As a major historical port, Singapore was an important route in the Spice Trade from the Indonesian island to Europe and the Americas: its history is invariably tied up with herbs and spices. Fittingly, much of Singaporean cuisine is based on a delicious mélange of aromatic spices and herbs from all over Asia. Here, we explore some of these in more detail and discover the interesting activities and places in Singapore where you can go to experience them.
What do nutmeg plantations and high-end shopping malls have in common? The answer: Orchard Road. Before it was filled with designer boutiques and high street fashion, Orchard Road used to be home to nutmeg plantations. Since the 1830s, nutmeg, along with fruit trees, was planted in the area – which is how Orchard Road gets its name. The Nutmeg and mace sculpture on the corner of Orchard and Paterson Road outside Ion Orchard is a reminder of this heritage. The distinctive taste of nutmeg is found in Thai dishes such as Massaman curry, and is used to treat gastrointestinal disorders in traditional Chinese medicine.
Known both as the Vietnamese coriander and by its botanical name persicaria odorata, the laksa leaf is a fragrant herb used in Southeast Asian cooking and is a main ingredient in the Singaporean and Malaysian dish known as laksa. This spicy noodle soup of Peranakan origin is an aromatic, coconut-milk based curry soup with vegetables, meat, tofu or seafood. Laksa has several regional variants, including the uniquely Singaporean Katong laksa. Head to the Spice Garden at Fort Canning and take a deep whiff of the persicaria odorata leaf; you’ll find that it reminds you of laksa!
Ginger is used in a large variety of Asian cuisines. Take for example its use in Indian curries; it's also served raw and pickled with soy sauce as a Chinese condiment, and is grated into Malay noodle and curry dishes. In Singapore, one of your encounters with ginger might be with teh halia, or ginger-infused tea. As ginger is widely believed to have healing properties, a cup of hot teh halia is often prescribed for many minor ailments; whether or not you choose to indulge in traditional medicine, there’s nothing quite like sipping it when there’s a tropic thunderstorm outside!
To check out more herbs, take an eye-opening stroll through the herb garden at Marina Bay Sands. Immerse yourself in the fragrant world of herbs, then head to RISE Restaurant to sample some mouthwatering cuisine with the freshest herbs picked from the garden itself.