Singapore restaurants are known to import everything because, apparently, the land-scarce city-state with a land area of 719.1 square kilometres has "no farms to speak of". Unbeknownst to most, about 9% of the Singapore population were actively involved in agricultural activities in 1970. Due to rapid urbanisation and industrialization, the once subsistence economy restructured over time and now imports more than 90% of its food supplies to feed its population of 5.6 million.
That’s not to say there are no local farmers and producers in Singapore. The city now boasts more than 1,000 community farm projects, of which more than 80% are based in public housing estates. And that does not even include a whole host of urban and non-urban farms growing everything from vegetables, herbs, fish and seafood.
Chefs and restaurateurs are taking notice of the fresh produce available at their doorstep and the once non-existent farm-to-table movement is slowly – but surely – taking shape in the city.
Who are the Singapore local farmers and producers?
Using LED light technology and a fully controlled environment, Farm delight - measuring just 300 sqm - with 80 racks at Jalan Boon Lay grows greens that are usually imported from temperate countries, think leafy vegetables (e.g. kale and mizuna), micro greens and cress (e.g. chervil and chives) as well as herbs and flowers (e.g. oxalis and ice plant). While the greens are not certified organic, they are grown in Germany-imported soil with organic and eco-friendly fertilizers.
You will find them served in beautifully plated courses across the city in restaurants like the two Michelin-starred Odette where the red vein sorrel, micro basil, purple wood sorrel and nasturtium appear in dishes like the foie gras ‘comme un pho’ and the signature lemon tart by chef-owner Julien Royer. “It is about the freshness, quality and supporting initiatives by local farmers,” says Royer. “Plus, there’s no minimum order and it’s greener with less carbon footprint.”
Ah Hua Kelong
The Ah Hua Kelong (fish farm on offshore wooden platform in the waters) located off Pasir Ris and Sembawang is about 19 years old but it wasn’t until the 27-year-old duo, Bryan Ang and Wong Jing Kai, partnered with the farm owner in 2014 that the online delivery and restaurants wholesale business took off. Today, it sells a repertoire of seafood including farmed fish (seabass, pearl grouper, golden pomfret and red snapper) as well as locally caught flower crabs and shellfish (green mussels, cockles and sweet clams), a good 50% of which goes to local chefs like John-Paul Fiechtner of Bistro November.
“I like to buy the flower crabs from them as I place an order the night before and it turns up live the next morning,” says Fiechtner, who steams the crab and serves it with local curd in a pool of homemade pumpkin vinegar perfumed with roasted crab butter and kelp oil. “Locally, you cannot get any fresher unless you catch it yourself!”
With two barramundi farms, one measuring 7.5ha and a second newer one at 12ha, Kuhlbarra is the city-state’s largest commercial fish farm. Situated in the Pulau Semakau ocean enclosure, where the strong sea currents ensure the excess feed does not build up in the locale, the locally farmed barramundi are fed a diet of 70% plant protein and 30% fish meal supplied by a sustainable-certified manufacturer.
Although the brand is just two years old, the barramundi has made inroads to USA, Australia and Hong Kong but a whopping 50% of the fish is still consumed locally with the vast majority supplied to local restaurants like the one Michelin-starred Cheek by Jowl. “We currently serve it pan roasted with seaweed puree, pickled onions and a broccoli steam crusted with burnt melon,” says chef-owner Rishi Naleendra. “Its main draw is the freshness, you pretty much get the barramundi the same day they harvest and the whole process is really well controlled.”