How to Be a Herbivore in Singapore Part 7 – Facing Challenges & Getting Support From The Community

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(Volunteers of AASG. Thanks Mike for the photo!)

Previous: 01 why vegan . 02 nutrition . 03 cooking . 04 groceries . 05 social eating . 06 eating at hawker centres

From my 23 years of being veg*n, I’ve met more genuinely curious people instead of condescending ones. However, do be prepared to be scrutinized, judged and ridiculed by (hopefully) the minority. Who would’ve thought by choosing not to eat certain things will invite so much uncalled-for reactions? New veg*ns, or anyone interested – be prepared, as these can make or break your goals.

The challenges we face can be categorised into 2 types – food and people. Despite popular assumptions, it’s not the food but the people around us who make the most barriers.

 

Food-related challenges:

“But I can’t give up____(insert animal product here)”

That’s okay! Simply start by eliminating those you can drop first. If my veggie-hating friend Lisha can do it, so can you. Here’s her story:

Initially, I craved meat, eggs, dairy since that was largely part of my diet. Before allowing myself to have any of that, I would first eat something vegan, like rice and beans, fruits, a burrito etc. I would only allow myself to eat non-vegan foods after I was done having a good sized vegan meal. Almost every single time, I did not crave anything else after being eating it. Once you are nourished and filled, your cravings for what you normally desire (meat, dairy and eggs) will decrease.

On the rare occasion when I did crave for animal products after eating, I would eat it mindfully. This means, no distractions – just me and my food. I would savor it, noticing aromas, different flavours of the various components and texture.  I would also observe how I felt throughout the meal in a non judgmental manner (feelings of guilt etc). During this whole process, I was fully aware of where the food came from (be it a suffering cow, or slave labor in the seafood industry). These helped form my conscious and ethical eating habits, which lead to conscious and ethical living.

Be grounded in your reasons. Self-reminders are a powerful way to change taste buds.

When you start to reduce something you greatly enjoyed, having cravings are perfectly normal. Food cravings are actually your body indicating a lack of certain nutrients? Next time when sugar cravings hit, grab some medjool dates instead of candy. Your body will thank you!

This was also how I weaned off junk food addiction. I found same levels of enjoyment and higher levels of health benefits by snacking on coconut chips, dark chocolate, chestnuts, dates instead of Kit Kats and Skittles which made me feel sick after a temporary high.

To make transition easier, quality mock meats are great. Some really do taste exactly like their meat counterparts! Before criticizing the role of mock meats in a vegan diet, keep in mind that some people need them for transition or whatever reasons to help them stay veg*n. I enjoy eating them occasionally since they can a tasty, convenient option.

Gokul and Eight Treasures is highly recommended as a great place for mock meat dishes (they label vegan/dairy clearly, I really enjoy Gokul’s murtabak). Loving Hut has an excellent beef rendang and a burger with vegan egg. NomVNom has yummy meaty soy patties and Veganburg’s got delicious sausages.

For packaged mock meats, imported Western brands are pricier and usually tastier, Chinese ones are cheaper but not all are tasty. You have to do trial and error to find what you like. Fry’s Braai sausages (Cold Storage & Redmart) have been highly recommended by some friends. Quorn is now retailing at NTUC. Go for established brands with nice packaging and watch out for dairy and egg in the ingredients.

If you like healthier meaty flavours, many plant-based whole foods can be creatively made into juicy meaty textures. Like various mushrooms, coconut, green jackfruit, tofu, tempeh and seitan etc. (Click on the links for recipes!)

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(Char-siu style tempeh from my recipes archive.)

Many of Singapore’s favourite local foods are meat-based – laksa, chicken rice, bak kut teh etc. If you find it hard to “give up” those, rest assured that good vegan versions are available. Hungry Ang Mo has recommendations of excellent local fare.

 “I tried and felt so tired and hungry!”

One big reason people quit being veg*n is that they aren’t equipped with the right nutritional knowledge. Instead of labelling vegetarianism/veganism as a terrible idea, why not ask, “Am I eating well?” Being veg*n DOES NOT mean replacing animal protein with tofu and mock meats. You WILL NOT get enough nutrients by eating only those for protein! To reap maximum health benefits, eat a variety of minimally processed whole foods. Expand your taste buds by trying new foods, finding new ways to cook/eat them and arm yourself with scientifically-verified knowledge of plant-based nutrition. You can start by reading my previous guide on nutrition.

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(If these steriod-free bodybuilders can thrive on plants, so can you! Thanks Luke Tan for the photo.)

“But vegetables taste bad! I hate veggies so I can never go veg*n. ”

Firstly, vegetables makes up about 20% of the plant-based diet. Rice is a grain, almonds are nuts, chickpeas are legumes, mango is a fruit and mushrooms are not even classified as plants. The idea that veg*ns only eat veggies needs to go!

Secondly, a higher level of skill is required to coax out flavours of plants, that’s why many plant dishes in cheap eateries don’t taste amazing or need lots of MSG and oil. Having eaten one bad vegan dish doesn’t mean all foods in the veganiverse are terrible.

Veggie-hating vegan Lisha, founder of Singapore’s first vegan creamery Peace of Cheese, shares these tips:

  • It’s fine to be vegan without having vegetables, as you can get nutrients in other ways (e.g, pulse sesame seeds into a powder, sprinkle it on peanut butter spread on bread, and pair with orange juice for iron.) Nonetheless we still should try to incorporate them into our diets.
  • Be open to trying new things. If you’ve never tried a certain type of vegetable before, try it! Only when I turned vegan, did I try whole tomatoes in burgers and on pizzas.. and I loved it! If you hated a certain vegetable when you were younger, try it again! If everyone else hates a certain thing, don’t be so quick to assume that you will.
  • Identify what it is you don’t like about vegetables. Is it the taste or texture? We all love vegetables one way or another. After all, meat is marinated with herbs, spices and vegetables. I don’t like the bitter taste of some vegetables and the texture of almost all. I usually have them minced, processed or blended. If it’s the bitterness that you don’t like, try blanching the veggies for a few minutes. Another tip to help with flavour is to start with finely chopped onion and garlic with lots of spices and herbs for taste.
  • Try preparing veggies in different ways. Kale does not taste nice raw or stir fried, but baked in an oven they become crisp and crunchy snacks. I don’t like any mushrooms, except in soups or when they are chopped finely. Also try combining vegetables together. You may not like leek on it’s own, but leek and potatoes is amazing. Lastly, try blending some spinach leaves in your fruit smoothie and you can get greens without tasting grass.
  • Accept that you can’t love them all. It is okay to blacklist certain vegetables. Even the
    most avid vegetable lover will hate some vegetables, and love some more than the other. (Me: True, I hate kale!)
  • Join a potluck in the community. Such is a great way to experiment and test lots of different foods at one shot!
  • Get excited about recipes. This is a vegan recipe page that makes me drool!

“So hard being vegan in Singapore compared to _____ (insert Western country).”

Yes and no. For vegan alternatives foods like non-dairy yogurts, cheeses and ice creams, they are imported chilled and hence too expensive for an average middle class to eat daily. In the West there is more access to meat and dairy alternatives. Demand for such foods in Singapore are not as high as countries like Germany, so it is unrealistic to expect equal levels of convenience and price. Good news is that major retailers are catching up. In recent years there has been a great increase in the non-dairy milk varieties in supermarkets and even Mustafa decided to stock the cheapest vegan cheeses on the island after feedback from the community. Hence, look forward to more vegan processed foods on the shelves!

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(Vegan cheese section at Mustafa. Yes, Mustafa!)

Otherwise, majority of vegan food is NOT expensive. Grains, legumes and seeds based foods are cheaper per calorie than meat and fish while meeting nutritional needs with zero cholesterol. Various vegan meals can be bought in most hawker centres and food courts for under $5. Many traditional snacks and desserts are vegan as coconut milk and agar agar is used instead of cow’s milk and gelatine. Thanks to racial and cultural diversity, we have an astounding amount of cuisines to choose from and tons of ingredients to play with. Oh, and cheap tropical fruits!

 

People-related challenges:

Be familiar with the psychology of defense mechanisms. Plenty of vegan literature has linked it to the crazy reactions we get after casually mentioning our dietary preferences. This reaction can be experience by any group of people in general, not only vegans.

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(Replace “smoke” with “bacon”. Source: Vegan Sidekick)

Simply put, people are fundamentally good at heart. When they see others trying hard to do good, a mirror of self-evaluation pops up in the depths of their psych. I’ve noticed that two reactions can occur:

  • The inspiration and desire to learn, listen and take positive action.
  • A feeling of anxiety and guilt that they themselves are not doing as good or as much as others.

Unfortunately the majority is the latter. Many people don’t have the strength to face facts or make effort to change. Therefore they exhibit the 15 behaviours of defense mechanisms to protect their ego, hide their guilt and to look stronger or feel better. All the negative reactions we face basically stem from this normal, unconscious, primitive human instinct to protect the sense of self. So don’t feel bad when facing such remarks!

Be prepared to meet these types of people after “coming out”.

Type 1: The Judge – Jumps to conclusions based on your race, body size, gender and economic status. You’re Chinese, means you must be a Buddhist because in their understanding no one in the right mind forsakes tasty meat without religious obligation. You’re overweight, so you’re on a fad diet. You’re underweight so you must definitely be malnourished. You’re a male veg*n, so you’re less manly and attractive. You’re vegan, means you must be rich to enjoy organic kale and quinoa salad in a bungalow’s garden! And the ridiculous list goes on. They fail to appreciate people as complex and diverse individuals. Sometimes, it’s the defense mechanism of rationalization. “This person can do it/want to do it because they have the resources/reasons, while I can’t/need not do so.”

How to face them:

1) Show, not tell

If you enjoy yummy food regularly, why not express it? Show the possibilities (laksa, pizza, ice cream and cake etc with ZERO cholesterol?).

  • Social media is a powerful way to show the abundance and positivity of veganism – it is simply great food enjoyed with great friends!
  • Pack your own lunch to school/work if there’s no vegan food near you. When having these lunches with colleagues, they’ll be curious to what you are eating and thus opens the topic. If you’re a good cook/baker, share generously with people by offering to bake or make food for a birthday/event.
  • If you can’t cook, bring people to try great veg*n places to eat – and there are plenty to choose in Singapore!
  • Eat as wholesome as possible. Once people see that you’ve gotten healthier, stronger and happier, they’ll be naturally convinced.
  • Share positive content about veganism. It can be anything, like “Vegans are increasing in population” and “McDonald’s got a new vegan option!”. This shows that it is a positive lifestyle and thus piques people’s curiosity.

I understand as new vegans, emotions of anger and frustrations can overwhelm. Keep in mind that telling people to “go vegan!” or “stop eating meat, it’s bad!” can cause most to activate defence mechanisms and close their minds. Instead, embody the message in your daily actions and speech. I personally prefer engaging in a discussion and sharing only if the other party is truly open. If not, I know that I have left a seed of impression and they may find it when their time comes. Compassion and non-violence applies to people, including you too – strive to be the kindest, most giving and positive version of yourself.

2) Good nature and humor

Humor is mostly always a good idea. Giving people a surprise chuckle or laugh adds a plus to their impression of you, and vegans in general. Also, it can lighten the mood and open the topic for discussion.

(“Where do you get your protein?” “From the bodies of people who ask me this question.”  Picture source: Vegan Sidekick)

When someone provokes you, the bigger your reaction the more satisfied they feel. So take their comments lightly, stand your ground and don’t be affected. My default answer to people who say “I only like meat and hate veggies.” is “Good, more plants for me then!”.

Type 2: The Mr/Ms All-Of-You-Are-The-Same

“Vegans are all:

1) Skinny and tired all the time because of lack of protein.

2) Arrogant, shoving their beliefs down people’s throats.

3) Hipsters who think they are better than everyone else.”

(Refer to this, this and this case for examples of differing media reports on vegans. Source: Vegan Sidekick)

I’ve had this remark many times said in front of me, funnily sometimes by people who don’t know that I’m one! This may be misunderstandings about nutrition, negative media portrayals and simply guilt reflex. Yes, some vegans may be militant and negative, but just like in every group of people there are bad apples.

