It has been two years since Karen Nah launched My Singapore Food – a website dedicated to heritage food which featured 50 traditional recipes by home cooks. At the time, SG50 was in full swing, as was a renewed national interest in Singapore’s identity and heritage. A number of government-funded heritage projects were also launched then, although most have since ended or lost steam.
My Singapore Food is still going strong as Nah continues to work on it full time. Recently, she launched an online shop, Handpicked, to literally curate old school foodstuffs for sale. Together with her new partner Cheryl Yuen, she launched her first range of products – fresh noodles made by a local manufacturer, Hiap Giap. While easily found in wet markets or packaged in supermarkets, Handpicked’s range is more extensive, and better still, they deliver.
If you’ve tried unsuccessfully to get Chinese restaurants to sell you their ‘QQ’ or chewy-springy noodles, Handpicked is the answer. Hiap Giap – which was started by Nah’s father in 1968 – supplies noodles to restaurants such as Crystal Jade and London Fat Duck. You’ll find wonton noodles (mee kia) and skins; mee pok; green Emerald noodles and even la mian.
Nah explains that the ultimate aim for Handpicked is to share a story. “I’ve found that it’s the story that people care about, and regular Singaporeans may not even realise we have a local noodle manufacturer of our own.”
The original My Singapore Food project was inspired by Nah’s mother, an accomplished cook who would hand-make kueh and other delicacies for her family.
“Now she’s in her 70s, still healthy, but she has slight dementia and tends to forget the things she used to cook. So I’ve been trying to document her recipes, and realised there were many other people who want to do the same,” she says.
During that journey with My Singapore Food, Nah came across local farmers or producers whom she feels need help with marketing and exposure.
“Going forward we are working with them to create other artisanal ingredients like sauces and fragrance oils, because we want people to have access to these things. An upcoming product we have is from a chef that I’ve recently gotten to know well. He makes his own sauce so we intend to sell that in small quantities.”
After 25 years in the healthcare industry, Kit Wong decided that he had seen enough of people going in and out of hospitals, and wanted to do something to help them stay out of hospitals instead.
That’s why he founded Bloomworth, a two-year-old company that distributes cold-pressed virgin coconut oil under the brand aroozoo. Just last December, they expanded their coconut-centric inventory and have now included a range of gourmet noodles under the same brand name.
These aroozoo noodles come in four flavours – red chilli, purple sweet potato, turmeric, and moringa, and are available at local retailer Naiise for S$8.90 a pack. They are made with all-natural ingredients such as wheat flour, cassava flour, vegetables, herbs, and roots, all of which come from East Java, Indonesia.
“We believe that real food is in the ingredients, rather than the end product. With that in mind, we’re trying to develop a range of products that are kitchen essentials,” says Wong.
For instance, one of the products under development is a range of cooking oils from coconut, that retain their nutritional value, but doesn’t use chemicals to remove the aroma. “We’re also working towards a few other kitchen ingredients like salt, sugar, and soya sauce,” adds Wong.
He explains that even before officially starting the company, he had visited farms and spoken to manufacturers, and saw that there were some who made good products but did not know how to sell or market them.
“We want to help the farmers in this community bring their food to mainstream attention. We’re hoping to use Singapore as a base, and if it does well here we’d like to bring it even further. We’ve had enquiries from Korea, and spoken to some people in Thailand for that,” he says.
How many people can say they once fell in love with something they ate, and immediately knew they could turn it into a business? Leela Jesudason can. She came across a product called Shirataki Noodles on Amazon a few years ago, and is now the distributor for Singapore and the region.
“I was very impressed with the satisfying fullness of eating these all-natural noodles. I researched the origins of the product and got pretty excited about it. I even went so far as to the get the permit to import and got in touch with the founder over email,” she says.
Last August, she finally started The Clever Consumer after resigning from her post as director, head of consumer marketing at Ogilvy PR. Next week, her website will launch with a range of Shirataki Noodles from the brand Miracle Noodles, from the un-cooked versions to the various ready-to-eat flavours like Thai Tom Yum, Pad Thai, and Japanese Curry. What’s special about these Shirataki Noodles is that they are made from the root of a plant called the Konnyaku Imo – which is also where the sweet konnyaku jelly comes from. It is made of a soluble fibre, so it is low in calories, gluten-free, and vegan-friendly.
“There are many customers out there, like me, who know that we need to reduce the intake of carbohydrates in our meals… while we can make do without rice and noodles, it’s nice to be able to eat ‘comfort food’ while still maintaining healthy eating habits,” explains Jesudason. “My aim is to provide a natural and tasty halal-certified carb-alternative that everyone can enjoy; especially diabetics and those who are gluten-intolerant.”
This story first appeared in The Business Times.