From unusual to downright peculiar, here are the most intriguing ingredients gracing Singapore’s finest tables and the best dishes to try them in.
Chef Sun Kim of Meta enjoys using gamtae in his dishes.
Dish: Jeju Abalone at Meta
Resembling a cross between astroturf and washi paper, gamtae is an edible marine brown algae and a true Korean delicacy that is unlike supermarket-issue seaweed snack. Chef Sun Kim of Meta says, “Eating seaweed is very common in South Korea, but not many people know about gamtae as it’s quite rare.”
Little wonder, considering gamtae grows exclusively in the pristine waters off the west coast of South Korea and can only be harvested in the dead of winter. Its delicate constitution and demanding extraction meant that although it has a long history in Korean cuisine dating back to the Chosun dynasty, it remained the province of royalty. Until now, that is. Meta’s gamtae is from Korean specialists Badasoop, which has been making it for over 30 years after painstakingly collecting, washing and drying it by hand.
“Gamtae’s flavour is unique,” says Sun. “When you first taste it, it’s a little bitter but the finish is delicately sweet with a hint of the sea.” Other plus points: its shattering crispiness, striking emerald hue, herbaceous notes and health benefits.
The berlingots at La Dame de Pic at Raffles Singapore.
HERB OF GRACE
Dish: Berlingots at La Dame de Pic
“Stinky” is not an adjective you’d think would appeal to most chefs, least of all Anne-Sophie Pic, chef consultant at La Dame de Pic at Raffles Singapore and the only female chef in France to helm a three-Michelin starred restaurant. But her interest was piqued when her chef de cuisine first showed her the common rue or herb of grace plant, also known as rue or chou cao (stinky grass in Mandarin).
“It’s the perfect ingredient to infuse a sauce with and has a lot in common with sweet clover or tonka beans. It has a light, bitter taste, which is quite interesting as I work a lot with bitterness in my cuisine,” says Pic.
La Dame de Pic sources its herb of grace from Chinatown’s wet market and Pic observes that it’s used in the popular local dessert green bean soup.
At La Dame de Pic, the berlingots are paired with almonds, sunflower seeds and a pea broth accented with the herb of grace. “I use it in the consomme as it adds a floral taste to my signature dish,” says Pic. “The combination of this with the French cheese also enhances the dairy notes in the dish.”
The baked sweet potato with aji amarillo at Esquina.
Dish: Baked Sweet Potato with Aji Amarillo Mayonnaise at Esquina
Chilli fans, meet your new obsession. The aji amarillo chilli pepper – a staple in Peruvian cuisine – comes in a vibrant bright orange when ripe, has a moderate heat (30,000 to 50,000 Scoville heat units versus chilli padi’s 200,000) and boasts a flavour unlike any other chilli pepper.
“The first time I tried it was in Pakta, a Peruvian-Japanese restaurant in Barcelona,” says Chef Carlos Montobbio of modern Spanish restaurant Esquina. “It surprised me because I couldn’t associate it with any other ingredient I’d ever tried before. It’s a chilli pepper and it’s spicy but it’s not hot like regular chilli or wasabi. It’s very different. It has a fruity taste, like sour, spicy mango with a hint of passion fruit.”
Montobbio uses the pepper in his Baked Sweet Potato with Smoked Quail Egg and Quinoa – a dish born from his heritage and gourmet travels.
He says, “It’s a mix of two memories: the first time I tried Papa a la Huancaina, a delicious traditional Peruvian cold dish, and the charcoal-baked sweet potatoes in Catalonia – so soft, sweet and smoky that you can eat them with a spoon. I can’t stop using aji amarillo even though it has nothing to do with Spanish cuisine!”
Gamtae's flavour is unique. When you first taste it, it's a little bitter but the finish is delicately sweet with a hint of the sea.