How to face them:

  • Be your genuine self. Then people around you will realise that vegans can be nice, polite and.. just normal.
  • Share positive news and content about veganism. But don’t keep sharing and talking about only veganism. Work on your own interests and celebrate them just as much.
  • I strongly believe that a happy vegan is more convincing than an angry one. Strive to be someone who spreads positive and uplifting vibes not one who judges others for eating differently.

Type 3: The Nutritionist/Philosopher

As someone who believes that all beliefs can and should be questioned, I actually appreciate such ‘Philosophers” and “Nutritionists”. They can see veganism as beyond a diet and in the contexts of morality, evolution, religion etc. Engaging in a discussion with them can be mind-opening and rewarding for both parties – if done with a respectful attitude. Problem is, some base their arguments on not very substantial research – or maybe even from a single Buzzfeed video.

How to face them, by questioning:

  • Who funded the research? What purpose does the sponsor have by publishing the research?
  • Was it taken out of context? Ask to see the full article/source to fully understand the context. One example is a recent study that found some vegetarians may have better omega-3 conversion. Some media twisted the findings into concluding that vegetarians have higher cancer risk which the researcher dismissed it as misrepresentation.
  • Is the article cited with links to sources and preferably backed by references and bibliographies?
  • What do the critiques of the book/article say?
  • For arguments based on poor facts, simply point them to the right resources and literature, if they are open to it that is 🙂

Type 4: The Clown

Basically, they make remarks with little intellectual basis. I’ve heard plain silly and sexist ones like (besides everyone’s favourite desert island),

“I hate animals therefore I eat them, you must really hate plants.” (Eating animals requires more plants than just eating plants.)

”You can smoke right? It’s a plant!”  (That’s missing the big picture.)

“If you care about animals then roaches should have rights too.”(Seeing how they are going to be milked, yes they should.)

“Vegan girls have small breasts.”(Why are foods that increase breast sizes mainly plants?)

“Vegan girls don’t make good girlfriends as they cannot give blowjobs.” (You’re missing out.)

Eye rolls aside, from a purely psychological point of view, they might have exhausted all means of logical arguments. They are desperate to find fault in your beliefs with non-intellectual insults to trip you emotionally.

Type 5: How to face them:

1) Humour them

A little sarcasm helps to flip the logic the other way, and maybe they will see it!

“Plants have feelings.”

“I appreciate you being a plant activist. So do you avoid fries?” (Thank you Erin!)

“I can never eat veggies, I’m a carnivore.”

“Wow, I’ve never met a carnivore before! Do you order chicken rice without the rice since you don’t eat plants? Where do you get vitamins and fibre? Don’t you get constipated often without fibre?”

“I can never be a carnivore like you; I love durian too much to give them up!”

“I bet you’re gonna kill animals to eat in a desert island.”

“How are the animals alive then?” (A cookie for you if you get it!)

2)   Do not engage. Smile, laugh and walk away. Sometimes, there’s no point feeding the troll.

Type 5: The Ex

People who tried dating veganism and it didn’t work out. Maybe they didn’t eat right and felt worse, can’t give up a certain taste, couldn’t find support, faced inconveniences and huge peer pressure. These people don’t need to be scolded for “not trying hard enough”, but they need support and encouragement! I appreciate people who at least gave it a go. Problem is, some blame the lifestyle for their pitfalls instead of finding solutions and spread that “Veganism is terrible, I lived on vegetables and rice for a week and got sick!”

How to help them:

  • Congratulate them for trying, as most can’t bear to live without animal products for even a day.
  • Secondly, try to understand what went wrong and help him/her solve it.
  • Lastly, encourage and show that you’re also on the same journey! “Hey I’ve been wanting to try this vegan place, heard they’re great, let’s go?”

Type 6: The Authoritarian Parents

For many young new veg*ns, this is one huge barrier. In our somewhat still traditional society, disagreeing with parents or figures of authority in the family is usually a huge no. More conservative families have a “I know what’s best for you so listen to me” reasoning no matter how much scientific facts are presented. It’s understandable as it’s a reaction from a usually respected ego being questioned and the sense of losing control over their child. Since we mostly have to wait till marriage to move out, the pressure and negativity from people who are supposed to love and support can be unbearable.

How to face them:

Here are tips from my friends Amanda and Goat Man (not a real name obviously, he’s shy), 2 young vegans who went through huge resistances from family.

From Goat Man:

My family is vegetarian so food-wise isn’t that hard. But I had debates with them. My dad still doesn’t support me. They get angry when I turn down their offer of dairy food. I didn’t announce that I am vegan immediately as that will really surprise my parents and provoke a greater reaction/resistance. Until they realised I’m not eating eggs and milk, they were surprised and we had a protein debate. They still aren’t convinced that we don’t need eggs and milk for protein. Until now, they are still telling me I should drink milk just because it’s not against our religious beliefs. I learned a lot about all the sort of ways how others argue against veganism from vegans and meat eaters debate groups (warning: trolls, but this is the reality of humanity). That helps to mentally prepare against such onslaughts. I guess it’s better to try to convince them using logic, doing it in a loving and calm manner. My mom noticed I became healthier as a vegan, so she started supporting me and even buys me vegan mock meats. It’s good to cook them some vegan food to try and just be yourself, really. They’ll notice a positive change in you and might be interested in trying vegan too.

From Amanda:

When you’re out with your family and can’t order your own food, pick out the plants from the meat dishes if there is really nothing else for you to eat. (This was what I did back then but nowadays it’s so much easier because there are vegan options almost everywhere.) Don’t get angry or upset at what they say to you. If you get into an argument, always stay calm. If they want to know, use Internet resources to show them what you mean if you can’t explain or prove a point. Take things slowly, if you can’t be a vegan immediately, being vegetarian is good enough. One step at a time, there is no rush especially if the situation is not favourable. Some may tell you being vegetarian is not good enough but it actually really is good enough in certain situations! You cannot “make” anyone vegan or agree with you. But you can influence them, by being happy and healthy, sharing delicious food photos and recipes! People will only accept when they want to open their minds and hearts.

You can be armed with all right facts, but I believe that’s not enough. If you act like a condescending jerk, no one will listen and probably end up hating all vegans. Like my friends mentioned above, positivity is the best way to influence! Understanding how people think and feel is very important too.

Here’s some resources to help you:

 

Feeling like an outcast? 

(Fellow vegans at one of the many potluck parties. Source: Animal Allies)

Luckily, the Singapore vegan community is tight knit and active. We have monthly events in the form of potlucks, outreach, screenings, meetings and dining sessions. It can be very daunting to change your lifestyle, but you don’t have to do it alone or all at once.

Meet us here – 

Whatsapp groups – message the numbers to be added:

  1. SG Veg Muslims (9386 6243)
  2. VegPride (LGBTQ vegans – 9731 4600)
  3. Vegan Families (raising vegan kids – 9731 4600)
  4. Vegan SG (vegans – 9731 4600)
  5. PlantForward (for non-vegans interested in trying a vegan lifestyle – 9138 1632)
  6. Team V (plant-based athletes – 9731 4600)
  7. SG Veg Chat Group (veg*ns, warning: lots of messages – 9829 6394)
  8. SGvegan Makan Kakis (for anyone that wants to try out vegan food together with like-minded folks, link to join here.)

Social media groups:

Volunteer & participate in activities, outreach and makan sessions:

  • Animal Allies Singapore – An outreach group that inspires people to make more compassionate, healthy and sustainable choices in Singapore.
  • Vegetarian Society Singapore – Singapore’s oldest non-profit and non-religious charity and organisation promoting a plant-based living.
  • Team V runners – Vegan/vegetarian marathoners and athletes who train regularly together. Interested veg*n (vegetarian/vegan) athletes can contact Team V admin at 97213547 to be added.
  • For all major vegetarian/vegan related upcoming events (updated monthly), visit http://animalallies.sg/events/

(Volunteers from Animal Allies Singapore at PinkDot 2016. Source: Consider Veganism SG.

 

The V Label

Be ready to be introduced to new people by omnivores as “The Vegan”, as if what you eat is the only interesting thing about you. You are as much of a complex individual as everyone else and certainly more than the V label.

Never take negative comments personally. Remember the defense mechanism – it’s not your fault that some people have fragile egos. And don’t be a militant vegan, don’t forget that we weren’t born vegan. You may often feel like “me against the whole world” feeling, but you’re never alone. New veg*ns, welcome to the community! I look forward in meeting you in our foodie gatherings. Thank you for reading my series and I hope they help you in your journey.

cny_2017
Chinese New Year small steamboat gathering, 2017.

How to Be a Herbivore in Singapore Part 6 – Eating at Hawker Centres

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(Jia Xiang Wei Vegetarian from Circuit Road food centre. Thanks Bernard for the photo!)

Previous: 01 why vegan . 02 nutrition . 03 cooking . 04 groceries . 05 social eating. Next: 07 challenges and support

Eating is a national pastime and hawker centres are the backbone of Singapore’s food scene. These down-to-earth, bustling places reflect various facets of the common person’s daily life – using 4 languages and dialects to order, kiasuness exhibited with tissue paper and an immense love for value and quality shown by willingly queuing for hours. This post is a continuation from the previous on how to eat out specifically in hawker centres and food courts as a vegan.

The selling points of these places are the food and value, not service. Asking or requesting a lot can get the poor aunties/uncles impatient, which is totally understandable as hawker work is very demanding. Thus one needs to be acquainted with the local food culture for a rich hawker experience while avoiding hidden surprises! Foreign friends will find names of dishes and ingredients mentioned here unfamiliar so I have linked them to photos or articles for more information. Click on the names to see how they look like! If you meet Chinese servers who can’t speak English, this English-Chinese language guide may help.

Photo 23-7-16, 8 49 22 AM (1)

(Braised vegan duck rice, chicken rice, kway chap and economic bee hoon from 216 Bedok North. Each dish is under $5!)

 

The mock meats culture

Most of Singapore’s vegetarian hawker food stalls are usually run by Chinese religious vegetarians. Since ancient times when these religions existed, followers believe in the karmic benefits of promoting a vegetarian lifestyle – some even dedicating their whole life to this goal. One of their approaches is to encourage omnivores to eat more vegetarian food by trying to replicate the dishes they are used to. Since not all followers are born into a religious family and many converted after some years of non-belief, mock meats are used to make transitioning into a vegetarian diet easier for them. Current older generations of vegetarians are still firm believers of mock meats as a main food group, which has good and bad implications on vegan food in general.

Before mock meats, tofu and minimally processed seitan (aka 面筋 ) together with “ meaty” plants like mushrooms and bamboo shoots played this role. The widespread use of mock meats in East Asian meatless cuisines started in modern times due to more advanced food manufacturing methods, as a way to create convenient and easy to use meat alternatives. Thus, they became ingrained and are now a staple in East Asian vegetarian cuisines. I believe criticisms about mock meats being unnecessary and ironic in veg*n food shows the lack of awareness of the religious and practical roles behind it in an Asian context.

From a nutritional standpoint, most mock meats are unhealthy and should not be a main source of protein. Cheap mock meats often taste bad and might have dairy and/or egg ingredients as a low-cost binding agents. The ones that tastes good are pricey. Legumes, grains, nuts, seeds, tofu and tempeh have higher protein and are packed with much more nutrients. Plenty of plants like mushrooms, green jackfruit, bamboo shoots, etc can be cooked to juicy, umami and meaty flavours. In recent years, I’ve noticed a shift in the veg*n community to prefer more plant-based forms of protein and meaty flavours. I hope vegetarian stalls can pick up this trend and offer more wholefood options instead of highly processed soy or gluten. Still, quality mock meats are a great transition food for new veg*ns and also can be a tasty convenience food.

