“Gluten-free” is not a household term (yet) in Singapore, at least as of early 2015. Despite a mild cultural obsession with toast, gluten sensitivities are not the plague of society that they have become in the US, Australia and from what I am told, Italy and Great Britain. That said, it is not a difficult place to shop for and cook a gluten-free, real-food diet. The availability of organic vegetables does leave something to be desired, but awareness is starting to grow and I imagine if I returned in a few years, the scene may have advanced.
Wet markets are a daily occurrence in every neighborhood, selling fresh produce, seafood, chicken and depending on what part of town you are in…pork, mutton or beef. They do close up shop by mid-day, so if you have a 9-5, you may need to schedule a weekend morning outing. Unlike my hometown farmers market in Washington state, that proudly labels produce “no-spray”, “certified organic”, etc… I got the sense that I would be laughed out of town if I inquired about pesticide usage. There is also not the clear connection between farms and market stalls that you get at an American farmer’s market. I can’t find a source to confirm this, but I got the sense that the vendors are buying from the same set of wholesale suppliers and then reselling these carrots, beans, peppers, etc to the end consumer.
If you are feeling adventurous though , a wet market is probably the best place to pick up some live frogs, eels, and chicken feet! Also if you want to pick up ingredients for a specific cuisine, you can do a little research to figure out which market to hit up. For example, Geylang Serai wet market is famous for traditional Malay ingredients whereas you might head to Sonoko Fishery Post for exotic seafood. More often than not, prices are not displayed and if you are a Westerner, you’d better believe that you will be overpaying. In fact, I eventually gave up buying staple vegetables at the wet markets and only went there for meat, spices, and “weird” ingredients.
Malls with one or more chain grocery stores are conveniently located at just about every stop of the public transit system, the SMRT and tend to be open late. Short on square footage, each branch has become adept at selling to their local customers, so it is generally accepted that collecting ingredients for a special recipe may require trips to several different locations. I found it easier to buy what I could find, what looked relatively fresh and possibly on sale, and decide what to cook with it later. If I stayed away from the 19$ cherries and 12$ kale and stuck with produce grown in Malaysia or Australia I didn’t find that my grocery bill was significantly higher than at home.
Availability of organic produce varies quite a bit by neighborhood, as well, and requires dedication and a deep pocketbook. The concept is perhaps not widely appreciated yet, because even when I did find organic vegetables they often looked “tired”, passed over one too many times for their cheaper neighbors on the next shelf over. The demand (and thus turnover) is a little higher in “fancy”, expat areas like Orchard Road where you have a few specialty stores like Supernature, a gorgeous store catering to all special diets and shoppers serious about organic greens. They make Whole Foods look like a discount retailer, but it is good to have options, right?
I got a tip early on to check out TheFishwives, purveyors of grass-fed beef, free-range chicken and high quality fish at respectable prices. This was a spectacular find across the street from the Botanic Garden MRT station (they also deliver)!
Another friend introduced me to Eden’s Kitchen, a charming gem in Everton Park. With a focus on offering the best superfoods, Eden’s Kitchen meticulously sources treats like green tea and premium coconut oil and will welcome you into the shop like family.
These were my favorite places to source out ingredients for my gluten-free, real food kitchen adventures during my stay in Singapore. More on dining out on a gluten-free diet in a future post!