Many people assume that just because I write a lot about hawker food that I am advocating unhealthy eating. Actually I write about hawker food because I love to explore Singapore culture and write about the lives of our heritage hawkers who have played a pivotal role in the lives of every Singapore. Plus it just feels right when you are eating Hawker food. Hawker food is not unhealthy if we eat it in moderation. I certainly don’t eat it everyday. Yes Pork Lard is not the healthiest of stuff, but you know, between Pork Lard and TBHQ (the chemical preservative that is added to French Fries to make it last forever), I would rather eat Pork Lard, just a little, and not too often.
I have been doing some research into food lately. I am concerned about what I eat and my family eats. Healthy eating is as much to do with what you eat, as well as what you avoid. From my experience as a family doctor, I find that many people are too focussed on what they cannot eat, eg fats, oils, cholesterol laden foods, etc and not enough on what they should eat. Not eating saturated fats is good but that’s not enough. There are many foods that help lower cholesterol like oats and oyster mushrooms. Eating lots of vegetable and fruits also provide plant sterols and fibre than help lower the absorption of cholesterol.
Lately, I have also started looking at the issue of Organic foods. The organic movement is slowly gaining pace and now you can see more and more Organic food lining our supermarket shelves. As you well know, once something is labelled Organic, the price usually goes up. So it becomes and issue of whether to pay more for Organic food.
So what is Organic food? In the most basic sense, Organic food is what all our ancestors have been eating up till the beginning of the last century when they discovered how to turn atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia which led to chemical fertilizers and large scale industrial farming. In the good old days, farmers used to grow veggies and keep animals on the farm. This little ecosystem is self sustaining and only really requires energy from the sun. Sunlight is converted into starch by plants, the plants are then eaten by the animals, the animals poop and it goes back into the soil to feed the plants. They rotate the crops so that the soil doesn’t get depleted of certain elements. Crop rotation also negates the need for pesticides. Healthy animals which are able to roam freely, peck at worms and poop freely around the vegetables don’t need antibiotics.
With the introduction of chemical fertilizers, they suddenly found that they did not need the animals to make fertilizers and because they can simply add cheap chemical fertilizers and they don’t need to rotate the crops anymore because they can simply add in whatever the soil lacks. So they started farming one crop in huge quantities. But not rotating the crops gave rise to another problem and that is the rise of pests. The solution to the problem then is to use pesticides. When they got the animals out of the farms and put them into industrial farms, the animals started falling sick, and so the solution is to feed them antibiotics.
I am not saying that industrial farming is not good. It is because of industrial farming that we can enjoy chicken and eggs at every meal. The other part of the argument is that we are already struggling to produce enough food for the world’s growing population even with industrial farming, how can we justify going Organic and growing foods that only the rich can afford?
“Chicken Rice” $39
There are many issues to think about, but I guess what really affects us and our families is this: Is Organic food healthier? Is it tastier? Is there higher price justified?
Just recently, a landmark study funded by the Food Standards Agency in the UK found that there was no significant difference in the nutritional aspects of organic veggies, milk, meat and eggs. Ok, if we are to believe Organic is not healthier (I am still skeptical), then should we buy Organic because it is tastier? I once bought a tray of Organic eggs which cost $10 for 10 eggs and poached it alongside a supermarket egg which cost $2.60 for 10. The organic yolk looked redder but otherwise my kids could not tell the difference in the taste between them. On the other hand, on our last trip to Cameron Highlands, we ate Steamboat at Cameron Organic Produce restaurant that served veggies from their own backyard and the cabbage was the sweetest that I have ever eaten. The difference was stark, especially when we compared it with the steamboat we had the next day at a non-organic steamboat restaurant. So when it comes to organic food, I think there should be some noticeable differences depending on what you eat.
So with that lengthy pre-amble, let’s talk about the food at The Garden. The pre-amble is necessary because without some understanding of the issues surrounding Organic food, most people will just look at the $39 chicken rice dish and simply say that it is too expensive. Why would you pay $39 to eat a chicken and rice dish when you can pay $3 to eat chicken and rice at a hawker center? $39 to eat Organic Chicken? I can buy almost two whole chicken at a chicken rice shop with that amount of money. I visited Supernature recently to find out more about the much touted Rosie’s Chicken. This is a chicken which has led a good life. Unlike the $6 battery hens which spend their 3 months existence cramped into cages and fed antibiotics and protein meal made from bits of other chicken, these chickens are free to roam and live the life of luxury. Great! I would buy a chicken like that. I felt that it is morally right to have chicken raised like that and a happy chicken should make a tastier chicken rice. Agree? Then I looked at the price and two chicken breasts cost $40! OK, maybe my moral high ground was not worth the extra $34. Seriously, if I could pay double, say $12 for a chicken to live a good life I would. But for me personally the extra $34 is not practical, especially since the chicken was frozen!
So how is the $39 chicken rice? Ok, it is not really your normal chicken rice, but three portions of chicken breasts that have been marinated with ginger and soy and cooked Sous Vide style to preserve the natural juices, then lightly sauteed to brown the outside. The rice actually not chicken rice but Nasi Lemak, ie rice that has been cooked with coconut milk. Overall, it was nicely presented, not very oily and after eating it you feel very healthy. 4/5
Both Rockett Girl and I really enjoyed the Prawn Noodles which is a twist on our usual prawn noodles. The seafood consomme was very good and the infusion of lemongrass gave it a refreshing twist. It was also good that they served it with vermicilli rather than noodles. I would be happy to eat this even if it wasn’t touted to be healthier for you. 4.5/5
The emphasis of Garden restaurant is not really to serve Organic Food but to serve food that has been well considered. Afterall, the restaurant is situated in the lush and relaxing environment of Spa Botanica where people come to revitalize. So the food also needs to be healthy and light. Not only that, but a lot of effort goes into sourcing the ingredients, and wherever possible, Organic is chosen to ensure there is no pesticide residue and that patrons are getting maximum nutrition per calorie of intake.
So if you are in between Spa treatments, you might have a snack like the Paneer Burger which is made from organic potatoes and cheese with sauteed onions and coriander pesto. For something that is healthy and light, this is actually quite enjoyable and you can return to your Spa treatment with a clear conscience that you have eaten something vegetarian and your stomach that is just comfortably full such that you don’t get reflux when you are getting your back massage. 4.25/5
Soy Milk Pannacotta $15
The Chef here tells me that butter and cream are banned ingredients at the restaurant, so is MSG and any form of seasoning powder. All the stock and sauces are also done in-house and nothing comes out from a packet. So even for their desserts like the Panna Cotta, soya milk is used to replace cream which results in a dessert that is light and refreshing. 4.25/5