 

Ordering at vegetarian hawker stalls

There’s one in most hawker centres/food courts due to the prevalence of religious vegetarians here. They usually have a selection of economic rice dishes (cai fan) and cooked-on-the-spot dishes (daily specials and/or zi char). Eggs and dairy are sometimes used and the level of healthiness of food from different stalls can range from colourful to 50 shades of brown (heavy on mock meat and deep-fried foods).

If you are allergic to MSG, best to enquire if they use MSG. Often, no allium roots (onion, garlic) can be used due to religious reasons, so many hawkers use MSG as the quickest and cheapest way to give flavour with less ingredients.

Economic rice (cai fan/杂菜饭), like the name implies, is a meal with most value in a hawker centre. It usually consists of choosing a carbohydrate (rice/brown rice/fried rice or noodles) and your preferred sides from an array of pre-cooked dishes which are kept warm.

Photo 20-7-16, 7 42 15 PM

Take note when ordering vegan food from vegetarian cai fan stalls (click on the names to see how the items look like):

  • Ask what milk is used for their curries. Traditionally it’s coconut, but some sellers use low quality cow’s milk to save costs. Needless to say, it won’t taste authentic.
  • Avoid egg-based dishes in the form of scrambled egg bits in a veggie dish, steamed egg custards and egg tofu. If you’re sensitive like me, I’d even avoid the dark soy sauce braised tau kwa/tau pok if the stall sells braised egg as they may have cooked together in the same stock.
  • If possible, avoid soy-based textured mock meats (mock mutton, fish slices, chicken nugget, pork cubes) and konjac-based mock seafoods (mock prawn, fishball, crab stick, kidney, squid). For Chinese-speakers, ask for no 斋料 or 素肉. Foreigners can use this language guide. lAs mentioned earlier, hawkers likely use cheap ones that might have small amounts of dairy and/or eggs. Some manufacturers don’t list them in the ingredients so sellers also have no idea if it’s vegan. Gluten-based (mock duck, char siu, pig innards in kway chap) and beancurd skin based (mock chicken drumstick, chicken slices in chicken rice) – based mock meats are safest and less processed.
  • To be really safe (and healthy), choose the veggie, tofu, tempeh, tau kwa (firm tofu) and tau kee (beancurd strips) dishes.

Zi Char (煮炒) refers to cooked-on-the-spot dishes. Most vegetarian stalls will offer a few to many such dishes ranging from soup noodles to stir-fries. Often pricier than cai fan with longer waiting times, but your meal is freshly made and piping hot.

zichar
(Zi char menu from San De Vegetarian.)

 Take note when ordering vegan from vegetarian zi char:

  • Again, for laksa and curries, ask “Auntie/uncle did you use coconut milk or cow’s milk?”
  • Also, ask to replace mock meats that are likely to have egg/dairy with tofu or tempeh whenever possible.
  • Fish head bee hoon is the only dish where cow’s milk is always used in the soup, ask for no milk for that.
  • For laksa, fried rice and fried noodles, some (not all) stalls add egg by default. To be safe always say “no egg” beforehand no matter what you’re ordering.
  • Flat thin yellow noodle dishes like crispy noodle (sheng mian), mee pok, mee kia and wanton mee might be egg noodles. Ask the seller before ordering. Thick yellow noodles like those in claypot noodles and hokkien mee are safe, they are wheat noodles coloured yellow.

 

If you can’t find vegetarian stall..

First, post in the local vegan whatsapp group or facebook groups: “Hey I’m at (location) any eats nearby?” and our lovely community will reply fast! But in cases where there really isn’t any, here’s what you can do:

If you’re okay with food from non-veg stalls:

  • Take veggie and tofu dishes from Chinese economic rice. Check for minced meat, meat
    stocks and oyster sauce.
  • At yong tau foo stalls, get plants and tofu that are NOT STUFFED and ask for dry noodles (soup likely made from animal bones) without sambal chilli.
  • Thai stalls might have veggie pad thai (ask for no egg & fish sauce).
  • Western stalls might have a plant-based pasta. You can opt out of cheese.
  • Many Indian stalls will have a vegetarian set meal (ask for no ghee/yoghurt/paneer)
    or at least biryani rice (check for no ghee), bread items (plain chapati, roti, idli and thosai are vegan) and veggie based curries.

Note that cross-contamination might occur since these stalls use the same utensils, cook in the same oil, stock or pan with non-vegan foods. If you’re uncomfortable, feel free to avoid. For Japanese, Korean, Indonesian and Malay food, fish sauce/stock and shrimp paste (belacan) are in almost everything savoury. Don’t say “vegan” as these aunties/uncles might have never heard of that – be specific and always ask if unsure.

jess photo

(Veggie pad thai from Thai stall and aglio olio from Western stall in Amoy food centre. Thanks Jessica for the photos!)

 

If you’re not comfortable buying from stalls that sell ALOT OF meat..

Hakka thunder tea rice (lei cha) is the most easily veganised and healthiest dish in local hawker fare. Veggies, tofu, peanuts, dried radish and long beans are topped onto brown or white rice and paired with a soup of ground nuts and herbs. Sometimes have dried shrimp – ask to remove that. My ideal meal – good carbs with lots of vitamins and a good variety of protein amino acids. Although it’s an acquired taste, I believe vegans can’t be too picky in certain situations. If there’s a stall selling it, simply request for vegetarian and seller will leave out the dried shrimps (hae bi).

Photo 22-9-15, 1 35 56 PM

(This dish is tricky to make – poorly made ones can taste like mint toothpaste! Favourite so far is from Thunder Tree @ Smith Street.)

A medium to large-sized hawker centre will have other vegan options other than vegetarian stall in the form of sides, desserts and kuehs (local term for snack). Dairy is not used in our traditional snacks like chee cheong fun, huat kueh etc. Mix and match and you can get a complete meal of carbs, protein and vitamins. Generally, look out for these Chinese characters that mean vegetarian displayed at stalls.

 su n zhai-01

Common vegan-friendly food items:

Hot desserts:

  • Pulut hitam (black sticky rice porridge with coconut milk)
  • Tau hwa (soy beancurd pudding – vegan if made in-house, factory made ones may have creamers)
  • Tau suan (split green bean porridge with dough fritters)
  • Orh nee (yam paste with gingko nuts. Note that a few stalls still cook it the traditional way with lard.)
  • Red or green bean soup
  • Ah balling (peanut soup with tang yuan)
  • Bubur chacha (sweet potato and taro in coconut milk)
  • Bubur terigu (wheat coconut porridge)
  • Cheng tng (clear soup of mainly red date, barley and white fungus, can be cold.)

The white milk in some is coconut milk and dairy is not used.

Cold desserts:

desserts

 

Pre-made puddings may have cow’s milk or dairy creamers.

Drinks

  • Soymilk (very common!)
  • Teh-O (tea without condensed milk.)
  • Juices like sugar cane or fruit juice (note that fruit smoothies are cow’s milk based unless from a soymilk stall.)
  • Non-milky sweet drinks like barley, chrysanthemum tea, sour plum, grass jelly etc (local drinks don’t have honey unless stated like honey lemon tea or honey lemongrass).

Sometimes vegan:

  • Kopi-O (coffee beans might be roasted in butter, best to avoid all if you’re highly allergic to dairy.)

Bandung, teh tarik, milo, teh halia and teh/kopi C are cow’s milk based. Bird’s nest based drinks are uncommon but not vegan.

Steamed snacks (Best eaten from stalls with vegetarian sign. Sambal chilli sauces from non-veg stalls usually have belacan.)

  • Teochew kuehs (Some savoury ones like soon kueh might have shrimp/eggs. Request for vegetarian with no egg if buying from non-veg stall.)
  • Malay kuehs / Nyonya kuehs (Some like kueh salat & kueh dadar have eggs, some savoury ones like pulut panggang have shrimp. Request for vegetarian with no egg if buying from non-veg stall.)
  • Chee cheong fun (Unless stated otherwise, default comes with sweet black sauce and sesame seeds. For savoury, you can request for soy sauce and sesame oil.)
  • Red bean/yam/lotus seed paste buns
  • Bai tang gao
  • Vegetarian char siu bun (Uses gluten mock meat. Not sure if honey is used in the filling, quite unlikely in hawkers as maltose is cheaper. Check if unsure.)

Sometimes vegan:

Fried snacks

Sometimes vegan:

  • Turnip cake (check if lard is used to fry it, and if there’s meat or shrimp inside the cake).
  • Spring roll (best to buy from vegetarian stall as it’s commonly stuffed with meat)

Vegetable pancake/fritter (have eggs), potato curry puffs (margarine in the skin) and goreng pisang (eggs in batter) are often not vegan although they look like!

fritters

(Typical selections at fritters stall. Here they didn’t have much fried buns and are more of a breakfast place thus the steamed red rice cake, ang ku kueh.)

Other snacks

Sometimes vegan:

 

Best vegan versions of local comfort foods

There are many vegetarian hawker stalls that are famous for vegan versions of local hawker favourites. I haven’t tried all of them so I can’t say which is best. The following are those I’ve eaten, greatly enjoyed and can highly recommend!

image

(Green papaya double-boiled soup from San De made with mushroom stems, goji berries and red dates. Flavours change daily.)

For more accurate recommendations, visit the most comprehensive vegetarian food review blog Hungry Ang Mo. Start exploring our vegetarian hawker scene from his Top 10 Vegetarian Breakfasts and Best Places to Experience Zi Char Cuisine in Singapore. Directories of more stalls can be found at Little Green Wok and Happy Cow.

Next > overcoming challenges and finding support as a new vegan.

How to Be a Herbivore in Singapore Part 5 – Eating Out & Being Social

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Previous: 01 why vegan . 02 nutrition . 03 cooking04 groceries . Next: 06 eating at hawker centres07 challenges and support.

Singapore is vegan food heaven – the Lion City has been named by PETA as the 2nd most vegan-friendly country in Asia! However, to enjoy this, you must understand the local food culture. If not, be prepared face inconvenience, heftier price tags, and very confused servers.

Types of diets

The concept of ‘vegan’ has not taken root in our mainstream society yet, but there are several types of vegetarians in Asia due to a history of religious influence in the region. In Singapore, you’ll meet these common types:

  • Lacto-ovo vegetarian (奶蛋素): People who avoid meat (including seafood) but take eggs and dairy.
  • Lacto-vegetarian (奶素): People who avoid meat (including seafood) and eggs but take dairy.
  • Buddhist vegetarian (斋): People who avoid meat (including seafood) and five pungent herbs – onions, chives, leeks, shallots and garlic. Most take dairy and some take eggs.
  • Chuyi Shiwu vegetarian (初一十五斋/素): Religious people (usually Buddhists) who avoid meat (including seafood) and possibly alliums and eggs only on the 1st and 15th day of the lunar calendar.
  • Indian vegetarian: There are many Indian religions that advocate avoiding meat (including seafood) and possibly eggs and/or the five pungent herbs. Takes dairy.
  • Non-religious vegetarians: People who are usually not religious and avoid meat (including seafood) and possibly eggs for other reasons (food preference, health, ethics and/or the environment).

Locals usually confuse veganism as a type of vegetarianism and think we probably take eggs and/or dairy and don’t take onion/garlic. Don’t be offended if you’re served something you don’t take. Always be politely specific when placing orders to avoid misunderstandings. There are a surprising number of people that don’t know the definition of dairy.

I’ve found the best way to put the point across to Singaporean servers is “I eat vegetarian without honey, eggs and dairy.”

In case you meet servers who aren’t fluent in English (not common but they exist), I’ve made these language cards for you to show them. They are also applicable in Chinese-speaking countries. For Singapore, Malaysia and mainland China, use the simplified Chinese versions. For Macau, Hong Kong and Taiwan, use the traditional Chinese versions. Download them here.

 

Types of Eating Spaces

The typology of Singapore’s public eating spaces is diverse. Here are the two main types of eateries and the pros and cons of eating vegan there. It’s best to avoid soy and konjac based mock meats as they may contain eggs and milk as binders. Gluten-based ones are safest.

