There’s no better time for vegetarians than now, with a new wave of innovative restaurateurs and chefs out to seduce both converts and cynics alike with novel dishes in which greens truly shine. And many delicious veggie friendly options are popping up at regular joints. It’s truly the best of both worlds.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

There’s no better time for vegetarians than now, with a new wave of innovative restaurateurs and chefs out to seduce both converts and cynics alike with novel dishes in which greens truly shine. And many delicious veggie friendly options are popping up at regular joints. It’s truly the best of both worlds.

"Smoky and moreish teriyaki “meat” balls are a crowd favourite at Afterglow by Anglow. Minced mushrooms are marinated in homemade teriyaki sauce and served with vegan mayonnaise, fresh salsa and crisp lettuce."



Here it is. Those who give up meat are usually a) deeply concerned about animal rights b) worried about their health or c) really love their veg so much that they are willing to forgo their bloodlust. Or it could be all of the above. But let’s face it: The last group of people is still a minority here, and many find it tough to give meat a miss – for good.

So for the longest time, vegetarians like myself watched longingly as restaurants in America and Europe celebrated their greens in interesting dishes that could absolutely upstage the meats. With the rise of plant-based diets, the movement swept the Western world and was regarded as part of a wider food culture, no different from ethnic cuisine.

Then in the last five years, chefs in Singapore started taking notice of a growing number of veggie aficionados yearning for more options. Ever hungry for an opportunity to reinvigorate their menus, they saw the potential for an exciting new type of creative vegetable-centric cuisine. The aim wasn’t to preach to the choir, but to court the masses with tantalising meatless options that even the most carnivorous souls couldn’t resist.

Enterprising chefs threw exotic ingredients, unusual cooking methods and interesting flavour combinations into the pot. And out came several all-vegan and allvegetarian eateries that have risen to prominence, each promising to make a veggie believer out of us without a shred of mock meat in sight. It’s no wonder that in 2016, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) named Singapore the No. 2 vegan-friendly city in Asia after Taiwan.

As if that wasn’t enough, nonvegetarian restaurants everywhere also started coming up with more diverse and appealing vegetarian and vegan dishes on their menus, ones that don’t invite “rabbit food” labels. Finally, being vegetarian no longer seems like a form of deprivation.
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"From spartan to inclusive – Afterglow tweaked its menu over the years to include hot and non-vegan options."


They are a testament to the universal appeal of vegetables done just right.


24 Keong Saik Road, tel: 6224-8921

When Afterglow first opened in 2013, it took an austere approach to plant-based food. Founder Carmen Low was determined to introduce people here to the rawfood movement (“raw” means every ingredient is unprocessed and nothing is heated above 45 deg C). The cafe would use only the freshest, highest-quality produce.

Five years in China handling crisis communications for a big corporation and battling one food scandal after another had shown Carmen the importance of eating clean for the ecosystem and the body. She tried to communicate this to Singaporeans through her ambitious raw vegan cafe.

The wellness crowd and chefs who were tired of the more heavy-handed treatment of food in their kitchens flocked over to get their fill of pure and unadulterated fresh flavours. But the majority of customers simply weren’t ready for such a spartan menu.

“Cutting out processed food means you cannot disguise the taste of your ingredients in sauces,” Carmen explains. Local taste buds attuned to fiery chilli and salty oyster sauces did not take to unadorned dishes. “We realised we had to tweak the menu to make it more palatable to the local market.”

The menu went through multiple iterations before arriving at where it is today. It’s still mostly raw vegan, but has a sprinkling of hot options like soup and baked cauli flower bites, as well as a few non-vegan items like the quinoa and spinach burger that has egg and goat cheese.

These days, Afterglow attracts both raw-food proponents and those new to it. We are won over by its avocado kimchi rolls, which substitute cooked rice with pulsed almonds soaked overnight in water to release essential nutrients. The flavours are subtle. It’s the textural complexity which demands your attention and yields a pleasing symphony of mealy almond rice, creamy avocado and crunchy homemade kimchi that would go unnoticed with stronger seasoning.

Similarly, the crispy raw lasagne must be consciously savoured. Thinly sliced zucchini and pine nuts are used in place of pasta sheets and ground meat, layered with vegan cheese, fresh tomatoes and tomato puree.

