Fad food: Home-grown chefs re-creating Instagram-able food

Singapore eatery owners are emulating food trends they see on social media to draw more customers

Instagram see, kitchen do. This seems to be the driving force behind several new food crazes in Singapore. Home-grown chefs spot a stunning creation on social media and try to recreate it in their own restaurants.

These "hot" items include a raindrop cake from Japan, which is a dome-shaped water-based jelly with roasted soya bean flour and brown sugar syrup; coffee served in an ice-cream cone, a South African trend; steamed buns with cartoon faces that "vomit" custard, all the rage in Hong Kong; and desserts topped with candy floss from countries such as South Korea and Malaysia.

The renditions by home-grown chefs, often with modifications such as different fillings and toppings, will then get photographed and shared online, creating a new buzz.

You may cry copycat, but restaurateurs say all's fair in love, war and F&B. For Ms Natalie Soh, 24, owner of bingsu cafe Soobingbing in Westgate mall, which offers the raindrop cake, it is all about "catching on to this trend before it goes away".

She says: "Competition in the desserts scene here is strong, so I need to stay ahead and constantly look for trending food items to keep customers returning."

She is looking at bringing in food ideas from street markets in Hong Kong and Taiwan.

Over at Builders At Sims, a two-month-old cafe in Sims Place, chef Joey Lim, 29, rolled out a waffle affogato latte, which has vanilla ice cream and latte served in an ice-cream cone.

He hopes the unusual coffee-cone can draw diners to the cafe.

He says: "We are new and not in a hip location, so following a food trend can bring in curious diners."

Chinese restaurant Peony Jade in Keppel Club aims to attract younger customers with steamed molten lava buns that are fashioned after Gudetama, a Japanese egg cartoon character.

Mr Dominic Han, 34, head of marketing at The Quayside Group, which runs the restaurant, says: "It is about capturing the Instagram generation who would rather visit hip cafes than Chinese restaurants. Nobody wants to take photographs of food that has been around for 50 years."

Indeed, what unifies these new dishes is a strong visual appeal.

Social media expert Michael Netzley of Singapore Management University says that people like to be seen as trendy by being "tuned in" and experiencing novel products.

Antoinette's chef-owner Pang Kok Keong, 41, says he is careful about which food trends to follow.

While he is open to borrowing ideas for "fun items", he maintains that they need to have some association with the French pastries and food served in his restaurants.

Take his Matcha Latte. While the idea for the candy floss-topped drink came from cafes abroad, he "improvises" by pairing the drink with French confections.

While a part of him wants to challenge himself to see if he can make the best version of a popular item, "another part of you wants to create something original", he says.

A bun that pukes

Steamed lava buns that - there is no delicate way of putting this - puke on your plate.

Yup, poke a chopstick onto the "mouths" of the cartoon faces on the buns and the filling - either custard or chocolate - oozes out.

These rude buns were originally the creations of Hong Kong restaurant Dim Sum Icon, which sold them for five months till December last year.

They were a hit, with 800 sold daily.

The buns were fashioned after Gudetama, a lazy egg yolk character from Japan's Sanrio Corporation.

The bun has made its way to Singapore, thanks to Mr Robert Han, 56, group general manager of The Quayside Group. He saw the buns when he dined at Dim Sum Icon last year, and decided to introduce a similar idea to one of the group's restaurants, Peony Jade in Keppel Club.

It now serves the Steamed Molten Lava Salted Choc-On Bao, which is filled with chocolate sauce infused with salted egg yolk; and Steamed Matcha Salted Egg Yolk Molten Bao, which is shaped like a frog and filled with matcha sauce with salted egg yolk.

But the buns are not exact copies of Dim Sum Icon's, says Mr Dominic Han, 34, head of marketing at The Quayside Group - the fillings have been given a twist.

Where: Peony Jade Restaurant, 10 Bukit Chermin Road, Keppel Club

Open: 11am to 2.30pm, 6 to 10.30pm, weekday; 10.30am to 2.30pm, 6 to 11pm, weekend

Info: Call 6276-9138 or go to peonyjade.com

Price: $10 for three pieces (Steamed Molten Lava Salted Choc-On Bao); $9 for three pieces (Steamed Matcha Salted Egg Yolk Molten Bao)

Coffee in a cone

When you order this special latte, you can drink the coffee and eat the cup it comes in. This is because the "cup" is actually a chocolate-coated waffle cone which holds vanilla ice cream and a latte. This waffle affogato latte is created by Builders At Sims cafe's chef Joey Lim, 29.