Hawker centres and food courts are the heart of Singapore’s food scene and daily life. The non air-conditioned hawker centres were the first sanitary eating spaces in Singapore to offer a variety of cooked local food. Most have been replaced by air-conditioned food courts in shopping malls with similar stall setups and the inclusion of international cuisine.

Pros – The majority of locals eat their daily meals here, since it is very affordable, usually costing below $5 for a meal. Vegetarian food is common, dedicated vegetarian stalls specialise mainly in Chinese food.

Cons – Might not be the healthiest. Some can be heavy on mock meats and fried food with some egg dishes. MSG may be prevailant as a cheap and easy flavouring, as these stalls usually do not use allium plants due to religious beliefs. If you are sensitive to MSG, best to check with the stalls before eating. Not all servers can speak good English.

 (Typical selections from vegetarian stalls. Such stalls will display Chinese characters 斋 or 素, meaning vegetarian.)

Eateries, restaurants and cafés are the result of gentrification, rising affluence and increasing demand for more international variety and upscale dining experiences.

Pros – They have better service, and thus it easier to make requests. Many places have vegetarian or vegan options labelled. These places also feature bigger selections of cuisines and are often much healthier than hawker centres.

Cons – Prices can range from $5 at a family-friendly fast food joint like Komalas, to $50 for a meal at fine dining places like Sufood. Any meal more than $5 is considered too pricey to be eaten on a daily basis for lower-middle class Singaporeans. They either have to eat less healthy options at hawker centres or cook at home.

image

(Vegan burger place nomVnom. Thanks Wai Lek for the photo!)

 

Eating Out

Thanks to racial diversity, a global city status, prevalent vegetarianism and a food-centric culture, vegans can be spoilt for choice here. Within ten minutes by foot of the HDB block I stay at, there are three vegetarian food stalls, one vegetarian grocery and a vegan ice cream spot! Choices have increased especially in recent years. Here are some yummy dishes I had in recent months.

image

(Kwan Inn Zhai’s famous laksa, kimchi fried rice at Boneless kitchen, yam cake, chee cheong fun and shwee kueh from Bishan bus interchange cafeteria veg stall, fried hor fun from Lin Lin, capsicum pesto pasta from  Sautè and pita & falafel platter from Fill-a-Pita.)

SG Veg*n eateries’ directories

  • Happy Cow is a global directory of vegan, vegetarian, veg-friendly eateries and health stores. The Singapore directory is well-maintained by a local representative and volunteers. They have a great location-based app too. A must – have during travels!
  • Hungry Ang Mo is Singapore’s number one veg food review blog.Has excellent reviews covering most vegetarian/vegan eateries. You can filter eateries by region and proximity to an MRT station.
  • Little Green Wok has a list of vegetarian eateries by area withdetailed information regarding whether they sell dishes with onion/garlic, operating hours and contact information.

Because the local F&B scene is highly competitive, eateries can come and go. Some places with veg*n options may also have stopped offering them. That’s why it’s best to call before visiting a place you’ve not gone to.

Eating with non-vegans:

  • Animal Allies Singapore has tips on what to eat at popular establishments like MacDonald’s, Starbucks, Soup Spoon, Cedele etc, that are NOT salads and fries.
  • Why not take this as an opportunity to show how good plant-based eats can taste? Many veg*n places do excellent comfort foods that make many omnivores go “I never knew vegan can taste so good!!”. My go-to food outlets in Singapore that elicit this reaction are: Miaoyi (Cantonese vegetarian), Real Food (fushion healthy food), Brownice (pizza & ice cream), NomvNom (local flavoured burgers & awesome earl grey muffins), Veganburg (Western flavoured burgers), Kwan Yin Zhai (best $3 laksa), Well Dressed Salad Bar (awesome sweets), Gokul (vegan murtabak!).
  • Vegan choices in non-veg restaurants – a database compiled by volunteers. Many non-veg places in Singapore have veg*n options often labelled.
  • If you are eating with a group of non-vegans, find out what the eatery has to offer beforehand. Look up their online menu or call them before visiting. If the vegan options are poor, suggest alternative eating places beforehand to your friends. This is to avoid awkward situations.
  • Informing the host / organiser of the gathering/event beforehand will help reduce inconveniences too. Since religious vegetarianism is ingrained here and Singaporeans are brought up to respect others’ beliefs, people are usually accommodating.
  • Be flexible, specific and polite. If there is no vegan option, choose the dish that has the least animal ingredients and request the dish to be prepared without them. Be patient with servers if you’ve been served with non-veg food. Everyone makes mistakes, especially during peak eating hours.
muttonmasala
Many popular vegetarian places have mock meat vegan dishes that even hardcore carnivores will love, like this incredible mutton masala from Gokul.
cocoichibanya
Even if your omni friends don’t want to eat vegan food with you, plenty of non-vegetarian places have vegan options now, like Cocoichibanya’s veggie curries.

Good friends will always consider your needs and respect your preferences. Likewise, I will not force a hardcore carnivore to go to a vegan eatery. That never needed to happen anyway as my non-vegan friends always asked me to suggest places when going out. (Thank you everyone!) And I personally don’t know any hardcore carnivores – I guess the saying “like attract like” is right! If people are sincere about wanting to spend time with you, they’ll find ways to include you.

 

Social events

The average local will understand religious vegetarianism. But ‘coming out’ as vegan who, on your own free will, relinquished food that society deems the most tasty will attract lots of curiosity with a polite “why ah?” and, “but chicken rice!” Once you get used to that, it’s not difficult to be a social vegan here. We have ‘normal’ friends and family members too, whom we endearingly call omnies!

Going to home reunions/parties

Chinese New Year, Hari Raya, Deepavali, Christmas and similar festivals are when we gather with our non-vegan families and friends. Vegans can face challenges not limited to food. Unfortunately most Asian cultures place importance on obeying the older generation, not rejecting food and not being too outspoken or disagreeing. Here are some tips from my vegan friends of various ethnicities on how to survive the holidays and not be put on anyone’s blacklist!

  • Chinese food can be easily veganised as soy and gluten have been used since ancient times in China as plant proteins. Dairy isn’t in most dishes too. All it takes is a polite call to your host! I’m considered lucky as there are many vegetarians in my extended family. Other than the need to endure body-shaming and single-shaming remarks, my Chinese New Years are made enjoyable with, hotpots, water dumplings and various home-cooked veggie and soy dishes.
  • As Malay food is often meat-heavy, I asked Izam, my Muslim vegan friend, to share how he visits during Eid. He made a video to show you how they look like! Savoury foods can include rice cakes like ketupat or lemming with peanut satay sauce, serundeng, sambal goreng and lontong without meat. For kueh/snacks there are sticky rice based kuehs (e.g. kueh lopes, rainbow kueh), cracker snacks like banana chips, tapioca chips and nut-based snacks like peanut candies and belinjau crackers.
  • My friend Harsha shares that Indian food is easily veganised thanks to prevalence of vegetarianism in India. Simply request the host to leave out the ghee, yogurt and paneer in vegetarian Indian food. Desserts can be made with coconut milk instead of cow’s milk too.
  • A fellow vegan who had a Eurasian extended family followed the advice above  – telling them in advance so they separated vegan food from non-vegan food and bringing a veganised dish to share. If any Eurasians have tips to contribute please email me, as I don’t know any traditional Eurasian families.

Tips to make eating vegan at non-vegans’ places pleasant for everyone:

  • Inform: Telling the host in advance to make one portion for you is the most important. Be very specific as not every person’s understanding of veganism is the same.
  • Give: Make or buy something to share. It can be a veganised version of a traditional dish or something simple like drinks or fruits. The host will greatly appreciate some preparation stress taken off him/her. A great chance to share nice eats with non-vegans!
  • Enjoy: Though it’s common to face an onslaught of sometimes not very nice questions and comments from relatives and friends, we shouldn’t let such comments dampen the mood. Being asked such questions is a great opportunity to share the benefits of this lifestyle, but with everyone in a festive mood, barely anyone will want to hear about negativities no matter how true they are. Rather, explain briefly about how you benefitted from a lifestyle change and then just enjoy the company. After all, a happy vegan is more convincing than an angry one.

Going to barbeques

BBQs are a common Singaporean way of socializing. Lots of things can be grilled besides meat! Starches like sweet potatoes and potatoes, proteins like tempeh and tofu, and firm plants like mushrooms, green/red peppers, eggplant and okra can be made delicious over the grill with a marinade or a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Quality mock meats like veggie patties and sausages from Cold Storage often can impress omnivores with their meaty flavours. Thanks Cloud for providing the photo!

image

Going to formal events

For weddings, networking events, company functions and D&Ds, always inform the host or HR department beforehand. Caterers will often have vegetarian options. You have to specify vegetarian with no dairy and eggs as by default some veg options, especially Western and Indian foods, have dairy. As a request can be lost in logistical processes of big companies, putting forward that you are “vegetarian and allergic to dairy and eggs” will guarantee your request being taken more seriously and followed through.

Facing remarks and judgement?

The hardest part of being vegan at gatherings is not the food; it’s talking to the people who suddenly become nutritionists after you decline their offer of salmon. I won’t talk facts first. That can come off as preachy; people’s carnist reflexes will cause defensiveness and might close their minds to a positive lifestyle. Only if someone asks (I don’t bring up veganism to everyone), I always share how this lifestyle benefited me and leave it up to individuals to decide.

As a vegetarian since I was 3, I’ve received every remark from “having not enough protein” to “what if you’re on a desert island?” and the downright rude body shamers. I barely bat an eyelid to such remarks now (partially thanks to architecture school for the thick skin). Living as a minority of society teaches one a lot about humans’ psychological defence mechanisms. Using anger and criticism to divert vulnerable feelings of guilt and sensitivity is a normal part of human nature.

(From Vegan Sidekick facebook. The struggle is real.)

Lots of vegan friends tell stories about people who are irrationally disturbed by their choice of food. Just keep doing what you believe is best. If you don’t behave like an offensive militant vegan, it’s not your fault when people attack you for choosing not to eat chicken. Don’t feel bad! Likewise, don’t criticise non-vegans as we were meat- and/or dairy-loving once. Positivity and compassion (for Homo sapiens too!) matter greatly. It’s the confidence that you show in your chosen way of life that people can respect and be inspired by.

Next > eating out at hawker centres.

How to Be a Herbivore in Singapore Part 4 – shopping for groceries!

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Previous: 01 why vegan . 02 nutrition . 03 cooking . Next: 05 social eating . 06 eating at hawker centres . 07 challenges and support.

Note: This article contains reward links to products from iherb.com. I’ve tried these products and genuinely like them, hence I can recommend. If you purchase from my links you will get 5% off the next order and I will get 5% rewards credit, thanks in advance if you do! 🙂

“So hard to find vegan groceries and snacks here!”

“Vegan food is expensive!”

True, because:

  1. Vegan labeling isn’t common here yet.
  2. Vegan meat and dairy alternatives are imported from foreign countries and thus pricey.
  3. Vegan foods are often wrongly equated with health foods, and health foods always cost more.

Not true, because:

  1. Vegan food includes fresh produce which are plenty and cheap.
  2. If you read the ingredients you’d be surprised at the number of accidentally vegan packaged foods available.
  3. Many cheap local foods are vegan, just not marked as vegan.

This is my complete guide to places to buy everything from breads to nutritional yeast to ice creams, with indications of price range!

 

1) Wet markets (pasars) – Affordable

image

I get my bulk of ingredients here. Not only the produce are fresher and sometimes cheaper than supermarkets, you can also support local businesses directly. Markets are stock full of local and imported veggies, tropical fruits, fresh tofu, local condiments, spice packs, dried foods and tempeh so fresh that it’s still warmly fermenting on the shelves. And in a lucky neighbourhood, you get a well-stocked vegetarian grocery stall full of vegan goodies.

 

2) Regular supermarkets (NTUC, Giant, Seng Siong) – Affordable

The second biggest bulk of my food comes from mainstream supermarkets. They have a great selection of fresh, dried and processed foods like miso, kimchi, non-dairy milks, canned beans, organic tofu, breads, edamame and granola bars that are not available in wet markets.

