SINGAPORE (THE BUSINESS TIMES) - When you are in the business of nostalgia, preserving tradition sometimes means giving it a modern spin.
Here are three local F&B shops which have put a new spin on old favourites, from ice cream to kopi-o. They range from hipster branding for ice creams, to a ModSin take on local dishes, to a new economy delivery for an old-school beverage.
These food operators are hoping their fresh approaches will lure customers to their offerings in a competitive F&B landscape in Singapore.
LENG LENG ICE CREAM
01-11, 116 Changi Road
You may have heard of the "Sticker Lady" - a nickname Ms Samantha Lo gained in 2012 when she made headlines for an artwork involving the pasting of stickers on traffic light buttons.
While she has spent the last few years making art and even holding her own solo exhibitions, Ms Lo has recently been involved in a slightly different kind of project - designing the branding for an ice cream shop called Leng Leng Ice Cream. The shop's name is a pun on the Chinese word for "cold", but was actually named after her mother and aunt, who run the operations.
Ms Lo's friend, Ms Ilya Noor, helps out as a food consultant since she also runs her own adhoc F&B business. Says Ms Ilya: "When her mum and aunt wanted to start a business, they wanted something that was easy and approachable. Everyone loves ice cream, so we brought that idea to life for them. We didn't want to do something too modern because we wanted them to be comfortable, so we took the nostalgic route."
While they offer regular ice cream flavours such as chocolate and salted caramel, you can also find Horlicks, gula melaka, and Thai milk tea ice cream from $3.20 a scoop. Plus, you have the option of having your ice cream wrapped in a slice of rainbow bread, pandan or sugee waffle.
It is not just the food that is the main draw at Leng Leng, it is the experience you get when visiting the shop, says Ms Ilya.
"We're fortunate that being in Joo Chiat plays well with the theme of our shop. The decorations were done by Samantha so, for example, instead of lampshades we use those plastic covers meant to cover food. Sometimes I feel like I'm on the set of that local TV show Growing Up," she describes.
The homeyness extends to the service as well. "The aunties are really aunties. They will treat you like their child, and they have their own way of interacting with you and making you feel comfortable. Our regulars feel like they're visiting them at home," she adds.
NON-ENTREE DESSERTS CAFE
204 Rangoon Road
While everyone else was busy squabbling over who makes the best nasi lemak burger, chef Francis Wong decided he would take a different route. He invented a sweet version of the dish, so it would fit in with the menu at his dessert cafe on Rangoon Road, named Non-Entree.
His version of the "nasi lemak" is made up of a pandan mousse and gula melaka sauce encased in a coconut nasi, served with ikan bilis and lightly salted peanuts, a yogurt mango "hard-boiled egg", a side of raspberry lemongrass "sambal", and topped with a "Kuning" biscuit. It looks almost exactly like the classic dish, but tastes almost entirely different.
What you see isn't quite what you get - that is his philosophy, says chef Wong. "Everyone else seems to be doing desserts like waffles, or thick toast, so there isn't much variety. I prefer to do something a little more out of the box," adds the chef, who is trained in French pastry, and used to be a pastry chef at the Regent Hotel.
So at Non-Entree Desserts Cafe, which he started with two business partners, chef Wong creates unique themes of desserts that change every six months.
Last September, the menu was called Back To The Future, featuring cakes that looked like ang ku kueh, pineapple tarts, gem biscuits, and kueh tutu, as well as gelatos inspired by childhood sweets such as White Rabbit candy. Though the theme has changed since then, the four cakes can now be pre-ordered from the cafe at $35 nett per set in celebration of National Day.
It is because these nostalgic desserts have been so popular that chef Wong intends to do more of them in the future, starting with a Street Food theme next year, which will feature things such as chwee kueh and png kueh.
"Singaporeans like nostalgia because they can identify with it. It's tested and proven - when I ended the nostalgic theme last year, my sales dipped. With normal cakes you probably eat one or two a month, but with something like kueh, you can eat it every time your mother buys it from the market. It's part of our culture," says chef Wong.
Mr Benjamin Tan first got the idea for his coffee start-up back when he was working as a police officer. "The guy who inspired me to do it as a subscription service was an ex-convict I arrested. He was peddling contraband cigarettes that he delivered via bicycle and letterboxes," he says.
Earlier this year, he finally started Rickshaw Coffee, a coffee delivery service that runs on a subscription model, selling traditional coffeeshop-style kopi in drip form - a modern twist to how kopi is usually brewed in a sock.
"I wanted to bring the traditional kind of brewed coffee to people's homes. The common kind of coffee that is available in drip form is Western coffee, so it's usually not the traditional beans. I spent some time experimenting and found a blend that suits the drip format, so I can deliver that directly to homes," explains Mr Tan.
For now, he offers two kinds of coffee. His signature blend is Rickshaw Black, aka the kopi-o kosong ($5.90 for a one-time purchase of five sachets).
"One main group I target is senior citizens, because it's hard to find a good cup of simple 'kopi-o' these days, especially in newer estates such as Punggol or in the CBD, where a lot of people end up drinking three-in-one coffees. But those aren't exactly the healthiest choice," he says.
His other range is the Rickshaw Gold, which contains milk and sugar ($20.70 for a one-time purchase of 10 sachets), and is targeted at the younger generation because it is easier to drink. This part of his business is a move to help preserve our local coffeeshop kopi culture.
"The roasting methods we have in Singapore are unique to us. You can't find it anywhere else in the world. There's an older generation of coffee roasters who aren't as good as articulating the history or heritage of the Nanyang roast as the young generation that does artisanal coffee. But why can't Nanyang coffee be considered gourmet? It's a dying trade, and if we don't appreciate it, we will lose it," says Mr Tan.