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T Suggests: An Ancient Fermented Superfood, Basket Bags as Art Objects and a Playful Sour Cocktail

By T: The New York Times Style Magazine Singapore

Originating from an old-world Javanese tradition, tempeh is a bar-like slab of golden brown soybeans bound together by a type of white fungus starter culture.
Azimin Saini
Originating from an old-world Javanese tradition, tempeh is a bar-like slab of golden brown soybeans bound together by a type of white fungus starter culture.

A Small-Batch Maker of Fermented Superfood from Ancient Java 

Fermentation, an age-old way of preserving and catalysing food by letting bacteria proliferate on its sugars, is a building trend in the food industry. Revered chefs of top restaurants, like Noma’s René Redzepi and Momofuku’s David Chang, have went as far as to dedicate entire R&D wings to the practice. Beyond the blindingly obvious staples — beer, wine, yoghurt, cheese and so on — rot-worshipping cuisine has become gastronomy’s flavour of the year.

Enter the humble tempeh. Originating from Central Java, the fermented whole food is a bar-like slab of golden brown soybeans bound together by a type of white fungus (called rhizopus oligosporus). According to the earliest record in writing on tempeh, the domestication of the microbe has been practised since the 1600s, and even today, tempehs remain as a side dish commonly found in Indonesian fare.

In Singapore, a foodpreneur is putting tempeh front and centre. Using a starter that has been in the family since he was a child, Azimin Saini, a fourth-generation Javanese-Singaporean and food journalist, started experimenting with handmaking his own tempehs last year. Growing up, they were something he would watch his late grandmother make from scratch using a recipe passed down through the family’s matriarchs. “I’ve eaten it my entire life. It’s like rice to me,” he recalls. He then thought, why not elevate the traditional product?

It led to the birth of Tempeh Culture, Saini’s home-based side project. He produces small batches of made-to-order tempehs with his sister Nafeesa. Using only organic-certified, non-GMO Australian beans (“The creamiest of the lot,” he says, noting that only a few countries can export their soybeans out and into Singapore), the time-consuming process requires three days for a batch; the fermentation process itself — the soybeans need to be soaked and boiled prior to letting the good bacteria form dense fluff — takes 24 to 30 hours. With a growing waitlist of tempeh buyers, of which includes a number of Singapore-based chefs and food critics, Saini currently churns out about 100 pieces a week.

“Unlike in the west where the ingredient is already seen as a vegan wholefood, tempeh is commonly eaten deep fried here,” Saini says, “so I face a bit of an uphill battle in showing people healthy new ways to cook with a familiar ingredient.” So how to best enjoy tempeh? There are a plethora of dishes tempeh can be easily whipped into — Saini shares a growing collection of tempeh-based home recipes on his site — but to savour it at its purest relish, the tempeh maker recommends drizzling olive oil, sprinkling sea salt and cracked black pepper over it, and then roasting it in the oven. Fresh tempeh tastes good on its own. — Bianca Husodo

Tempeh Culture.

Basket Bags, in Time for Sandal Season

LoeweThe “Loewe Baskets”, exhibited at 2019’s Salone del Mobile in Milan.
The “Loewe Baskets”, exhibited at 2019’s Salone del Mobile in Milan.

Often times, we find ourselves consumed by the idea of trends. And the fuel of our obsession: Mass-market retailers and their ability to reduce time to market, matching up to every fashion fad that drops along the way. Not too long ago, the emergence of streetwear also saw a shift in the way luxury brands curate and market their product offerings. It later took news of massive ecological damage to remind us the true contentment of traditional fashion — quality, timelessness and a side of human touch. 

Loewe recognises the importance of crafts in today's culture. Since the beginning, the Spanish fashion house has nurtured artisanal talents whose pursuit in quality never waver when faced with industrial challenges. Their vision placed Loewe amongst other luxury houses who are also striving for a new standard for the future of fashion while embracing the essence of their roots. 

This year, Loewe held its fifth appearance at Milan’s Salone del Mobile, presenting the most ambitious collection yet. Called “Loewe Baskets”, the overarching idea was to execute basketry in various forms of crafting techniques. No trends, no drops — just 10 artisans from various backgrounds, organic materials and new interpretations of tradition. The result is a gallery of objets d’art befitting the impending sandals season. 

In tandem with the artists’ one-off series, Loewe commissioned Spanish and Italian artisans to weave a collection of bags, accessories and charms to accompany the Salone exhibition. These leather goods and accessories are practical and versatile items that would instantly elevate your summer wardrobe, and last through the many seasons ahead — reminding you that while trends are ephemeral, fashion lasts a lifetime. — Lynette Kee

The ”Loewe Baskets” collection is now available online and at selected stores.

A Tongue-in-Cheek Craft Cocktail Inspired by Sour Cream and Onion Potato Chips

Siri HouseSpudni (left), Jam at Siri House’s signature cocktail concocted by head bartender Kavinn Raaj (right).
Spudni (left), Jam at Siri House’s signature cocktail concocted by head bartender Kavinn Raaj (right).

“I was actually at home. Had some friends over, we were sipping on whiskey,” said Kavinn Raaj, head bartender of Jam at Siri House, Sansiri’s eatery-meets-bar joint that’s situated in the verdant estate of Dempsey Hill. Raaj was explaining to our table how the epiphany for Spudni — his milky gin-based cocktail that comes topped with a rice crisp garnish, precariously perched on the rim of its glass goblet — struck him. “And what we like to nibble on when we drink is sour cream and onion potato chips.”

Raaj found the unlikely pairing of tipples and the familiar flavour of savoury nibbles befitting for “home drinking”, the homespun concept his cocktail programme aims to encapsulate. What followed next was a series of experimentation. He tried methods of smoking raw onions, but their pungency still overpowered the drink. It was only after eating his mother’s dosa — a crepe-like, rice-based Indian batter — that he found the right offsetting bolster for it. Hence the papery deep-fried rice garnish, speckled with onion chutneys, meant to be eaten in three bites between sips of his creamy gin that comes infused with sour cream liqueur (blended in-house out of lactic acid solution and vodka).

The Spudni is, surprisingly, light. Despite its dairy creaminess, it ends on a delightful citrusy note. It’s like liquid Pringles, I told Raaj. He chuckled, correcting me, “It’s actually based off of Lay’s.” — Bianca Husodo

Visit Jam at Siri House at 8D Dempsey Road, #01-02. Spudni, S$24.