The health section is a gem – quality beans, nut milks, cider vinegar, organic grains and flaxseeds at cheaper prices than dedicated health stores. If you want cheaper, buy from iHerb or Mustafa!

Accidentally vegan breads: according to ingredients listed on NTUC’s online shop, my experience and confirmations from fellow vegans:

NTUC:

  • Sunshine Multi Grain
  • Sunshine Smart – Carb
    (not listed on website, confirmed from fellow vegan)
  • Sunshine Enriched Walnut Bread
  • Sunshine Potato Wholemeal buns(not listed on website, confirmed from fellow vegan)
  • Sunshine Softmeal Bread
  • Sunshine Wholemeal Cream bread rolls (Chocolate, strawberry, raspberry, cookies & cream flavours)
  • Sunshine Extra Fine Sprouted WHITE Bread (not the wholemeal one)
  • Fairprice Wholemeal
  • Gardenia Wholemeal Hamburger Buns
  • Gardenia Foccacia (not listed on the website, from my experience)
  • Top One Enriched White Bread
  • Top One Enriched Wholemeal Bread
  • Five Loaves brand has a good variety of vegan bread items (like cinnamon rolls), available at some NTUC finest.

Giant Supermarket (in-house breads, source: accidentallyvegansg):

  • Multi_Grain
  • Flaxseed
  • Charcoal multi-grain
  • Multiseed
  • Walnut bread
  • Sultana

This may not be a complete list. In case I missed out any or companies change recipes, always check the ingredients first.

 

3) Traditional Chinese dried goods and medicine (TCM)
shops – Variable prices


They aren’t just about Chinese medicine and herbs! You will find :

  • Cashews, peanuts, walnuts and similar nut snacks
  • Various dried fungi like shiitake, wild mushrooms, kelp, seaweed etc.
  • Dried flowers – rose, chrysanthemum, lavender etc.
  • Beans – Dried red bean, kidney beans, green beans etc
  • Grains & Seeds – Barley, millet, oats, lotus seeds, sesame etc
  • Superfoods – Chinese dates, gojiberries etc.

Hock Hua, Eu Yan Sang are the most well-known chains. Smaller shops are also found in most neighbourhoods.

Prices will depend on the quality of the product or how exotic it is. The morel mushroom in this photo (top left) costs $45 per bottle as it’s a rare delicacy. Common ingredients like green/red beans, peanuts, dried shiitake and kelp are around $2-5 per packet.

TCM shops’ staff are usually knowledgeable about their goods, don’t be shy to ask for recommendations.

4) Indian provision shops – Affordable

Legumes, lentils and spices heaven! There’s one in almost every neighbourhood. My fav biryani and curry spice packs are from here. Many dry indian snacks are vegan – can’t resist a $2 pack of muruku!

Vegetarian products from India are always labeled with this green circle in a square. Simply look out for dairy.

5) Mustafa – Affordable

You’ll be surprised at the amount of vegan foods sold at this supermarket on steroids. The maze-like layout, poor organisation, crazy weekend crowds and unhelpful staff can drive one insane. But with prices that are too good to be true and selections unmatched by any other store, braving the madness is worth it.

Vegan groceries there:

  • Singapore’s biggest selection of dates all year round.
  • Huge range of Bob’s Red Mill’s products!
  • Cheapest vegan cheese. Sheese brand, variety of cream cheese spread, slices and melt-able cheddars – not often in stock so stock up while you’re there.
  • Nuttlex and Natura vegan butters, Soylife vegan yogurt.
  • Non-dairy milks like almond, macadamia, soy, oat milks of various flavours.
  • Instant soy, oat and nut milk powders and cereals.
  • Black salt! And many other condiments.
  • Fry’s faux meats, Linda McCartneys and various Chinese mock meats.
  • For seitan, only Chinese canned seitans are available in SG. Otherwise, making from a pack of Bob’s Red Mill’s gluten flour is your best choice.
  • Various sizes and types of TVPs (textured soy proteins).
  • Nut butters (some with prices that will make iHerb cry) – pistachio, tahini, raw, roasted, blended with cacao, hazelnut chocolate blends, etc.
  • Various canned beans (read: aquafaba), veggies and fruits. They don’t have canned green jackfruit but have fresh ones at the fridge section in veggies & fruit area. Tekka Market nearby also sells fresh green jackfruits.
  • All sorts of nuts and dried fruits.
  • Various flours, grains, organic beans, lentils, quinoa, chia seeds.
  • Wraps – wheat, spelt, oat, rice and gluten-free.
  • Baking section has nutritional yeast, rice/date/maple syrups, cacao nibs, coconut flakes, real vanilla extracts and beans.
  • Interesting Italian dried pasta selection (note: black pasta = squid ink)
  • Huge variety of oils. Avocado, walnut, coconut, herb-infused, etc.
  • Many dark chocolates bars there are vegan.
  • Mind-blowing amount of snacks – chips, seaweeds, local sweets, nuts, nut bars, granola bars, murukus.. I even saw raw kale chips once!
  • Spices – dried, powdered, mixed, in shakers, in grinders, etc.

Shopping there can be overwhelming, so ask a seasoned fellow vegan to guide you there – their staff are the most unhelpful service personnel you can meet. Mustafa sometimes can run out of stock for certain items for months so best to get when you see – you never know when it runs out!

 

6) iHerb – Varied price range

Vegan heaven – protein powders, marshmallows, fruit-flavoured B12, nut butters, cosmetics,  shampoos, EVERYTHING! Free shipping to Singapore for orders above USD85! My go-to for items sold too expensive or unavailable here. Here’s a list of links to good stuff I’ve tried and tested:

Use my code ZHB975 to get 10% off your first purchase!

 

7) Local health stores and vegetarian grocery shops – Varied price range

Health stores in Singapore comes in 2 types – Asian and Western. They carry interesting, often healthier and organic niche products (nutritional yeast, gluten-free cookies, etc) not found in mainstream supermarkets.

Cheaper places (mostly Asian groceries):
Most Chinese vegetarian eateries have a grocery shelf with local-style veg foods (斋料) like egg (and dairy) free Chinese New Year cookies, meatless bak kwa and vegan sambal belacan. There are also many Chinese vegetarian groceries hidden in neighbourhoods – check this list or Happy Cow to find one near you!

They often stock various noodles, local condiments (I get sambal and belacan here), dried beans and nuts, preserves, cereals, seaweeds and instant foods (my travel staples!). Check ingredients before buying. Again, please let me know if I’ve missed out any store offering vegan groceries.

image
  • Fortune Centre – This vegetarian enclave is mainly known for the variety of vegan – friendly food spots. It’s also got a few shops and eateries selling Asian groceries at level 1, 2 and 3. Men, you may want to avoid the “massage” parlors at levels 2, 3 and 4.
  • Green Natural – Chinese vegetarian health shop with both Asian and Western health foods.
  • Kian Joo  – A popular Chinese vegetarian grocery shop, part of the small belt of old-school vegetarian businesses along Sims Ave. Carries Asian mock meats, frozen and canned foods, local sauces and health foods. Neighbour to Eastern Highlands veg bakery mentioned above and Kwan In Vegetarian food court (best cheap laksa here!)
  • Redmart – Have a good selection of imported vegan meat and dairy alternatives (Beyond, Gardien, Fry’s etc) but may be sold out by now. Do email them to ask for restock.
  • Mekhala Living – Fair-trade, organic, vegan and gluten-free Southeast Asian sauces, rice, spices and oils. I’m a fan of their delicious Thai-inspired sauces!
  • Nature’s Glory – Mainly organic Asian groceries. Good range of local and imported dried and fresh produce.
  • Phoon Huat – Doesn’t matter if you’re making parfaits or ang ku kueh, they can meet most of your baking and confectionery needs! Carries various flours from rice to gluten-free, nuts, chocolates, extracts and flavourings. Also has a shelf of imported foods with vegan ones (I saw vegan ramen, snack bars and digestives). Gullon brand has many vegan cookies and biscuits. Note that their dairy-free creamer is not vegan and they have no other vegan butters except Crisco (ugh).
  • Sunny Choice – A delicious organic (mostly) vegan eatery that sells Asian health food and organic groceries.
  • Taste Original – Excellent Asian sauces and healthy ramen selection.
  • Yes Natural – Large selection of vegetarian and vegan foods and body care products. Have a vegetarian bakery (vegan options labelled) and restaurant at their Aljunied outlet.
  • Zenxin Organic –  Carries everything from fresh local produce to eco-friendly vegan household cleaners.

A note on Asian mock meats: Many of them contain milk, eggs as cheap binders and they aren’t always clearly labeled. Some untrustworthy suppliers even use animal-based flavourings, but an insider from Agri-Veterinary Authority (AVA) says they DNA test vegetarian mock meats for animal meats. Gluten-based ones (seitan) are the safest as gluten is a strong binder by itself. If the packaging looks dodgy – don’t buy. My advice is to either buy from well-known brands or avoid them completely.

Pricier places (Western groceries):
Carries imported items like organic kale, gluten-free, vegan faux meats, non-dairy cheese, vegan eggs and yogurts. Since they are often flown in frozen or refrigerated, prices can be a shock.

image

“So what do you drink if you don’t drink cow’s milk??” Fellow vegan Shimin bursting with joy over the abundance of non-dairy milks at Mahota. Thanks for providing the photo!

  • Brown Rice Paradise – Large organic and healthy lifestyle store. Carries vegan dairy products and Follow Your Heart vegan egg.
  • eat ORGANIC  – Has Follow Your Heart vegan egg and some vegan meat alternatives.
  • Four Seasons –  High-end and quality imported health foods.
  • Marks and Spencers – Although not as many as the others on this list, they carry some accidentally vegan snacks (gummies, bourbons, digestives etc) which are delicious and quite affordable! Often have clearance sales where a pack can be as low as $2. Vegetarian, dairy and eggs are clearly labeled under diet & allergy information. I’m a huge fan of the chocolate bourbons!
  • Super nature – Large organic and healthy lifestyle store.
  • The Organic Grocer – Imported organic Western groceries and foods, pricey.
  • Vitakids – Kids’ health store with lots of vegan products.

If you’re an expat vegan living here, note that health foods, vegan meat and dairy alternatives available in your home country are sold here at much higher prices! If price is a concern, I encourage you to eat more whole foods and more like a local. Healthier and there’s less food miles too 🙂

8) High-end (atas) supermarkets – Pricier

“Atas” is a Singlish term for expensive, high-end and Western things. The main ones here are NTUC finest, Cold Storage and Marketplace selling mostly produce and foods from America, Europe, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Every one will have a selection of imported vegan ice creams (So Delicious, Tofutti, Booja Booja etc), faux meats (Fry’s, Gardein etc) and dairy alternatives (Nuttlex, CoYo, Pacific, Silk, Natura etc). They are tasty and often clearly labeled vegan, but pricey and often highly processed. I rarely patronize them as cheaper places are enough to meet my needs. Veg*ns from foreign lands will welcome the familiar sight but not the unfamiliar price – remember, you’re paying for the products’ plane tickets here!

 

9) Vegan bakers – Varied price range

When I started being vegan around 2008 there were almost no vegan bakers..but look at the choices now! If you do vegan sweets and bakes, or have a vegetarian bakery with many vegan options, email me to be included here.