Carmen’s success with Afterglow proves that you can have fun with clean food. Case in point: the rich raw cheesecake, made with cashew cream fudge, cold-pressed organic coconut oil and maple syrup on a cashew and date base.

According to the World Resources Institute, about one fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions come from meat production. For every 1kg of beef, 27kg of carbon dioxide is produced; 1kg of chicken produces 6.9kg of CO2. In comparison, 1kg of vegetables only produces 2kg of CO2.
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"The nutritional yeast used to make vegan cheese is a good source of protein for those on a plantbased diet."


#01-1003, 86 Circuit Road, tel: 6747-7640

Ng Wai Lek was a vegetarian for 29 years before he turned vegan in 2015 after learning about how cows and chickens in factory farms were illtreated for egg and dairy production. Unlike vegetarians, vegans don’t just avoid meat – they steer clear of all animal products.

The switch was tough, and Wai Lek found that most vegan eateries in Singapore were either upmarket or offered standard Chinese vegetarian fare. He wanted an accessible place. So, rather than wait for one to pop up, he opened his own vegan fastfood joint, Nomvnom, serving locally inspired vegan burgers.

Three years and three outlets later, business was booming. But a new challenge presented itself: How to make affordable vegan food less pedestrian and more sophisticated for the discerning millennial? The answer, Wai Lek thought, would be a laid-back cafe serving an eclectic mix of Western and Asian.

So he opened Cozy Corner by Nomvnom this year. The set-up is modest and welcoming, in a corner store at an HDB void deck. And, as he predicted, it attracted a new crowd of veggie-curious people. Teenagers stroll over in the evenings to grab a scoop of chickpea coffee ice cream or a bean-based waffle on a stick. Parents with toddlers pop by for a frothy and luscious purple sweet potato latte. And just about everyone stays for the thin-crust vegan pizzas. Our pick is the Monkey King Truffle pizza topped with button, king oyster and monkey head mushrooms, white truffle oil and a generous helping of homemade vegan cheese.

A word on vegan cheese: soyaand cashew nut-based cheeses (Cozy Corner’s version is a mix of both) bear no resemblance to the stringy mozzarella you typically find on pizzas. Instead, they have the pleasant consistency of lightly whipped cream. With an umami kick from nutritional yeast and none of the greasiness of real cheese, it has us reaching for more slices.

Non-cheesy pizza toppings like rendang and Mexican hummus are also available, as well as pasta, sushi and burgers on steamed buns, all within a very affordable $5-$20 for mains. Wai Lek says the menu is a work in progress – he makes frequent tweaks based on customer feedback, something he’s done from the start, since opening Nomvnom (which now has more than 20 burger choices). His philosophy: There shouldn’t be barriers to vegan food, and everybody can be part of making it better.

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"No snails here – just button mushrooms covered in melting mozzarella in an escargot pan."


#12-01 Orchard Central, tel: 6838-6966

The notion of vegetarian fine dining may seem absurd to some. It certainly seemed that way to regulars at Dozo, the Japanese French restaurant that Huang Yen Kun was leaving behind in 2014 to start his new vegetarian eatery.

“Many of them made reservations when they heard our new restaurant was opening. But when they found out it was fully vegetarian, about 70 per cent cancelled,” recalls the restaurateur, who already had multiple successful establishments under his belt, including one in Melbourne. But he was undeterred.

Having spent years living in Australia and running his restaurant there, Yen Kun had tasted truly delicious vegetarian cuisine that did not revolve around mock meat. He saw a gap in the market here and seized his chance to elevate vegetables by showcasing them in ways Singapore had never seen before. He wanted to convince people that even the most humble ingredient could be transformed with a little magic in the kitchen.

It wasn’t the vegetarians or vegans he was interested in wooing. That would have been too easy. “No, I opened Joie to target meat-eaters,” he says with a grin.

Yen Kun learnt that winning over non-vegetarians requires an element of performance. Taste and experience reign supreme; religious and ethical reasons are secondary. He doesn’t proselytise with facts about animal cruelty or the health benefits of a plant-based diet. Instead, he lets the intriguing menu do the talking.