To ensure that the cones are durable enough to hold the coffee, he coats the waffles with compound chocolate, which is made of cocoa, vegetable fat and sweeteners.

As an "extra safeguard against leaks", he stuffs a marshmallow at the bottom of the cone.

Lim, who is the former head chef of Tiong Bahru Bakery, was inspired by Coffee In A Cone, which was concocted by Mr Dayne Levinrad, a barista in South Africa, in January this year.

Within a few months, other cafes and those in the United Arab Emirates and the United States started selling them.

For the past two weeks, Builders At Sims has been selling up to 20 waffle affogato lattes daily.

Later this month, Lim will launch coffee served in "cups" made of cranberry white chocolate cookies. They are similar to French pastry chef Dominique Ansel's Cookie Shots.

Where: Builders At Sims, Block 53 Sims Place, 01-160

Open: 11am to 9pm, Monday to Saturday; closed on Sunday

Info: Call 6747-1837 or go to www.facebook.com/ buildersatsims

Price: $7

Raindrop or breast implant?

Some have joked that it resembles a silicone breast implant, but diners lap up the raindrop cake anyway.

The "cake" is really a translucent dome-shaped jelly that resembles a huge raindrop. It is served with kinako (roasted soya bean flour) and brown sugar syrup.

Fusion Korean dessert cafe Soobingbing, which serves bingsu (Korean shaved ice), added the raindrop cake to its menu two weeks ago.

Owner Natalie Soh, 24, says that response has been "overwhelming", with some customers making reservations two days in advance for it.

She saw photos of the raindrop cake on Facebook last year and learnt to make it herself. It took her one month and 150 attempts to get the right proportions of ingredients.

The jelly is made with agar powder, sugar and spring water imported from Japan and Indonesia and has to be kept refrigerated.

The cake, or mizu shingen mochi, originated from Yamanashi-based confectionery Kinseiken Seika Japan in 2014. It created waves among foodies earlier this year when New York-based digital marketing strategist Darren Wong sold it at the popular Smorgasburg food market in New York City.

Japanese restaurant Sushi Murasaki in Millenia Walk has offered raindrop cake as part of its omakase menu since it opened last October and Make A Difference Bistro in Tanglin Road is serving raindrop cakes with crushed peanuts.

Ms Soh is offering 10 toppings to go with the raindrop cake, such as matcha sauce and fruit.

Where: Soobingbing, 3 Gateway Drive, Westgate, 03-01

Open: 5 to 10pm, Monday to Thursday; 1 to 10.30pm, Friday and Saturday; 1 to 10pm, Sunday

Info: Call 9838-2973 or go to instagram.com/soobingbingg

Price: From $4

Cloud over latte

Antoinette's Matcha Latte. PHOTO: ANTOINETTE

Antoinette's Matcha Latte is served with a 10cm-tall cloud of white candy floss supported by a stick, which gives the illusion that it is floating above the drink.

And it is not there just to look good - it serves a purpose too. As the floss melts, it drips into the cup to infuse sweetness into the Matcha Latte.

Antoinette's chef-owner Pang Kok Keong was inspired by a photograph of a cup of coffee topped with over-sized candy floss which was shot by a friend in Malaysia.

The 41-year-old chef says: "The Matcha Latte is fun to make and drink and it has such a big visual impact."

He took a few attempts to tweak the mix of milk and green tea for the latte. The drink is served with three dainty matcha-infused confections: almond cookie, financier and bonbon.

This drink is part of the eatery's Fetish Matcha menu, which features 22 matcha-based creations, such as matcha pasta and matcha popsicles. The menu is available until the end of this month.

Serving desserts and drinks fluffed up with colourful candy floss has been a trend over the past year in countries such as South Korea and Malaysia.

Where: Antoinette, 30 Penhas Road

Open: 11am to 10pm, Monday to Thursday; 11am to 11pm, Friday; 10am to 11pm, Saturday; 10am to 10pm, Sunday

Info: Call 6293-3121 or go to www.antoinette.com.sg

Price: $22

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 03, 2016, with the headline Fad food: Home-grown chefs re-creating Instagram-able food. Subscribe