  • April’s Bakery – Veganize-able Asian pies in flavours like coconut, taro, BBQ etc.
  • Bakening – Free from all grains, gluten, dairy, refined/artificial sugar, soy, additives, gums, colourings and preservatives. Many vegan options available.
  • Better Breads – Healthy homemade artisan breads and spreads.
  • Brownice – Famous in the local vegan scene for their handmade ice cream and pizzas; they have a selection of delicious ice cream cakes too.
  • Bunny Bakery – 100% vegan, gluten free and refined sugar free.
  • Delia.v – Beautiful and elegant 100% vegan pastries.
  • Delcies’ – The priciest but healthiest bakery with gluten-free, diabetic-friendly, nut and soy-free options. Certified halal, 100% vegan. I’m a fan of their sugar-free mooncakes!
  • Eastern Highland Vegetarian Bakery – Promotes themselves as eggless vegetarian but 95% of their bakes are vegan. Main selling points are the affordable price and local old-school nostalgic charm – fluffy buns, sandwich breads, durian rolls and brightly-coloured cakes. Always ask the friendly boss (uncle in singlet) for vegan as not all the staff are knowledgeable.
  • Sayang’s – Home cake baker with 100% vegan, beautifully frosted chocolate cakes, halal-friendly.
  • SG Cupcakes –  Makes cupcakes and brownies, blend of local (eg cendol and bandung cupcakes) and Western flavours.
  • M Bakery – Vegetarian bakery specialising in local-style sweets and bakes with many vegan options.
  • Peace of Cheese – Handmade and healthy cultured vegan cheeses and butter. Singapore’s first vegan creamery.
  • Teeny weenie treats – Handmade oat balls and other treats as cute as their name!
  • Well Dressed Salad Bar – Rustic, homemade and beautifully flavoured sweets baked with love. They have VEGAN DONUTS too! Thanks Zenna for the pretty pics!
  • Yes Natural Bakery – Healthy buns, breads, a few cakes with good vegan options, clearly labeled.
  • Vegan Vice – Impressive handmade, from scratch, healthy vegan gelatos. See my review here.
  • Amy’s cakes – I’m putting this here only because it’s good in an omg-forgot-her-birthday emergency. Chocolate and orange flavours available from high-end supermarkets. Pricey for
    just a bare cake – try to support our local bakers instead.

 

10) Vegan Ice Cream & yogurts – Varied price range

Look at this list compiled by local vegan outreach group Animal Allies Singapore. I prefer buying local brands as they can be much cheaper.

I’d like to add

  1. Mr Bean – They have 2 outlets (Yew Tee Point and One-North MRT) that carry vegan flavours – original, gula melaka, durian, blueberry, green tea, chocolate. I was told the cookies and cream has milk. Also sold in tubs.
  2. Ben & Jerry’s non-dairy flavours are available at some Cold Storage.
Really love their green tea and durian flavours.

If you’re as turned off as me by the prices of non-dairy yogurts here, I wrote about how to make yogurt here. Super easy, no culture starter and machines needed – only a handful of quinoa, water and coconut or soymilk!

 

11) Local organic farms

Organic is better for our health, environment and I taste a huge difference in overall quality – sweeter, juicier, more tender and flavourful. I don’t eat full organic due to the cost, but I support local farms sometimes. Supermarket organic produce generally isn’t as fresh as buying direct from farms. Quanfa farm is my current favourite because of their low free delivery quota, you can find a list of local veggie farms here.

The government is now eyeing many farmlands for redevelopment. A lot are family businesses and their livelihoods may be affected. I highly encourage you to support our local farms as much and as soon as possible.

 

12) If you need lots of fruits and nuts..

Teck Sang is where you go if you’re nuts about nuts at wholesale prices! Probably the most affordable nuts and dried fruits place in Singapore.

To get all the fruits for your raw or HCLF/RTF/801010 needs, befriend your neighbourhood fruit stall’s sellers. They are usually friendly folks and can give good discounts if you bulk purchase or buy off their almost overripe fruits.

 

13) Bonus: Vegan lifestyle products & services

  • Bubbly Petz is Singapore’s first 100% restraint-free grooming studio that stocks vegan and eco–friendly pet supplies! A family of friendly folks are behind this studio that feels more like a furry babies daycare. Located opposite Loving Hut, one of the best vegan cafes here.
  • Handmade Heroes is another 100% locally-grown vegan brand that sells handmade quality skin care products. Shampoos, scrubs, face masks and lip care items – the perfect gift for your vegan friend!
  • Julian is a tattoo artist who uses vegan ink!
  • Luke Tan is a Singaporean vegan bodybuilder and does physical training and coaching tailored to vegans’ needs.
  • Kinokuniya and library@orchard has a great selection of vegan cookbooks in their culinary section.

 

Lastly, reading labels is a must

image

No one will judge you for reading ingredients on a pack of food because Singaporeans mind their own business. There are sneaky animal products in the form of food additives and emulsifiers (E numbers) lurking in many processed foods. A handy app is Animal-Free or simply Google the strange-sounding names. For E numbers, check against here.

Here are some examples:

  • Cochineal/Carmine/Natural red colouring – Red food colouring made from crushed red insects.
  • Isinglass – Fish bladder extract used to distill alcoholic drinks.
  • Rennet – Cow’s stomach lining extract used in cheeses.
  • Gelatine – Gelling agent made from melted animal bones used in gummies.
  • Vitamin D3 – Sheep’s wool or fish liver extract often added in juice.
  • Bone char – Animal bones, a slaughterhouse by-product used in sugar refining process to make white sugar. Widely used local brand SIS is bone char free. When in doubt, use unrefined sugar.
  • Castoreum – Fake vanilla flavouring usually called ‘natural vanilla flavours’. Extracted from beaver anal glands.

If you’re into junk food, Accidentallyvegan instagram features processed foods and snacks in local supermarkets and convenience stores that are vegan. The girls behind this account have read the ingredients for you!

Contact me if I missed out anything.

Next > How to eat out in a social setting?

How to be a Herbivore in SG Part 3 – How to cook?

3

Previous: 01 why vegan . 02 nutrition . Next: 04 groceries . 05 social eating . 06 eating at hawker centres . 07 challenges and support .

You may realise that it will be harder to meet your nutritional needs if you almost always eat out. Making food gives you full control and more access to nutrients at a cheaper price. Keep in mind that 1) I am not a medical/nutritional professional, always consult one if unsure AND 2) advice here may not work for everyone, as we are all unique individuals with different needs.

Note: This article contains reward links to products from iherb.com. I’ve tried these products and genuinely like them, hence I can recommend. If you purchase from my links you will get 5% off the next order and I will get 5% rewards credit, thanks in advance if you do! 🙂

All about balance

Whether you’re eating out or cooking, a balanced meal should include these nutrient categories (unless you’re on a diet prescribed by a medical professional):

  1. Carbohydrates
    – Rice, bread, pasta, rice noodles, wheat noodles, starchy plants (potato, pumpkin, sweet potato). Not all carbs are bad. If you blanket ban yourself (unless on doctor’s orders), you’re missing out the nutrients in good carbs that are vital to function well. Unrefined carbs are the better choice. Less white and more brown!
  2. Protein
    – Any bean, nuts, seeds and gluten (seitan/面筋) foods.
  3. Vitamins and fiber
    – Any fruits, green veggies, non-green veggies, root veggies, sea veggies and mushrooms. Important to eat your colours! And, fruits SHOULD NOT be equated with refined sugar. The way to eat less sugar, is simply eat less sweet foods with ADDED sugar.
  4. Good fats
    – First press plant oils (Extra virgin cold pressed olive/coconut oil), avocados, coconut milk, nuts, nut butters and seeds. A small amount is enough. Choose a whole food over processed oil whenever possible.
balancedmeal_beehoon
Here, brown rice noodles makes the carbs, mushrooms and veggies gives vitamins and tempeh is the protein source.

For in-between meals, there’s plenty of vegan eats we can buy easily from supermarkets or foodcourts:

  1. Snacks – nuts, granola bars, nut bars, fruits, dried fruits, seaweed snacks, dark chocolates (most are vegan, check label), local desserts (pulut hitam, bo bo cha cha etc), local kueh and fritters (most are vegan, double-check with seller), beancurd (tauhua), local jellies (agar is used instead of gelatine), chips and (occasionally) accidentally vegan junk food. (Yes SG oreos are vegan!)
  2. Drinks – non-dairy smoothies, soymilk (Silk Chocolate and Natura vanilla are my favs), nut milks, oat milk (Oatly Chocolate IS AMAZING), juices (go for freshly juiced ones instead of bottled), tea and coffee with non-dairy creamers (most coffee places have soymilk option), non-dairy bubble teas (pearls and jellies are made from tapioca and agar).

 

mrbean_icecream
I enjoy junk foods 20% of the time – like this ice cream from Mr Bean.
jap_snacks
Many supermarkets have vegan snacks like these daifuku, adzuku ice cream, mikan juice and soy red tea from Jmart.

 

Putting together a meal

You don’t have to cook well to eat well. Firstly, cooking is a common sense understanding of 1) how long to heat things (hard ingredients = longer time) and 2) what foods goes with what flavours (blueberries might not work in miso soup right?).

My tips to maximize time and money for the best nutrition and taste:

1) Use ‘fast’ ingredients

Use ingredients that are:

  1. Little washing & peeling needed – Rinse with baking soda to remove pesticides. Plants like mushrooms, cucumbers, french beans, tomatoes, most fruits that’s got no skin or edible skin, no roots, visible sand and mud need minimal preparations!
  2. No cutting involved – Soft or crisp veggies (bak choy, spinach, broccoli etc), tofu, beancurd skin can be broken into smaller pieces by hand. No knife and chopping board to wash up!
  3. Ready-to-cook – Can be used immediately after removing from packaging. Frozen edamame, frozen veggies, sprouts (alfalfa, wasabi, broccoli sprouts), canned beans, dried seaweed sheets, pickles, plant milks and condiments are completely fuss-free.

Plants that take much longer to prepare but important to include in your meals:

  1. Dried legumes firstly need to be soaked for shorter cooking times, less digestive trouble and more nutrition. Canned ones are more costly and less fresh. Soaking can take a few hours to overnight depending on variety and soaking water MUST be discarded. Cooking times vary too. Here’s a detailed guide to cooking legumes commonly found in Singapore and detailed steps using pressure cooker and recipe ideas. The cooking water can be used as soup stock – just add salt and spices.
  2. Dried mushrooms and hard seaweeds like kelp, need to be softened before cooking. Wash and soak for at least half hour with warm water, remove mushroom stalks then wash again in case there is sand. Don’t throw away the soaking liquid – use as a vegetable stock. For softer seaweeds like wakame, washing once is usually enough to soften it for cooking.
  3. Starchy plants (potatoes, yam, pumpkin, sweet potatoes etc) takes time to be cooked. Duration varies depending on heating method, variety, size of cut, and temperature. Steaming with skin is the fastest and healthiest way. To check for doneness, poke the centre with fork or chopstick. If it sinks in or cuts easily, its done.

2) Food prep

Food prep is preparing ingredients in advance to make your daily cooking faster and easier. Take a couple hours on weekends for food prep to reduce weekday stress.

foodprep

  • Wash in bulk: Wash veggies/fruits and portion them into containers or bags. Can also be frozen and thus kept for long. Soft leafy greens and mushrooms can spoil if refrigerated after washing so freeze instead.
  • Boil then freeze: For hard-to-cook foods like starches and legumes, cook in bulk. Portion and freeze them, taking some out whenever needed.
  • Cook carbs in advance:
    Cooked grains, starches and noodles can be refrigerated (up to 2 – 4 days max) or frozen (for months). If freezing, separating into individual portions in bags or boxes is a MUST.
  • Buy frozen: Ready to use, no washing and cutting needed. Frozen edamame and the classic corn peas carrots are found in most local supermarkets. Larger supermarkets might carry frozen broccoli, spinach and smoothie fruit packs, yum!
  • Preserve and pickle: Make a huge bulk of fermented or pickled veggies so there’s a tasty raw side dish during the week. They can keep for weeks in the fridge too.
  • Cut and portion: Unlike veggies and fruits which oxidize after cutting, proteins like tofu, tempeh can be cut in advance without much nutrient loss. Separate large blocks into smaller cubes and refrigerate or freeze them. Frozen firm tofu has a great texture and absorbs sauces better. For more flavour, marinate in different sauces then bake or saute.

3) Making ‘fast’ food

One-pot meals

Everything is made in a single pot. Minimal smoke is produced which keeps the kitchen clean too. Refer to my guide written last year to making Asian one-pots focusing on pantry basicsflavours and textures and cooking times.

onepotmeal
One-pot porridge: Carbs – Sweet potato, rice. Protein: Braised navy beans. Vitamins: Cherry tomatoes, spring onions.