Carrots blended with konnyaku masquerade as sashimi on a platter of visually stunning appetisers. It may be an optical illusion, but the slippery carrot slices taste inexplicably fishy too. And monkey head mushroom compressed into a block resembling meatloaf is served on a hot stone. Grilled like a slab of beef, the mushroom flesh, smoky and flavourful, melts in your mouth like the forbidden fat of a juicy steak. More than mere amusement for those who enjoy smoke and mirrors, the dishes are both mystifying and satisfying.

Every item is executed with artistic fl air. A bowl of Japanese kunbu broth holds a piece of silken tofu painstakingly carved to spread out like a flower. And the lighter-thanair liquid chocolate dessert is a combination of four types of chocolate served at exactly the right temperature so the dessert melts on your tongue at once. It’s the blend of elaborate molecular gastronomy, age-old culinary techniques and masterful plating that make the meal unforgettable.

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"Everything, down to the sauteed wild rice, is dressed up and prepared to perfection."
Just because your friends have a hankering for meat doesn’t mean you have to sit the night out. We’ve rounded up five stellar vegetarian dishes that are available at these regular restaurants.
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#02-02B One Fullerton, tel: 6438-0887. From $68 for a three course set lunch

French fine dining has a place for vegetarians at this one-Michelin-star restaurant. With just a day’s notice, Chef Emmanuel Stroobant can transform the signature adventure menu into courses of the freshest vegetables. Think Japanese amera tomatoes with tomato confit in marigold oil and bright yuzu kosho – beautiful and totally meat-free.
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Three outlets, including 9 Raffles Place, tel: 9738-5662. Burgers from $14-$17

This German burger joint has no perfunctory tofu burgers. What it has is 11 enticing vegetarian and vegan items, almost as many as the beef options. They are created not with the usual suspects but with olive, spinach, cheese, wheat and walnut, served on soft sourdough, multigrain or naked (without bread). The Horntrager, with a crumbly walnut patty, is excellent.
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#01-02 Downtown Gallery, tel: 6904-9688.

Small plates from $9 Vegetables play a significant role in many of the modern European-Asian communal dishes here. The most addictive is the fully vegetarian cauliflower florets fritti with spicy mint aioli. Balanced with brighter dishes like chilled romanesco with almonds, lemon vinaigrette and shaved parmigianoreggiano, the extensive menu has something for everyone.
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#01-95 Millenia Walk, tel: 9181-9140. $12.50 for the vegetarian tofu bowl

This is one poke bowl place that provides a properly satisfying dish just for vegetarians, unlike the overpriced salads that other poke bowl places might offer. Poke Doke’s version has tofu marinated in shoyu sesame sauce, served with cherry tomatoes, golden raisins and chuka wakame on a bed of salad and rice. Nutty, wholesome and filling.
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161 Middle Road, tel: 6336-6949.

Mezze from $10 Trust decorated chef Bjorn Shen to turn run-of-the mill Mediterranean sharing plates into exciting fusion dishes. Artichoke’s teriyaki eggp lantbased baba ganoush topped with refreshing pomegranate, and meaty Iraqi spiced mushrooms with creamy fried egg puree and shaved parmesan, are among the unique renditions that will capture your imagination.
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This cold dish of dry tossed cordyceps flowers, with shredded carrot, radish, and enoki mushrooms at Ganglamedo is spiced up with traces of mala sauce.

The food isn’t limited to Easternin fluenced dishes, as is evident from fresh fusion items like this seaweed spaghettini.
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"The restaurant has private booths and rooms available on its second and third storeys that’ll make you feel right at home."


40 Craig Road, tel: 9651-9788

Ganglamedo’s dining hall transports you to a bucolic past. Its wooden lounge chairs, room dividers made of colourful thread, and thoughtfully placed ornaments are rich with Tibetan heritage.

While meat is a staple in Tibetan households, Tibetan cuisine is known for its monastic tradition of plant based, allium-free foods. (Onions, garlic and chives belong to the allium family of vegetables.) In 2016, owner Anita Yuan travelled to China to spend time with a Tibetan priest for a literal taste of the ascetic lifestyle.

