July 16, 2020

In 2016, Californian-based Impossible Foods started a meatless meat trend, but no one expected how pervasive its influence was going to be. From burger joints to upscale restaurants like CUT by Wolfgang Puck and Bread Street Kitchen, menus have incorporated the company’s ersatz beef. With aggressive marketing and innovation, local adaptations like Tip Top’s Impossible Rendang puff and Starbucks’ Impossible Rendang Pie as part of a limited-time Shiok Food Menu, have hit the market. So it doesn’t come as a surprise that alternative brands like OmniMeat want a chunk of the meatless industry, launching vegan luncheon meat to cater more towards an Asian palate.

Disclaimer: I am not hating on plant-based meats. It’s just that I cannot tolerate how every new product bombards my inbox with press releases that highlight and bold terms such as “social venture” and “social entrepreneur of the year” along with a slew of other SEO keywords. What was originally good-natured has been primed and coated with luscious paint by marketers, data mining ninjas, chefs with PR reps and multi-million-dollar companies. Each taking their turn to exploit our desire to protect our environment for profit. Whatever happened to the days when real vegetables weren’t masqueraded as meat?

Along with the explosively popular health food trends of nut butter, goji berries and acai (of which I still can’t wrap my head around the hipster appeal), kombucha and kefir are two newfangled drink choices that never tickle my fancy. The fizzy fermented beverage boasts multi-purpose benefits that I have a strong gut feeling, are anecdotal. While I’ve avoided commercial brands for the longest time, you can’t really say no to homemade probiotic products that come in a recycled wine bottle, with a handwritten note. No hard feelings to all you mavericks out there, elbow-deep in scoby, but I ousted it after the first swig. Confession time: I might have stirred in a healthy splash of gin and called it an apéritif. Nevertheless, there is something to be said about a media package that combines a bottle of kombucha with a spicy oil-laden Hawaiian pizza. Who puts pineapples on pizza anyway? And shouldn’t the de facto pairing be with a beer or soft drink? If you are going to sin, go all the way. 

Shifting our focus to another type of drink, I’ve long been amused by the war cries that are shrieked in a military drill-like fashion every time after school or lunch break bubble tea drink orders are being collected. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing that I was not permitted to have sugary drinks other than water (damn you asthma), as a child. I might be of a different weight now. Regardless of how many carbs are in there, these days, bubble tea has proved to be more than just a pastime or the humble get-out-of-office-free card. It’s an ideology, a cult status for freedom of choice.

When the Singapore government declared dessert and bubble tea shops as non-essential services on April 21, (which meant that shops had to shutter till the beginning of phase two on June 19), sugar zombies went into a crazy frenzy. We’re talking fanatics in droves flocking to bubble tea outlets, ignoring social distancing cues, in search of that last hurrah in a frothy cup. There would be flare-ups along the way, and highway robbery taking place on Carousell charging $300 to $10,000 for a cup.

As the world hunkered down in their homes, in true prohibition style that gave rise to moonshine, people started to make their own sweet treats. It’s a little elbow grease to achieve those boba pearls, but the act itself instils courage and encourages us to be adaptable in these unprecedented times. Suddenly, I’m starting to see the big picture.

This dessert is no stranger to your social media feed. Browned edges, trademark charred crust (that looked like a big mistake) and creamy yellow innards once you slice through it. Yes, we’re talking about the burnt cheesecake. Or more specifically, the Basque burnt cheesecake that originated from Basque Country that has sparked off variants, from Da Hong Pao Chinese tea-infused burnt cheesecake to Mao Shan Wang durian flavoured ones—to meet the soaring demands.

The restaurant to kick off this trend last year was Olivia Restaurant & Lounge on Keong Saik Road. As far as I’m concerned, they are the real deal. Its oozy version, the most sought-after take-home treat requested by the better half after my debaucherous tastings. It survives the 20-minute grab ride home, looking like you’ve left a round of camembert out of the fridge for hours—collapsed leisurely on the box floor, waiting to be picked up by eager forks or playful fingers.

The many other cheesecakes that have blossomed this year, just do not match up. Whether it be the lack of that crisp base of almond sable or the stomach-turning formula of cream cheese and dairy that sticks to the roof of your mouth with a vengeance. It doesn’t matter. I’ve had enough. Paging the next cake sensation to rise up!

Last but not least, pancake cereal: button-sized pancakes for your daughter’s next tea party with her dolls, doused in maple syrup and butter or drowned in milk in some cases. It comes with a side of #boredinthehouse, perfectly manicured nails, bimbotic voices on TikTok, and ends with still-full bowls of #pancakecereal. When the French said, “Let them eat cake.” I’m sure they weren’t referring to this moronic pastiche. I’m pretty confident that I’ve made my point here.