.
One advancement can be seen as we move from physical shopping to online shopping; we seldom buy from retail shops but since we must still eat, we go to restaurants. To combat this trend, many shops have combined retail and dining.
But even as we advance, we are nostalgic, holding on to our roots, giving rise to the hipsterization of local food.
1. NASI LEMAK
Nasi lemak is a traditional Malay food but with renewed interest in keeping our food heritage alive, the dish has become a national symbol that different races can latch onto. The movement has brainwashed hipsters and the dish has become their favorite hawker food because they keep opening nasi lemak restaurants this year. Hipsters usually follow traditional recipes but they use premium (sometimes imported) ingredients and modern techniques such as cold-pressing the coconut milk. Sometimes premium ingredients like lobster or deep-fried giant squid are added to it.
Not only is nasi lemak itself making a comeback, reincarnations of the dish are causing waves. Food Anatomy compacts nasi lemak into cubes; McDonald’s nasi lemak burger is sold out in two weeks, inspiring many independent small cafes to come up with their own versions of burgers; the popular Non Entrée Dessert Cafe created a dessert that looks like nasi lemak.
2. POKE BOWLS
Poke bowl (pronounced POH-keh) is a Hawaiian food consisting of cubed raw fish, seasoned any way you want, on rice or salad. It is popular for many reasons: it is a variation of chirashi don which has been popular in Singapore for some time; it makes a nutritious quick lunch; it’s customisable, allowing for broad audience; it provides salad options for people who avoid carbs; fish is a meat that most people eat.
But even as many kiosks pop up selling poke bowls, they only have customers during lunch time. Clearly, this is a problem.
Examples: Makai Poke, Poke Doke, Ohana Poke, Alakai Poke, Sweetfish Poke.
3. STEAMING SEAFOOD
Instead of a hotpot or a BBQ plate in the middle, steamed containers are stacked up. There is the Chinese style, served at Sea Tripod, Steam Box, and Just Steam. Then there is the Korean style at Captain K Seafood, House of Seafood, and K Tower at Amoy Street. The difference between Chinese and Korean restaurants is that the Chinese places porridge at the bottom whereas Korean uses the steam from soups, and they stack the seafood in tiers (see photo above). The essence of the seafood will drip into porridge/soup.
The reason behind this trend is because people are getting more conscious about their health and seafood has relatively low calories and fats. It also allows friends and family to gather together for a communal meal.
4. LOBSTERS AT HAWKER CENTRES
As Singapore grows more prosperous, some hawkers have added lobsters to their food, usually to soupy dishes but it is not unusual to find it on nasi lemak.
5. ICE CREAM SHOPS, CAKE SHOPS, SOFTSERVE
There are few cafes that provide both savoury food and sweets opening this year. Instead, “cafes” become more specialised, turning into cake shops or ice cream parlours. Some of them, like Birds of Paradise and Apiary, are fantastic, making their own cones, and the aroma of waffles fills the shop.
Many of these ice cream parlours and cake shops are either retro- or garden-themed. Both themes play on our fantasty: The former theme harkens to our nostalgia for simpler times whereas the garden theme gives us an escape from our concrete jungle.
Other examples of ice cream shops: Tru Birch, Licktionary Ice Cream, Smoocht, Lickety Ice Cream and Waffles.
Examples of cake shops: All the Batter, Pablo Cheesetart, Three’s A Crowd Cafe, The Batter Affair.
The concept of combining food and retail isn’t new of course: Carpenter and Cook and Egg3 Cafe (now permanently closed) have combined both cafe and furniture. But this year, the lifestyle concept cafes have proliferated and I suspect the trend will continue. With online shopping, it’s hard for physical retail shops to survive. Restaurants can survive because people still need to eat and meet friends and family. So one of the ways to keep retail afloat is to combine retail with food.
Examples: Merci Marcel, House of Anli, Knots Cafe and Living, Monument Lifestyle, Steamroom with the Pillar and Stones, Groundstory.
7. GRILL RESTAURANTS
Grilling has always had a place on restaurant’s menu but these days, restaurants specialise in grilling. I’m not talking about Korean bbq or Japanese yakitori, although many of them open this year. I’m referring specifically to grill restaurants. I suppose it is because of the low-carb diet fad that people are looking for meat-centric restaurants.
8. CASTELLA CAKE
Photo credit: Ah Mah Homemade Cake
2016 was the year of the salted egg yolk croissant. 2017 is the year of Castella cake, originally from Taiwan. It is egg sponge cake but they use more eggs than usual, intensifying the flavours and fragrance. We tried three brands in Singapore, Ah Mah and The Original and Antoinette, and think The Original is the best.
Did we miss out any trend? Comment and let us know.
Written by A. Nathanael Ho.
Categories: 1. Cuisine