Seeking to spread the message of compassion towards all life when she returned home, she left her job as a fashion-company manager to start Ganglamedo (“snow lotus” in Tibetan). Its contemporary take on Tibetan and Chinese cuisine nourishes the body without harming other creatures or the environment.

What sets it apart from traditional vegetarian eateries are the ingredients used: sea asparagus, bamboo fungus and purple cauli flower. It is also notable for its steamboat, the centrepiece of the set menu (for $49.90 a person) – pick one of four soup bases made from rich vegetable broth (mushroom, tomato, hot and sour, and white pea). The white pea soup stands out for its unexpected creaminess and depth of flavour.

Other dishes are delightfully experimental, such as the chewy sesame mochi bread served piping hot with vegan mayonnaise. Most of the meal is punctuated with mala spices, just enough that your tastebuds sing, without turning the rest of the food numbingly bland.

The star ingredient at Ganglamedo is cordyceps sinensis, sourced from the mountains of Tibet and touted for its supposed benefits to respiratory and heart health. It’s incorporated throughout the special Cordyceps set menu ($88 a person). A la carte items like Naqu cordyceps double-boiled soup, and dry tossed cordyceps flower – a cold dish with shredded carrots, radish and enoki mushrooms – are also available.

But the two in-house chilli oils really steal the show – the meaty mushroom chilli and sweet fi ve-nut chilli are dangerously addictive.
These meat and dairy substitutes are versatile and delicious, suitable for entry-level vegetarians and staunch vegans.
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Nature’s Charm Bar-B-Que Jackfruit, $4.50 for 200g, from

The shredded Thai jackfruit has a meaty mouthfeel and looks a lot like pulled pork. Marinated in tangy barbecue sauce, it’s perfect pan-fried and served in a sandwich with vegan coleslaw. Also available in “Duck” Confit and Sriracha flavours.
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Nature’s Charm Banana Blossom in Brine, $4.90 for 260g, from

Banana blossom, or the edible part of a banana flower, has soft and flaky flesh, which is why it can be used in a vegan incarnation of fish and chips. Dredge it in batter and deep-fry.
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Linda McCartney’s Vegetarian Quarter Pound Burgers, $5.90 for two pieces, from

Created by the late wife of Paul McCartney and mother of Stella McCartney, both of whom are vegan, the Linda McCartney range has hearty Western classics like burger patties, sausages, pasties and pies made with rehydrated texture soya protein instead of meat. With well-balanced flavours and a good amount of bite, these pseudo-meats are for everyone.
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Suzy Spoon Sausages, $19.98 for 370g, from Little Farms

These sausages are unique because they’re made from vegetable-based ingredients like kale and cauliflower, or polenta, sun-dried tomato and basil. Throw them on a grill and they char nicely but remain soft on the inside, just like the real thing. Little Farms’ outlets (one of which is at #01-20 Valley Point Shopping Centre) also carry other reputable meatless brands like Beyond Meat and Syndian.
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Cocofrio Choc Coconut, $14.50 for 500g, from

Dairy-free and gluten-free ice cream made with coconut milk and organic brown rice malt syrup. Since there’s no sugar added, it’s guilt-free too.
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"Quorn Pieces, $5 for 300g, from"

You may have seen it at the supermarket or tried it in a meatfree sausage bun from Barcook Bakery. Quorn is softer than real meat but isn’t rubbery like wheat gluten-based mock meat. On its own, it doesn’t taste like much, but it absorbs flavours from spices and sauces like a sponge. This wonderful meat substitute is made from mycoprotein (a fungal protein) fermented into a fibrous dough that imitates the texture and taste of meat. Research suggests it is a healthy replacement for red meat. It’s high in protein and fibre, is soya-free, and has been found to reduce blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

Quorn only turned up in Singapore late last year, but it’s been around since the 1960s, when food scientists in Britain experimented with alternative protein sources because of concerns that the world’s supply of meat couldn’t keep up with the global demand.

To make mycoprotein dough, the nutritious fungus is dropped into a sterile tank full of nutrients and left to grow and ferment for hours. It is then heat-treated and mixed with another protein from egg white to form a dough that can be used to make meat-free burgers, sausages, nuggets and more. Quorn now has a vegan range that uses potato proteins instead of egg white.