If you have no access to a stove, a mini electric cooker is a great idea. Small size, affordable, easy to clean AND it can boil and steam at the same time. I used to use it in office everyday to make one-pot lunches, steamed veggies and buns.

If you don’t have a stove or electric cooker, fret not. As long as you have any source of heat, you can make a decent hot meal.

Microwaving

I barely use them as there is evidence that it turns molecular structure of foods into something our bodies don’t recognise. It also doesn’t taste as good as food cooked on direct heat. Still, good to use when you’re in an emergency! Note that:

  1. ONLY use glass and plastics labeled microwave safe to heat food. DO NOT USE METAL.
  2. Gluten foods (pizza, breads, buns) can dry out and harden while reheating. Add about 1 teaspoon water per piece into the container during cooking.

Toaster oven

They can do much more than reheating breads. Note that I’m referring to toaster OVEN not toaster for bread slices. In my house it even replaced the microwave completely. I treat it like a junior oven that can be used like an oven except for roasting starchy plants and baking.

Things to note:

  1. Always line the tray with aluminum foil or use a stainless steel plate. Don’t heat food directly on the oven tray as it will permanently be stained. I don’t recommend parchment paper. The heat source is close to the paper and that might burn it and become a fire hazard.
  2. Exercise common sense and wear kitchen gloves while removing the tray after heating. It’s HOT!
  3. Preheating will help to shorten cooking times. Before starting your meal preparation, turn the time dial and let it run.

Here’s some simple foods I cook in the toaster oven:

  • Toasted mushrooms & veggies: Simply wash them and mix in a bowl with 1 tsp oil + ½ tsp salt + any spice. Toast for 10-15mins until soft and juicy.
image
Made this for a colleague last time. Onions with black pepper and Sheese, lady fingers and edamame heated for 15 mins. Most plants can be toasted, as long as they are soft, crisp, not hard like raw potatoes and broken into smaller pieces.
  • Toasted garlic tempeh: Crumble or cut a block of tempeh into small pieces, mix with 2 tsp oil + ½ tsp salt + crushed or sliced garlic. Toast for 10 mins until lightly browned.
  • Sambal tempeh: Cut a block of tempeh into bite sized pieces, mix with 2 tsp oil + 1tbsp vegan sambal + juice from 1 lime. Toast for 10-12 mins until juicy and fragrant.
  • Pizza toast: Coat 2 slices of bread lightly in oil and place on aluminium foil lined tray. Spread any sauce, add sliced veggies/proteins of your choice, top evenly with crumbled vegan cheese and sprinkle with spices. Toast for 15-20 mins or until cheese melts.
Used to make these in the office toaster oven for colleagues. Mushroom floss pizza toast with cherry tomatoes and portobellos, sprinkled with crushed toasted laksa leaves. Fresh herbs, when toasted without oil, become very aromatic and crisp, making them an excellent topping.
  •  “Fried” rice/noodles: Mix a bowl of cooked rice/noodles with ½ tsp salt, 1 tsp oil, any preferred spice, sauce and finely chopped veggies and proteins of your choice. Toast for 10-15min until the centre is hot (check by either touch or taste). Great way to clean up leftovers!

Using Hot Water to Cook

This is inspired by instant noodles and much more wholesome. Simply add boiling water to cover all ingredients, put a lid on and wait 5-10 minutes till everything softens. This is extremely useful when traveling.

Here’s a list of ingredients that can be cooked this way:

Carbs: Thin non-wheat noodles (bee hoon or tung hoon), quick cook wheat noodles (快熟面), cooked rice and grains, instant oatmeal.

Proteins: Tofu, tempeh, seitan, pre-cooked legumes, ready-to-eat beancurd snacks (from Chinese vegetarian groceries).

Veggies: Green leafy veggies (usually stems may be too tough to be cooked thoroughly), thinly sliced crisp veggies (tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, bell peppers etc), freeze-dried veggies, kimchi (or any other pickled/fermented veggie).

Mushrooms and seaweeds: Ready-to-eat dried mushrooms snacks (from Chinese vegetarian groceries and Japanese shops), fresh enoki mushroom, seaweed snacks.

Condiments and seasonings: Any savoury sauce (soy sauce, chilli sauce, pasta sauce), fermented beancurd, miso, powdered spices, spice mixes, vegan MSG-free seasoning powder, nutritional yeast.

Toppings: Toasted nuts, dried roasted seaweed, vegan soy floss (from Chinese vegetarian groceries, chopped herbs (chives, parsley, coriander), deep-fried onion (炸葱头), preserved veggies (like chye poh or achar).

Some instant lunchboxes I packed to a no-cooking office I used to work at:

1 – Cooked rice and green beans with sliced tomatoes, flaxseed powder, chopped cilantro, himalayan salt, white pepper powder.

2 – Brown rice noodles with steamed sweet potato chunks, silken tofu cubes, bok choy leaves, lemon slice, curry powder mix and himalayan salt.

3 – Dried kway chap (flat rice noodle) with baked tempeh, frozen sweet corn, dill, sliced green chilli, fermented beancurd and white pepper powder.

4 – White rice vermicelli with cherry tomatoes, sautéed tempeh crumbles, goji berries, sliced green chillis, frozen sweet corn, white pepper powder, black pepper powder, ginger powder and himalayan salt.

5 – Green bean vermicelli with cherry tomatoes, sauteed tempeh, toasted pumpkin seeds, dill, ground black pepper, ginger powder and miso.

6 – Brown rice noodles with boiled chickpeas, carrot, toasted tempeh bits, spicy red beancurd (nam yee) and chopped spring onions.

Since no high heat is used, nutrients in the plants are well retained. However it will be less tasty than cooking with oil and high heat. So flavour needs to come from the soup base – mix and match fermented sauces with lots of spices and herbs for best taste.

“Salad” bowls

Being Chinese, my definition of salad is not a bowl of raw vegetables. In Asia, hot dishes are preferred but there are some foods meant to be served at room temperature or chilled. They are often appetizers or summer dishes with strong flavours and a mix of cooked and raw, like Malay kerabu, Thai som tam and Chinese liangpi. Like most Singaporeans, I’m not a fan of Western salads so I use Asian condiments and spices with both raw and cooked ingredients. They can be prepared in advance with anything on hand and hence make a great lunchbox (dressing must be kept separate or ingredients will get soggy).

My tips to a balanced bowl that’s NOT lettuce and mustard:

Base – My preference is carbohydrates (cooked pasta, noodles, rice) but I know friends who love a bed of leafy greens – why not! Make your own rules.

Add softness – My favorites are chestnuts and soft tofu. Well-cooked fluffy legumes and starches are great too.

Add protein – Tofu/tempeh/seitan, cooked legumes, nuts and seeds.

Add interest – Dried fruits, sauteed mushrooms/garlic, fermented foods, wasabi, pickles, nutritional yeast, vegan cheese, spices and herbs, toasted nuts and seeds. Anything you love to make you feel excited to dig in!

Add texture – Hard or crisp veggies (cucumber, bell pepper, carrots), crunchy or juicy fruits (apples, pear, jackfruit).

Dressing – Find a balance between sweet, sour, savoury and creamy. Sweet can come from dates, juice and syrups, sour can be from citrus fruit juices and vinegars. Savoury can be from salt or any savoury sauce, and creamy is from nut butters, hummus, avocado, blended silken tofu or non dairy yogurts. Experiment with your favourite combinations by blending or mixing in a bowl for a quick sauce. Top with fresh or dried spices and herbs for extra taste!

coldnoodles
Cold noodles that needed just 10min cooking. Black rice noodles tossed in soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil, premade kimchi, toasted tempeh crumbles and raw mint leaves.

Possibilities are endless

Anything can be veganized, there are endless online recipes and resources to help you with that. If you want to explore international flavours, here are some recipe apps that can help.

3 meals a day means nearly 87,000 meals by the age of 80. A lifetime of dependence on our grandma, mother, partner, commercial eateries or profit-driven corporations for a
basic need isn’t ideal – proven by studies on the rise of chronic diseases related to diet over past centuries.

That’s why making good food is an important self-care life skill.

Keep trying new ingredients, methods and combinations. Worse thing that can happen (if you remember to turn off the heat) is a bad tasting but still edible meal. Make every meal a contribution to your well-being.

Next > buying affordable groceries in our little red dot.

How to Be a Herbivore in Singapore Part 2 – Where to get nutrients?

2

Previous: 01 why vegan . Next: 03 cooking . 04 groceries . 05 social eating . 06 eating at hawker centres . 07 challenges and support .

I wrote this from my experience and research as a long-time veg*n (vegetarian then vegan) living in Singapore. I’m not a health professional so this is not medical advice. Do your research and make your own conclusions, if I made any factual mistakes please let me know 🙂

Note: This article contains reward links to products from iherb.com. I’ve tried these products and genuinely like them, hence I can recommend. If you purchase from my links you will get 5% off the next order and I will get 5% rewards credit, thanks in advance if you do! 🙂

“But iron, protein and calcium come only from meat!” Well..not true! Every single plant is highly nutritious in it’s unprocessed form. Take the humble spinach for example, it has at least 33 health benefits – including iron, protein and calcium.

Protein

More protein doesn’t always mean good. A rough guide from the RDA (Recommended Daily Allowance) is minimally 0.8g per kg of bodyweight for the average adult, depending on your activity levels. Anything more over a long period of time can be harmful. Published health studies like Proteinaholic and The China Study linked excess animal protein to diabetes, heart disease, cancer, hypertension, obesity as well as disordered kidney function, bone and calcium imbalance. With a  developed country’s lifestyle it’s easy to overshoot the healthy amount, hence the prevalence of  first-world diseases.

Plant protein is much more than soy. Almost every plant food has protein, just less or more. Here’s a non-exhaustive list (because listing everyone will be too long) of them that are mostly easy to find and affordable in Singapore. (If you aren’t sure where to find email me):

High-protein:

  • Soy-based – Tofu, tempeh, textured soy protein (TVP), edamame,
    beancurd pudding (a.k.a. tau hua), beancurd skin (tau kee), soymilk.
  • Gluten-based – Seitan (a.k.a vital wheat gluten or 面筋 ), wholewheat breads/pasta/noodles.
  • Grains – Millet, barley, oats, all wholegrain rice (brown, red, black rice), etc.
  • Non-soy legumes – all legumes (petai, red & green beans, green peas, chickpeas, black eyed peas, kidney beans, dhals and lentils, , peanuts – they are not nuts, etc).
  • Nuts – Cashews, almonds, walnuts, peanuts (all nuts are high protein, listed here are the cheaper ones).
  • Seeds – Quinoa, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, lotus seeds, tahini, boiled jackfruit seeds (try it it’s yum!), etc.

Less protein but don’t skip them! (you’ll see why soon):

  • Veggies – Sprouts (soy/green bean sprouts), starches (pumpkin, sweet potatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, yam), broccoli, corn, spinach, string beans, french beans, sweet peas,
    holland peas etc.
  • Fungi & algae – All mushrooms (oyster, enoki, woods ear etc) and seaweeds (wakame, kelp etc) have varied amounts of protein.
  • Fruits – Coconut meat, guava, dates, avocados, durian, jackfruit, banana, prunes, etc.

Unsure of amounts? Google “(food name) protein” for USDA’s estimates or use a food tracking app like MyFitnessPal. What all these sources do not have is cholesterol!

About protein combining

Protein is made of 9 amino acids. Most plant proteins are known as incomplete proteins, as rarely do plants contain all 9. It has been an old myth from 1971 that vegetarians and vegans must combine protein sources but newer studies shown that it isn’t necessary. A healthy body knows how to store and balance the amino acids from plants with any amount of protein. There’s no need to eat all 9 aminos within a bite. In fact there are good sources of complete proteins – hemp, chia, spirulina, soybeans, quinoa, buckwheat etc. Thus, getting enough calories from varied and minimally processed foods is important!

