I ate dishes inspired by the diets of endangered animals to learn more about wildlife conservation

Dining on the wild side.

| Ashley Tan | Sponsored | November 12, 2022, 11:55 AM

When I found out that there was the possibility of sampling and reviewing some food for work, I immediately snapped up the opportunity.

The dishes are whipped up by various well-known F&B brands such as Raw Kitchen Bar, Little Farms and Starter Lab, which would certainly be a nice change of pace from the usual cai png lunch that I get from the canteen near the office.

More importantly, the meals are inspired by the diets of globally threatened species and made with sustainably-sourced ingredients. The former sounded particularly intriguing — would I be eating fruits and raw seeds?

Does it also mean I’ll be eating like a (very well fed) animal for the day? Sort of.

Malayan Sun Bear

I start off my eco-friendly gastronomic journey as a Sun Bear.

The Sun Bear is the smallest member of the bear family, and is named for the bib-shaped golden or white patch on its chest, which looks like the rising sun.

Although it might look slightly derpy, the species is the most arboreal of all bear species, meaning it spends the majority of its life up in the trees.

Sun Bears promote the nutrient cycle by foraging on the forest floor for seeds, fruits and insects. As they dig and turn over the soil with their paws and claws, they help to mix nutrient-rich and nutrient-poor soil, enhancing the forest’s nutrient cycle.

The food

Sun Bears feed on fruits like figs and bananas, tomatoes, honey, small birds, lizards and rodents. Thankfully, these first two meals do not contain any of the latter items.

Chye Seng Huat Hardware’s Quinoa Salad contains cherry tomatoes, roasted cauliflower and baby corn, seasonal greens and pomegranate seeds.

The smoky taste of the charred cauliflower pairs well with the fresh veggies, and actually makes for a rather palatable savoury salad that tastes like it belongs on the menu of a Japanese restaurant.

Here’s my 1 bite 5 words review: Umami and smoky flavour bomb

Next, I try a bundle from Huggs Coffee comprising a Pesto Chicken Wrap, Honey Lemon drink and Banana Walnut Muffin.

The set makes for a nice meal on its own, with a main, dessert and drink.

1 bite 5 words review: Well balanced and filling meal

Chye Seng Huat Hardware uses ethically sourced coffee for their brews while Huggs Coffee upcycles their used coffee grounds as ingredients for baking cookies and provides spent coffee grounds to farms for worm feed.

It is also selling a range of merchandise in collaboration with Mandai which includes Sun Bear plushies made with eco-friendly materials, as well as a mini wooden bluetooth speaker made from FSC (Forest Stewardship Council)-certified wood.

Sumatran Orangutan

Creations from Birds of Paradise and bamboo bowls are inspired by the critically endangered Sumatran Orangutan.

You probably know the species from our own local icon, Ah Meng from the Singapore Zoo.

Found in the rainforests of Sumatra in Indonesia, these animals contribute to the growth of more trees by dispersing seeds. Without seed-dispersing animals like the Orangutan, there will be no large forests at all.

The food

bamboo bowls’ Seoul is a hearty bowl of Japchae noodles. The ingredients -, chinese cabbage, sweet potato, peanuts, carrots and lettuce are inspired by the diets of the orangutans.

bamboo bowls offers plant-based bowls created by celebrity chefs, and the restaurant wants to put forth the message that eating green does not have to be “boring”, or that one has to give up the dishes and flavours they love.

The minimalist cafe also breaks down its food waste at its on-site composting units, and the compost goes back to gardens to grow fresh produce.

1 bite 5 words review: Good for spice-loving people

Meanwhile, Birds of Paradise has created a new sorbet flavour — Cucumber and Mint.

The first bite might confuse your senses and remind you of coriander, but subsequent bites will leave behind a refreshing tanginess.

The gelato boutique sources its cucumbers regionally to lower its carbon footprint and

serves its scoops in upcycled packaging made from excess sugar cane pulp.

1 bite 5 words review: Reminded of relaxing spa day

Straw-headed Bulbul

The Straw-headed Bulbul is native to Singapore and is known for its melodious voice.

Here, it remains an uncommon resident, according to the Singapore Birds Project. Good news though, the local population has remained relatively stable.

The food

To create a dish inspired by the bulbul’s diet, plant-based butcher Love Handle has concocted a dish including one of the bird’s favourite fruits, grapes.

You might not have expected grapes to be paired with an egg mayo sandwich, but the combination works pretty well.

In the case of Love Handle’s plant-based dish, an egg mayo substitute is used, and it’s slathered on a slice of focaccia bread. The grapes certainly add a pop of sweetness to the tangy mayo.

1 bite 5 words review: Very dill-y but grape’s nice

Love Handle is Asia’s first 100 per cent plant-based butcher, and stocks a variety of plant-based meats such as Impossible meats, and Green Rebel beef steaks made with mushrooms.

Celebes Crested Macaque

You might have come across this selfie of a photogenic monkey.

The monkey is a Celebes Crested Macaque.

While this individual looks pretty happy, this species’ existence is less pleasant.

It is one of the world’s most endangered primates, with wild populations declining by 80 to 90 per cent in 40 years.