If you’re an athlete, vegan bodybuilder Robert Cheeke has an excellent introduction to plant-based fitness. Singapore-based athletes Luke and Emilie Tan spoke about how going plant-based was the main factor for increased performance. Personally I know many Singaporean vegan runners and they consume high amounts of fruits and veggies!

Luke

(Local bodybuilder Luke Tan won 1st overall for Spartan Race 2016 opens.)

Iron

Dried beans and dark green leafy veggies taken with Vitamin C are the best iron sources – even higher per calorie than animal sources. It’s true that our body absorbs plants’ iron less efficiently – but no worries, there’s an easy hack. Simply eat iron-rich plants with a good source of Vitamin C in a meal to ensure max absorption!

Avoid:

  1. Taking tea, coffee and calcium-rich foods at the same time as an iron source they inhibit iron absorption.
  2. Heating the source as heat destroys most of it.

Some iron-rich food combinations:

  • Rice and beans stew topped with tomato sauce, chopped raw chilli and coriander.
  • Steamed or blanched dark greens with lemon, lime or orange juice dressing.
  • Tofu (it’s made from a bean!) and broccoli stir fry drizzled with lime juice or garnished with raw chilli, coriander or parsley.
  • Edamame with lime juice, sesame oil and soy sauce dip.
  • Red dates and longan tea sweetened with black sugar is a traditional Chinese way to increase blood and energy especially in menstruating and pregnant women. DIY for the most nutrition and taste!
  • Or eat any iron source with a fruit or juice.

Eating foods cooked in iron cookware can add a small boost but don’t depend purely on that.

Calcium

Surprise: Calcium is literally everywhere.

Studies have also shown that:

  1. Cow’s milk likely leech calcium from our bones. Because of the acidic animal protein, our own bone calcium is used to neutralize it.
  2. Though some vegans may have less calcium and protein intake, their bone density is fine.

Many grains, legumes, leafy greens, fruits, nuts and other veggies plus fortified vegan foods (non-dairy milks, cereals, granola) have plentiful calcium. It’s equally important to get enough exercise and sunlight plus reduce salt and caffeine to utilize the calcium.

Omega 3 and 6 fatty acids

There are 3 types of omega-3:

  • ALA – found in many plant foods.
  • EPA – found in fish, easily converted from ALA.
  • DHA – mostly found in fish and very little seaweed, less easily converted from ALA.

Omega-6 is plenty in a plant-based diet and it inhibits omega 3 absorption to some degree.
Omega-3 is still being studied. To be on the safe side, researchers advice vegans to:

  1. Take less omega-6 (Eat less high omega 6 oils like corn, soy, grapeseed, sunflower. Use olive, peanut, canola instead.)
  2. Take more high omega-3 foods (Chia seeds, hemp seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts)
  3. Consider an algae-derived DHA supplement when needed, like if one is allergic to high omega-3 foods or during old age, pregnancy or breastfeeding. (where do you think fish
    get their omega fatty acids?)

A recent study found that in populations which had a history of plant-based diets, some people have a “vegetarian gene” that evolved to help the body utilize omega-3 and 6 more efficiently. 70% of South Asians, 53% in Africans, 29% East Asians and 17% Europeans have it. Since we can’t be certain if we have it or not, I think it’s still safest to get a good level through food.

 

Vitamin B12

This is the ONLY nutrient that has no proof of any plant sources yet.

B12 is naturally made by bacteria in water and soil. In modern times our plant foods are scrubbed clean of earth. Unless you eat organic unwashed veggies (which I don’t advice due to chances of contamination from other bacteria). So take a supplement regularly. Your local pharmacy surely has it affordably or you can get fancier ones (flavoured lozenges, liquid drops etc) from iHerb. I take a lozenge every week and my B12 levels have been tested to be good.

 

Vitamin D

There are 2 types of vitamin D – D2 and D3. Because both are rare in natural foods and modern people are often indoors, it can be an issue for everyone, vegan or not.

D2:

  1. Sun exposed mushrooms. Place any mushrooms under sunlight (like on open window sill) for 30 to 60 minutes.
  2. Fortified vegan drinks and cereals. Common brands sold here (Natura, Rice Dream, Silk, Pacific, Almond Breeze) often has added D2 (plus other nutrients). Food sources of D3 are from sheep’s wool so look out for that in ingredients lists.
image

(fortified non-dairy milk found at NTUC finest)

D3 :

  1. Direct sun exposure – According to the Singapore Health Promotion Board, let sun shine onto
    uncovered arms and legs for 5-30mins (darker your skin is, the longer you need to be exposed) twice a week is enough. D3 is found to be the better vitamin D. So go out more!
  2. Vegan supplements – if you can’t get either from sun (like during winter) or foods, consider taking one. Do not overdose as too much is toxic, seek advice from a professional if unsure.

 

 

Iodine & Selenium

These 2 minerals are slightly trickier. Both too little and too much of can cause serious health issues. Amounts in produce highly depend on how much iodine and selenium the soil had, thus it can be an issue for everyone too.

Iodine – Many countries add iodine to table salt to prevent deficiency but in Singapore that isn’t
compulsory. Best sources are sea algae, also known as seaweeds. Since ancient times, kelp, kombu, wakame, hijiki and nori have been a staple in most Asian cuisines. They are also rich in fiber, proteins, iron and vitamins.

Selenium – The richest plant source is brazil nuts, just 2 nuts is enough for an average adult’s daily needs. If you can’t confirm whether your food is grown in selenium rich soil, snack on some brazil nuts now and then but think twice about taking a supplement unless on doctor’s advice. I get them here.

 

Zinc

Legumes, nuts, seeds and grains have zinc, yet they also have phytates which reduces zinc absorption. Not to worry as there are many food combinations and preparation techniques to solve that! Vegans are generally not found to be deficient in zinc.

  1. Soaking, then sprouting or cooking legumes, nuts, seeds, grains greatly reduce phytates and will unlock a multitude of other nutrients. Many cultures have been doing – bean sprouts are staple in East Asia and Indians soak legumes before cooking. Here’s more on the detailed methods of preparing them for max nutrition.
  2. Fermenting increases zinc absorption. Examples are breads made with yeast and fermented soy (tempeh, miso, fermented beancurd).
  3. Protein and vitamin C (citric acid) help increase absorption too. Thus legumes are a great choice as they are rich in protein and zinc.

The bottom line

Going animal-free means you’ll need to pay more attention to your diet and lifestyle. Only if you are truly unable to do so, consider supplementing with fortified foods or vitamin pills as a last resort. If not, eat whole plant foods as much as possible as our bodies are meant to do so. On a well-planned diet with sufficient sun exposure and exercise, the only supplement needed is B12. 

If you’re a typical Singaporean eating mostly at hawker centres, you may find it harder to get all the nutrition. That’s where the DIY food part comes in to help you!

Next: Cooking for the time and budget conscious.

How to Be a Herbivore in Singapore Part 1 – The big WHY?

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Next: 02 nutrition .  03 cooking . 04 groceries . 05 social eating . 06 eating at hawker centres . 07 challenges and support .

Here’s a series of resource posts intending to help the vegan-curious, new and struggling vegans navigate their journey in Singapore.  Changing lifestyle habits takes unlearning and relearning. There will be challenges. Set goals and take it a step at a time.

This first post is to explain the reasons people go vegan. Knowing the whys are important because:

1) If you’re not interested in this but have vegan loved ones, you’ll make their lives SO MUCH easier by understanding and supporting. I’ve seen many friends go through much emotional turmoil over this choice – from being alienated by friends and family to being threatened by their own parents.

2) If you want to change, this knowledge can strengthen your resolve, inspire and take you further.

3) I want to clear the misconception that we are either health freaks or misanthropes – Animal welfare isn’t always the first push factor and “healthy eating” isn’t in every vegan’s vocabulary.

There are 20,000 species of edible plants worldwide; the misconception that vegetarians/vegans eat only vegetables needs to be out. The other edible non-animal food groups are grains, legumes, fruits, seeds and nuts, fungi and algae (actually, botanically speaking the last 2 aren’t even plants). Plenty and abundant.

Why on Earth did these tree hugging, kale chomping (I don’t even like kale) people give up fried
chicken? 3 main reasons:

Health

It’s proven that by not taking animal products one cuts down on growth hormones, cholesterol, saturated fat, uric acid, carcinogens, etc. It’s also getting out there that dairy isn’t as nurturing as we thought. A well-planned plant-based diet can be as nutritious with lower inflammation, stroke, cancer, obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes risk.

For me, going from being a junk food vegetarian to junk food vegan then (mostly) whole foods vegan was a major step in improving my childhood irritable bowel syndrome, as well as:

  • Less fever and flu. Used to catch one few times a year now once every few years.
  • Less acne and oily skin. Needed to use oil blotting sheets daily now I don’t need them.
  • No more sugar cravings now.
  • No more frequent headaches.
  • Less acid reflux and no more random attacks of painful diarrhea.
  • Lots more energy without coffee – very helpful in productivity-crazed Singapore.
  • Exercise drained me and now it’s a hobby – can’t start the day without some.
  • Better mood, generally happier.
  • Increased appetite and foods tastes much better.

Environment

Based on numerous scientific studies, animal agriculture is extremely inefficient. It’s a huge burden on our planet’s land, water, forests, a contributor to world hunger and climate change. In fact, going animal-free generates the smallest diet-related carbon footprint as seen here:

(Shrinkthatfootprint)

Many people see little hope in certain people at important meetings to solve environmental issues, thus they take action on a personal level.

image

(Monkey Parliament by Banksy)

Singapore is highly vulnerable to climate change. Rising seas threaten our land mass, increasing temperatures breed more dengue mosquitoes, more dry months means worse yearly haze and food prices will rise due to unpredictable weather causing lower yields. We can do so much more in addition to the usual drive less, off lights, recycling etc.

Ethics

People are outraged over animal testing and fur as many cosmetics, tobacco, household products are made on by a cruel process. Major public outcry over the mistreatment of animals for entertainment. What most might not know is that production of meat, fish, milk and eggs is more outrageous. Won’t it be nice if it’s like what people think: cows and chickens run on grassy fields milking and laying eggs then tranquilized and killed. But it’s not true. Since we have compassion and vote with our dollars, the industry makes sure the process of making animals into food is hidden. Here’s the link that explains all briefly and it’s not graphic. That’s why people who chance upon the truth, cannot bring themselves to support the animal farming industry or other forms of exploitation anymore.

Whoever passed the law that says a human can’t torture cats and dogs but okay to force beagles to smoke 30 cigarettes a day, mince “useless” male chicks alive and kill newborn male calves just because they can’t make milk, you’re proof that evolution can reverse.

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(Vegetarian Society Singapore)

 

Watch

If you don’t prefer to read, these are highly informative documentaries that address all 3 aspects of the plant-based lifestyle. They are highly responsible for turning meat-lovers into herbivorous creatures within hours – you’ve been warned.

image

 

The intention

Try your best, don’t pursue perfection. When we walk, insects die, when we eat veggies, we ingest toxic chemicals. Our food may also be made by child labour. We still need to use energy so we’re contributing to climate change. As long as we exist, it is inevitable to cause unintentional suffering or death to other human or non-human beings AND damage to the Earth. Best we can do is minimize it. Hence the definition of “Veganism” as stated by The Vegan Society

“…a philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude—as far as is possible and practicable—all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food,
clothing or any other purpose; and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment.

Everybody’s reasons for change are different. I know vegans who love the health benefits and vegan junk foodies who are 100% passionate about animal welfare and 0% about health. I know people who eat and live like that and prefer the term “plant-based” – that’s fine! I know people who are flexible – vegan as much as possible unless in certain situation. Go with whatever you’re most comfortable with. As long as one reduces animal consumption in any way, that’s awesome and keep doing it! My favourite way to describe this lifestyle is borrowed from an Aboriginal saying: “Touch the Earth lightly.”

Next > Nutrition on a vegan lifestyle