The monkeys are hunted heavily by people in North Sulawesi, where the species is endemic to, for bush meat.

The food

The macaques feed mainly on fruits and nuts, and Starter Lab’s Bella’s Breakie features bananas and walnuts, some of the monkeys’ favourite foods.

It consists of homemade nut butter and bananas with arenga burnt sugar, sitting on a slice of sourdough bread.

The nut butter is thick and creamy, and is reminiscent of peanut butter.

1 bite 5 words review: Eating this for breakfast daily

The bakery uses ingredients that are chemical-free and sources locally where possible, so you can be sure that its products are healthy and nutritious.

It also tries to reduce waste by extending the shelf life of its bread loaves whenever possible.

Bring your own bag or get ready to pay S$1 for each paper bag at its stores. It’s for a good cause though – the proceeds are donated to planting trees in Indonesia.

Asiatic Black Bear

The Asiatic Black Bear, also known as the moon bear, is found over a wide area of southern Asia.

Here’s a photo of it standing on its hind legs — incidentally, Asiatic Black Bears are the most bipedal of all bears, and have been known to walk upright for over a quarter of a mile (around 0.4km).

The food

Grain Traders’ Mandai Hero Bowl is a hearty bowl of brown rice, sous vide chicken, roasted root vegetables, mixed tomato salad and coconut curry.

The coconut curry adds a strong kick and the pickled cucumber a hint of sourness.

1 bite 5 words review: Nice, with tinge of sourness

Meanwhile, Little Farm’s Avocado Quinoa Feta Bowl is exactly as its name suggests, and comes with a generous creamy chunk of avocado.

The bowl is also scattered with pomegranate seeds — a nice addition as the sweet and sour taste of it cuts through the creamy avocado.

The sauce that accompanies the bowl is interesting as well, and tastes like yuzu.

1 bite 5 words review: Get everything in one bite

Little Farms gets ethically sourced, and where possible, organic ingredients for their meals, while Grain Traders sources locally and regionally produced ingredients as much as they can.

Malayan Tiger

The Malayan Tiger is native to the Malay Peninsula, and has been classified as critically endangered since 2015.

As an apex predator, the Malayan Tiger plays an important role in balancing the ecosystem by controlling populations of prey.

The food

The Malayan tiger might have its meat raw in the form of other herbivores like deer, but the dish inspired by its diet is certainly cooked.

Contrary to the name, Raw Kitchen Bar’s Pulled Beef Toast consists of coffee-spiced Fable “beef” — a plant-based substitute made from Shiitake mushrooms — pepper jack cheese, chipotle aioli and an onsen egg on toast.

The coffee spice is certainly a unique addition to the flavour profile.

1 bite 5 words review: Hearty and warms the heart

Raw Kitchen Bar aims to source local ingredients where possible, or from surrounding countries in Asia such as Malaysia, Vietnam and Thailand to reduce its carbon footprint.

Asian Small-clawed Otter

Asian Small-clawed Otters are the less common cousin of the smooth-coated otters in Singapore.

While you might see the latter gallivanting in large packs near our waterways, sightings of the Asian Small-clawed Otter here are few and far between.

They are known to typically inhabit offshore islands such as Pulau Ubin and Pulau Tekong.

According to the National Parks Board (NParks), there have been no records of the species on the mainland in the past 20 years, and the last reported sighting was in 2020.

The food

Otters’ main habitat are rivers and lakes, so naturally GoodFoodPeople’s dish for this campaign would contain seafood.

Its pesto pasta dish is vegan, and uses a seafood alternative, which is slightly chewy.

1 bite 5 words review: Thinking of the sea now

To do their part for the earth, GoodFoodPeople is a plant-based online grocer that aims to make plant-based food options convenient and affordable.

Choose Good Food Trail

All these are just some of the dishes created through Mandai’s collaboration with 20 local food establishments.

Called the Choose Good Food Trail, the campaign involves some other F&B brands such as Foreword Coffee Roasters, Kind Kones, The Coconut Club and Three Buns.

The initiative spotlights a total of 14 species, and hopes to spark conversations about the roles that these animals play in the ecosystem, while highlighting the dependencies between wildlife and humans.

The food trail also highlights three important ecological roles—seed dispersal, nutrient cycling and controlling populations of pests and prey—each species plays in maintaining the balance in the ecosystem.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of these dishes will go towards supporting wildlife conservation efforts in Singapore and Southeast Asia.

The Choose Good Food Trail runs till Nov. 25, so there’s plenty of time to head down to any of the eateries for a good meal whenever you’re free.

Share your experience on the food trail on your Instagram feed, tag @MandaiWildlifeReserve along with the hashtag #ChooseGoodwithMandai for a chance to win park tickets and F&B vouchers.

Don’t forget to follow @MandaiWildlifeReserve and set your profile public to qualify.

Instagram posts that include at least five dishes from the Choose Good Food Trail stand to win grand prizes including S$600 F&B vouchers and a pair of Manatee Mania tickets.

This sponsored article by Mandai Wildlife Group made the author’s stomach grumble.

Top photo from Mandai Wildlife Group and Wikimedia Commons